INDIANAPOLIS - The loyalist in Rex Ryan would love to keep each one of his players -- even Mark Sanchez. But the realist in him knows that scenario doesn't happen in the NFL.
Ryan said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine that he'd "absolutely" want Sanchez on the Jets' roster in 2014 if the quarterback agrees to a sizable pay cut, but neither the coach nor general manager John Idzik would definitively say they expect him to be a Jet this season.
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Sanchez, who missed all of his fifth season after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2013 preseason that required season-ending surgery, is expected to be a salary-cap casualty.
He recently underwent a knee scope, is due a $2-million roster bonus in March and carries a $13.1-million cap hit in 2014. If the Jets trade or release him, they'll be hit with a $4.8-million charge of "dead money," but they also would save $8.3 million.
As expected, Idzik played it close to the vest when discussing the possibility that Sanchez will be back. Though he said he has been "a productive starter in this league," Idzik also stressed that "we tend to let things play out, so we still have some time there. I know one thing for sure: Mark's diligently handling his rehab and we know that he'll be ready, but we'll just let that take its course."
Though Idzik wouldn't get specific about Sanchez's recovery (i.e., his current arm strength), he said the Jets are "assuming Mark's going to be fine with his shoulder."
Now the only question is where he will end up.
The Jets moved up in the draft order to take Sanchez fifth overall in 2009, which also was Ryan's first season.
"If it's up to me -- you know how I feel about all of my guys -- I'd like them all back," Ryan said. " . . . I feel compassion and loyalty to anybody that's ever played for me. But I also understand that what we go by is a simple creed. The three most important things are the team, the team and the team. Those are the cold, hard facts of the National Football League."
Ryan and Idzik also were noncommittal about the status of Geno Smith, who led the Jets to an 8-8 finish last season. Though Idzik praised Smith for finishing 2013 "on a strong note," he also made it clear "we don't anoint starters in February. We don't anoint them in March." As a result, the Jets haven't ruled out drafting a quarterback in the first round.
"Hey, I think right now, anything's a possibility," Ryan said.
Added Idzik: "We're open to drafting the best player for the New York Jets."
During Super Bowl Week, Smith told Newsday "regardless of anything, as long as there's a season next year, I'll be starting."
On Thursday, Smith's coach said he has no problem with his confidence. Said Ryan: "That's what you want from your players . . . So no, I'm happy that he feels that way."
Notes & quotes: Ryan said Michael Sam would be "welcomed" inside the Jets' locker room if the team drafted the openly gay defensive end from Missouri. "It'd be no different than any other player we have," he said. " . . . If the young man's a good football player and a good teammate, that's all we ask. So he'd fit in just like the rest of our guys." . . . Ryan and Idzik also avoided answering questions about the future of Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. "We're not going to get into speculation about what we may do in a couple weeks," Idzik said . . . Ryan said he "would love" to have soon-to-be free-agent linebacker Calvin Pace back.