Jets need to stay away from Peyton

As the NFL finally delivers to the world a LeBron-like free agent, common sense suggests Peyton Manning will not come within three football fields of signing with the New York Jets.

Manning has spent most of his Sundays playing for dignified, conservative coaches, men who would never embrace Rex Ryan's scorched-earth approach. The Jets locker room would make the George-Billy-Reggie Yankees proud, Ryan's new offensive coordinator (Tony Sparano) is the cloud-of-dust type, and an outdoor stadium in the Jersey marshes is no place for a 36-year-old indoor quarterback coming off multiple neck surgeries and a season spent on the bench.

Especially when that outdoor stadium belongs to Eli Manning, the face of the New York Giants and the kid brother Peyton once correctly predicted would win more than one Super Bowl title.

But what if the former Indianapolis Colts megastar cuts against the grain of sound logic and decides the Jets are a better fit than the Miami Dolphins, the Arizona Cardinals, and the rest? What if Peyton tries to avenge his firing in small-town Hoosierville by finishing his iconic career in the world's noisiest marketplace?

What if one-ring Peyton is a tad more jealous of two-ring Eli than he's let on? What if big brother believes he can seal the deal as the greatest quarterback of all time by becoming the first Jet to win it all since Joe Namath in January 1969?

In that case, Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan have to tell Manning thanks, but no thanks, no matter how many No. 18 jerseys ol' Woody believes he can peddle on his web site.

The Jets are expected to chase after Manning like they chased after Brett Favre, and to neglect the fact they already have a winning quarterback, all of 25 years old.

Mark Sanchez has four playoff victories in his first three seasons, or four more than Peyton and Eli combined for in their first three. One of those Sanchez victories came at Peyton's expense in Peyton's house, the week before a Sanchez victory at Tom Brady's expense in Tom Brady's house.

Everyone knows what went down the following year. Sanchez couldn't complete anything that wasn't a quick-hitter, and he spent months wearing the sour-puss expressions of a boy who had just lost his dog. He looked hurt, physically and emotionally, and failed to rise above a dysfunctional relationship with his most talented receiver, Santonio Holmes.

Only these were Sanchez's numbers in his Year 3: An 8-8 record, 26 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 3,474 passing yards, and a 56.7 completion percentage.

These were Eli Manning's numbers in his Year 3: An 8-8 record, 24 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 3,244 passing yards, and a 57.5 completion percentage.

No, this doesn't mean Sanchez will follow the Eli plan through a Year 4 punctuated by a parade. It only means the Jets don't have to look beyond the walls of MetLife Stadium to see the benefits of a little patience and stability.

The Jets moved mountains to land Sanchez in the 2009 draft, even tricked honest Abe Elam into signing some waiver form he shouldn't have signed to make a deal with Cleveland and move up a dozen spots for their franchise player-to-be. The Jets did this after one turbulent season with Favre, who wanted to remain in Florham Park about as much as he wanted Aaron Rodgers to win the Super Bowl.

The owner, GM, and head coach swore Sanchez would be their guy for years and years to come. So now two AFC Championship Game appearances and one .500 season later, they're going to junk the program because an aging, rusty, recovering quarterback just threw a series of tight spirals on the campus of Duke?

If the Jets do sign Manning, they'll prove only one thing: They don't have a program. Jumping from Favre to Sanchez to Peyton would expose them as serial guessers and grab-baggers who don't value the need for consistency at the sport's most important position.

Listen, there's no debating Manning's place in NFL history. The 2011 Colts only notarized his value by going 2-14 without him.

But there are reasons the Colts are cutting Manning that go beyond the $28 million bonus they didn't want to pay. Jim Irsay has the No. 1 pick and the chance to get young at quarterback. If someone could've guaranteed Irsay in January that Andrew Luck would do what Sanchez did for the Jets and lead the Colts to two AFC title games in his first three years, Peyton would've been fired before his kid brother won the Super Bowl on big brother's field.

The Jets can't give up on Sanchez for this kind of risky proposition. What happens if Manning gets hurt again, or if his mid-to-late 30s production mirrors that of Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs (two years of good-but-not-great play before calling it a day)?

What then? Sign Brady?

Sanchez needs to grow up some, no question. He needs to show he can take a punch in a market that throws its fair share of haymakers. He needs to maintain a firmer presence in the pocket, and he needs to worry a little less about his next photo shoot, and a little more about regaining control of his huddle and locker room.

But Sanchez is still worth gambling on. Peyton had two losing seasons in his first four, and it's been too easy to forget that the quarterback many New Yorkers want him to replace hasn't had one yet.

So Woody and Tannenbaum and Rex will chase this story broken by Chris Mortensen, a story the NFL had to have in the wake of the bounty scandal. Peyton Manning is pro football's answer to LeBron James, the sport's biggest free agent of them all.

But he's old, banged up, and a short-term response to a long-term championship drought. The Jets don't need a better, more accountable version of Favre.

They need Mark Sanchez to keep growing into the quarterback they drafted him to be.