FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan on Wednesday expressed confidence that Mark Sanchez will one day resume his football career.
He expressed no such confidence it will be with the Jets.
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Sanchez, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Tuesday, is still under contract with the Jets for three more years. But it would be the upset of the century if the former No. 5 overall pick is not a former Jet before a $2 million roster bonus is due next March.
Ryan has been heavily criticized -- though not by Sanchez, at least not publicly -- for his decision to insert him into the fourth quarter of the Jets' third preseason game against the Giants on Aug. 24. Playing behind a less-than-NFL quality offensive line, Sanchez suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder after getting hit by Giants lineman Marvin Austin.
Sanchez, like the Mets' Matt Harvey, tried to rehab the injury with the hopes of avoiding surgery. Both eventually decided to have the procedure.
Harvey, though, will be in a Mets uniform the next time he throws a pitch after elbow surgery costs him the 2014 season. Sanchez's next NFL pass most likely will not come in green and white.
"I don't want to get into that,'' Ryan said when asked if Sanchez's Jets career was over. "Like I said, I think he's going to come back 100 percent . . . Whether he's here or whatever, our thing is on doing what's best for Mark, which would be to get him healthy.''
Sanchez and Ryan will forever be linked for their first four seasons together. Back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in the first two years were the high moments; the Butt Fumble and the shoulder injury that didn't have to happen were the low moments.
"We're acting like he's dead. Mark Sanchez is not dead,'' Ryan said. "Sanchez is going to be 100 percent healthy. It's not like his career's over. He's going to play again.''
Ryan did admit the team may have made a mistake with Sanchez. Not the decision to put him in the preseason game; Ryan has defended that since the night it happened.
No, Ryan said it was fair to say the Jets may have erred by using their one injured reserve/designated to return spot on Sanchez, because he is clearly not returning this year.
"We thought he could come back,'' Ryan said. "We were hoping that he could come back. Certainly knew that this surgery might be a possibility . . . Unfortunately, our doctors said it's probably best if he has the surgery, so that's what we did. But he was doing everything he could to get back out there.''
Sanchez was not available for comment Wednesday. While he rehabbed, Sanchez became a mentor to rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who Wednesday was named the AFC offensive player of the week for leading the Jets to Monday's 30-28 win in Atlanta.
"Mark's been a great guy to me,'' Smith said. "He's also been a great mentor. When he was out there on the practice field, he was a guy who pushed me every single day and pushed himself as well. When he went down, he kept in high spirits and stayed active and stayed in my corner. That's the sign of a great teammate.''
And, at some point early next year, a great former teammate.