KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Mark Sanchez walked out of the Mexican restaurant in Irvine, Calif., followed by Jets coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson.
The post-workout dinner was one of Sanchez's last chances to show the Jets brass that he should be their franchise quarterback, and Sanchez wanted to leave them with a lasting impression.
As the West Coast college student moved toward his car and the East Coast visitors headed toward theirs, Sanchez saw a motorcycle sitting in the parking lot. He jumped on.
"Hey, Woody," Sanchez said, addressing the 62-year-old millionaire, "I'll see you later."
Sanchez said it with a straight face, but his guests couldn't help busting out with laughter. Months later, Tannenbaum still remembers that exchange during their courtship of Sanchez, whom the Jets took with the No. 5 overall pick in the draft after trading up from No. 17.
"He was intimating that he was going to be riding off into the sunset on a motorcycle," Tannenbaum said. "It was a really funny moment. It's not what you say, it's how you say it. This is just a really fun-loving, good guy. Here he is with the owner of an NFL team, and he's his own guy."
For the Jets, it wasn't just Sanchez's 6-foot-3, 225-pound build, or the 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns he threw for during his redshirt junior season at Southern California that sold them. In the modern-day NFL, it's about more than what can be seen on film when molding the future of a franchise.
"We're trying to find a fit on the field, but off the field as well," Tannenbaum said.
Perhaps no player has understood the importance of marketing himself more than Sanchez, who spent the three months before the draft doing a series of all-access interviews and going out of his way to provide personal time for NFL officials.
"They can watch a lot of film on a kid to see how he throws the ball, how he handles pressure, what kind of complexity he's dealing with on the field," said Nick Sanchez, Mark's older brother and agent.
"But one thing they can't tell from the film really well is who you are. We wanted to allow Mark to get into a position where he could expose himself a little bit to these teams and maybe demonstrate some of the other qualities he has off the field that I think are also desirable in a quarterback."
Clearly, the plan worked. Sanchez became the highest-paid player in Jets history when he signed a five-year deal worth a reported $50.5 million ($28 million guaranteed). Within three days of Sanchez's announcement that he would turn pro, he and his brother started forming their plan of attack. They were going to be aggressive, but they didn't want to push him into the public too much.
"We didn't want to do a bunch of stuff just to do it," Nick said. "There's something to be said for overexposing yourself. Sometimes there's a little bit of a backlash on that. But if you've got some skill and talent, you don't want to hide it under a rock."
Nick knew that one of his brother's best talents was his ability to communicate and be natural with others. He had shown that during his year under the microscope in LA, where there is no NFL team to compete with for attention. USC's practices were open to media, so Sanchez had to deal with beat writers and TV reporters more than most college quarterbacks.
Sanchez would take it up a few notches, though, when he agreed to do four all-access interviews with ESPN's Shelley Smith.
"She followed his life, what it was like to be Mark," Nick said.
The series showed Sanchez working out, preparing for the NFL scouting combine and in class, and it continued all the way up to the draft. By that time, the Jets and Sanchez were eyeing each other. New York liked the kid's confidence, and the kid liked Ryan, Schottenheimer and the chance to play in another big market.
"Everything fit for us, on-field performance as well as off-field infrastructure," Tannenbaum said. "There's no question he was marketed well. But they had a great story to tell because Mark's an incredible person."
DO THEY BELONG?
Quarterbacks who were good fits and those who were not
Quarterbacks picked in the first round succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. We examine what made some signal callers blossom and others flounder with the teams who drafted them.
Donovan McNabb: Eagles
If you remember, McNabb was booed by Eagles fans when he was named as the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 draft. What they couldn't foresee was McNabb's ability to play well in the face of criticism. To withstand the Philly boos, a quarterback has to be built tough.
Ben Roethlisberger: Steelers
Roethlisberger was the third QB taken in the 2004 draft, behind Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, and the progression couldn't have worked out better for the Steelers. The franchise grabbed Roethlisberger, a steady hand who helped the Steelers to the AFC title game as a rookie.
David Carr: Texans
Carr, the No. 1 draft pick of the expansion Houston franchise in 2002, was already overvalued out of Fresno State. But he had no chance to succeed behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league as a rookie.
Joey Harrington: Lions
The Lions' selection of Harrington at No. 3 in the 2002 draft ended up being the microcosm of the franchise's failures.
Waiting for replay
Aaron Rodgers: Packers
The No. 24 pick in 2005, Rodgers has been handed the reins to a proud franchise that sent away Brett Favre to accommodate him. A push for the playoffs this season would be a good sign.
Jason Campbell: Washington
Picked after Rodgers, Campbell has shown promise for Washington, which hasn't had a true franchise quarterback since Joe Theismann. Heath Shuler may have had something to do with that.