MORRISTOWN, N.J. - The writing appeared to be on the wall months ago. But someone forgot to tell Mark Sanchez, who said Tuesday morning that he still sees a future with the Jets.
"Absolutely. There's no doubt about that,'' Sanchez said before volunteering for Community Soup Kitchen at a church. "It's been a dream come true to play here and I don't want to go anywhere else. So that's for sure. I know I have [three] years left and I don't ever want that to end.
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"I love being a Jet. And I plan on being here.''
However, the fifth-year quarterback, who still is rehabbing from right shoulder surgery, has yet to discuss his future with the front office because the team is in the midst of a playoff push, he said. But between his periodic stops to visit doctors and continuing his rehab in Pensacola, Fla., Alabama and Florham Park, N.J., Sanchez continues to have his eyes on the prize: playing for the Jets next year.
"I'll be back better than ever,'' he said in his first interview since undergoing surgery Oct. 8.
Sanchez, 27, said he expects to return sooner than the expected four-to-six month recovery time frame after labrum surgery. He also said he's received encouraging news about his post-surgery arm strength.
"The way things are coming along, it sounds like I'll be bionic,'' he said. "I don't want to say like, of the year, but hopefully something like that, where you come back better.''
Sanchez was hurt after being inserted during the fourth quarter of a preseason game behind second- and third-team offensive linemen. He was injured on a hard hit by then-Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin. He spent the next few weeks rehabbing his throwing shoulder before opting for season-ending surgery.
"This could be a blessing in disguise,'' said Sanchez, who is earning a guaranteed $8.75 million this year. "A lot of people have told me that. It's hard to see that while you're going through it.''
It's also hard to envision Sanchez as the Jets' starter next season. He is due a $2 million roster bonus in March and carries a $13.1 million cap hit in 2014. For that reason, the team is expected to trade or release him, resulting in a $4.8 million charge of "dead money'' and a savings of $8.3 million for the Jets.
But Sanchez said he isn't worried about how his contract will affect his chances of remaining on the roster.
"That's for management and agents to worry about,'' he said. "I'm just worried about rehab and playing ball.''
Sanchez also expressed support for Geno Smith, the rookie quarterback who has regressed dramatically the past month. Smith's NFL-leading 22 turnovers have handcuffed the Jets, who at 5-6 have an uphill climb to reach the playoffs. But if there's anyone who understands rookie struggles, it's Sanchez, who had 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions during his first season, 2009.
The rookie learning curve is inevitable, said Sanchez, who added: "To start right away, it's going to happen.''
Asked about the Jets' struggles on offense, he said he hopes the team is strong enough to "withstand the external pressure'' of outside forces.
"I don't want to be critical of those guys,'' Sanchez said. "I've been in that situation, and I've seen guys that have played with us move on and be critical of us. It's like, 'Come on, man, you were just here like last year. Why would you do that?' That's not really my thing.''
He did admit one of his biggest frustrations is that he never got the chance to work with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "It's tearing me up that I can't play for him,'' Sanchez said.
He still hopes to have that opportunity, however. At least that's his plan.
"I hope so,'' Sanchez said of his expectations to remain a Jet. "I mean, that's all I'm thinking about: coming back next year, leading this team, playing well. We'll see what happens.''