FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan were so cute together in the early hours of their administration, huddled in an office on the night before the 2009 draft as they schemed and conned their way into Mark Sanchez's life.
They were already working Tannenbaum's ex-friend Eric Mangini, coach of the Browns, persuading him to give up the fifth pick and the right to select the New York Jets' franchise player-to-be, the latest golden boy out of Southern Cal. Mangini wanted a restricted free agent named Abe Elam in the deal, right after the Jets had matched the Browns' $1.5 million offer to the safety, and an obscure league rule required Elam to sign a waiver before he could be shipped to Cleveland.
"Why would he ever sign this piece of paper?" Tannenbaum thought to himself before he put Elam on the phone with the best used-car salesman on the lot.
As Ryan somehow sold this lemon to Elam, Tannenbaum looked on in wonderment. He'd hired the right coach after all, the right guy to replace the duped Mangini, and a day later they would hire the right quarterback, too.
The same quarterback they're stuck with now.
Nearly four years later, Tannenbaum and Ryan don't look so smart, and Sanchez doesn't look like anyone's idea of a top-five pick. When Ryan announced Wednesday that Sanchez had regained the job he'd surrendered to Greg McElroy in the third quarter of the Arizona game, the coach neglected to mention the Jets really had no choice.
In March, as a means of apologizing for their rebuffed courtship of Peyton Manning, the team turned Sanchez's nonguaranteed $6 million wage in 2013 into a guaranteed $8.25 million wage as part of a three-year contract extension. Although Ryan swore that money had "absolutely zero" effect on the decision to return Sanchez to the first string, his is no longer a credible voice.
Why? Here's a quick review on how the Tannenbaum/Ryan Jets have mismanaged the most important position in the sport:
• Sanchez finishes a poor 2011 season marked by a feud with Santonio Holmes, inspiring his bosses to (sort of) recruit Manning, who wants absolutely no part of them. The Jets throw cash at the wounded Sanchez, and just when the quarterback is in the final stages of recovery, they throw Tim Tebow at him, too.
• The Tannenbaum/Ryan Jets hand off Sanchez and Tebow to a new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, who has no idea what to do with them. With Sanchez on the verge of fumbling and bumbling his way to the bench, Ryan suits up Tebow as his only alternative Thanksgiving night despite the fact the backup has two fractured ribs. Ten days later, with Tebow inactive and Ryan almost ready to admit his egregious error in dressing him against the Patriots, Ryan pulls Sanchez for a seventh-round pick, McElroy, who small-balls the Jets to an unsightly 7-6 victory over Arizona that smells very much like a defeat.
• And on the rocky road from two consecutive AFC title games to Wednesday's low drama in Florham Park, a multiple-choice test at quarterback with three wrong answers, the Tannenbaum/Ryan Jets rotate so many receivers in and out of Sanchez's life that the starter can't keep track. They leave him with no playmakers in a playmakers league and leave him to answer a question about the lack of skill-position talent on the Tannenbaum/Ryan Jets this way:
"I can't go back and change anything or do anything about any of that."
That would be Sanchez's way of saying he wishes he could.
He's relieved to get his job back, even if Jets fans weren't exactly calling for four more years. He's also relieved the next two games are on the road, away from a crowd that wasn't chanting for McElroy (or for Tebow before him) as much as it was chanting for anyone not wearing jersey No. 6.
Sanchez actually called Sunday's temporary firing "probably the worst and best experience of my life" before explaining he meant "it could be" a valuable experience if it makes him a better, more accountable quarterback, or one who stops giving the other team the ball.
Just as Ryan spent Monday and Tuesday soliciting a wide range of opinions on Sanchez versus McElroy versus an injured Tebow, Sanchez sought the counsel of his former backup, the nonthreat that was Mark Brunell, who told him the story of his young kids once joining in a crowd chant for Dad's replacement. Funny stuff, at least until Sanchez walked into the quarterbacks' room and nervously waited for Rex's official verdict.
Predictably enough, Ryan stayed with his guy. The money guy. "And now it's my job to go make him right," Sanchez said.
He's lucky McElroy -- not Tebow -- beat the Cardinals, because a choice between a healthy, fire-breathing, 1-0 Tebow gearing up for his Jacksonville homecoming and a 4-7 Sanchez and his loserville body language would have given Rex a no-ring circus to end them all.
Only the coach caught a break as clear as the fractures in Tebow's ribs. McElroy did a fine job in relief, but he lacks size and presence and difference-making athleticism. In the end, he was a disposable part that stood no chance against Sanchez's salary in 2013.
"I wanted to be thorough with the decision," Ryan said. "I wanted to make sure that it wasn't just a flying-off-the-handle move or just like something you would do haphazardly."
Not that anyone could imagine Ryan ever making a flying-off-the-handle, haphazard move.
Once practice was complete, McElroy said he accepted his return to the third-string bin (Ryan disclosed Tebow would be No. 2 if his ribs allowed), and Tebow said his health was improving, and that he was inspired by his phone call to an upstate high school student, Matt Hardy, injured in a two-car crash that took the lives of his friend and girlfriend.
Hardy had asked Tebow to pray during the call, an experience the quarterback called "better than every touchdown I'll ever score."
Yes, Tebow is good people. That's why time around his locker is usually spent wishing he could throw a football a lot better than he can.
Truth is, the Jets don't have any quarterbacks who frighten defensive coordinators, other than Mike Pettine. Larry Fitzgerald (God bless him) said as much as he left the ballpark Sunday, undoubtedly still mesmerized by Ryan Lindley's impersonation of a pro. In a scene described by Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley, a MetLife Stadium employee shouted at the Arizona receiver that he should play for the Jets.
"Who's going to throw the ball to me here?" Fitzgerald asked the man, a question that left both of them laughing.
But the joke is on the Jets, for the sake of old times. Mike Tannenbaum hired the wrong quarterbacks, and Rex Ryan failed to develop them.
So they're stuck with a regressing Sanchez and his guaranteed cash, a deal they never bargained for on the eve of the 2009 draft.