The former USC star, dubbed "Sanchize" after helping the Jets to back-to-back playoff appearances in his first two seasons, was cut for a variety of reasons, including a bloated cap charge of $13.1 million and a surgically repaired shoulder. In reality, the team started moving away from Sanchez last spring, when it drafted Geno Smith in the second round.
Sanchez was due a $2 million roster bonus March 25, forcing the issue. The Jets will save $8.3 million against this year's cap, incurring $4.8 million in "dead" money on the cap.
The team met with Sanchez's representatives last month at the scouting combine and maintained an ongoing dialogue, but at no point did the Jets ask him to take a pay cut, according to a source. Sanchez wasn't happy that the process dragged out this long but was prepared for the news and was said to be at peace with it.
As soon as the Jets received a commitment from Vick, they informed Sanchez of his release.
The move culminated a five-year run in New York that included four playoff victories.
"I love New York. I've had a ball there," Sanchez said last weekend. "Things were going great. I was competing well. I felt like I was winning the job and then I got hurt. We'll see what happens. I know management has some decisions to make here in the next few days. We'll see what happens. Whatever happens, it'll be great."
Coach Rex Ryan had long been a fan of Sanchez. His affinity for the quarterback remains visible on his right arm, which has a tattoo of his wife wearing a Sanchez jersey. Ryan got the tattoo a few years ago.
"We were rookies together and had some early success, becoming the first rookie head coach and quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games," Ryan said in a statement Friday. "We experienced a lot together and I really appreciate Mark. He's a great player, a great teammate, and I wish him nothing but the best."
Sanchez's popularity faded in recent years as the fan base turned on him. His low point was the infamous "butt fumble" in 2012, a slapstick play that became an instant classic for blooper reels.
Despite the adversity, Sanchez was on the verge of winning the starting job last summer after outplaying Smith in an open competition, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. The torn labrum was repaired in October, and sources say Sanchez is ahead of schedule, throwing with good velocity.
Sanchez is a far more accomplished player than Smith, but general manager John Idzik didn't want another Sanchez-Smith competition, perhaps fearing his handpicked quarterback -- Smith -- would lose.