The Washington Redskins have signed veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez to back up Colt McCoy, Coach Jay Gruden confirmed Monday. The team decided on Sanchez after working out several free agent passers, a day after starting quarterback Alex Smith was lost for the season to two broken bones in his lower right leg during a 23-21 loss to the Houston Texans.
“He’s won some playoff games, has got a lot of experience,” Gruden said of Sanchez. “I think this time of the year you need somebody who’s taken some meaningful snaps with a lot of experience, and Mark’s done that.”
McCoy came on in relief of Smith on Sunday and nearly led a comeback victory. He had been the only quarterback on the roster other than Smith, meaning the team had to search for one in free agency to back him up. The Redskins settled on Sanchez, who has experience with several coaches on staff.
“He’s not going to have a lot of experience with our terminology . . . but he does bring a veteran presence to the locker room and the quarterback room, which is important,” Gruden said. “If he’s thrust into action with the experience that he has, he can perform. It’ll be difficult with only a couple days of walk-through, but we’ll give him a package of plays that he can handle and function with, and hopefully that won’t happen.”
The 32-year old Sanchez last played in 2016 as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, and signed a one-year deal in 2017 with the Chicago Bears but never appeared in a game. He was a four-year starter for the Jets after being selected with the fifth overall pick in 2009.
In his first three seasons with the Jets, Sanchez had Matt Cavanaugh, now the Redskins' offensive coordinator, as his quarterbacks coach. He also played with Washington’s passing game coordinator Kevin O’Connell, and offensive line coach and assistant head coach Bill Callahan held the same positions with the Jets from 2008 to 2011.
Gruden said Sunday the team preferred to sign someone who had a previous relationship with members of the coaching staff. The team also worked out EJ Manuel. T.J. Yates, Kellen Clemens and Josh Johnson.
“He threw the ball good,” Gruden said. “Mark’s always been able to spin it. He was a top-10 pick in the NFL draft because he had a very nice arm, smooth release. So he’s always going to throw the ball good in those settings. The other quarterbacks threw it pretty well, also, but we just chose Mark based on history and his ability to probably learn this faster.”
Sanchez’s best season came in 2010 when he threw for 3,474 yards, 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. The Jets went to the playoffs his first two seasons, earning records of 9-7 and 11-5 record en route to back-to-back AFC championship game appearances (both losses). Interceptions were a recurring issue for Sanchez with the Jets, as he threw 69 interceptions and 68 touchdowns in four seasons.
In college, Sanchez led USC to a 12-1 record in 2008 and a Rose Bowl victory, but his most well-known NFL moment may be the infamous “butt fumble” play against the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving 2012. Sanchez ran into the back of a teammate and fumbled, which the Patriots picked up and returned for a touchdown in a 49-19 loss. The play grew to symbolize the dysfunction surrounding Sanchez’s tenure and the Jets organization overall.
Sanchez signed a one-year deal to be the third quarterback for the Bears in 2017 but was inactive for all 16 games. This April he was hit with a four-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but he tweeted that the test was the result of “unknowing supplement contamination, not the use of performance enhancing substances.”
The Redskins are attempting to hold onto first place in the NFC East despite the loss of Smith. The team jumped out to a 6-3 start behind a stout defense, a strong running game and Smith’s efficient leadership of a ball-control offense. The loss to the Texans dropped the Redskins to 6-4 and set up an NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas on Thanksgiving with first place on the line. The Cowboys, 5-5, can create a tie atop the division with a victory.
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