FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - -- The T-shirt said it all: "Some things just won't retire."

The words -- written in green block letters on the front of David Garrard's black short-sleeved shirt -- told the story of his time away from the NFL. And it spoke volumes of his desire to be a Jet again.

Garrard, 35, called Jets general manager John Idzik this past weekend to express his interest in returning to the league after his unplanned retirement this summer. And a few days later, the veteran quarterback was back on the practice field, sporting green and white again.

The Jets, who signed Garrard to their exempt list for two games, have until 4 p.m. on Oct. 21 to decide whether to add him to the 53-man roster.

But Garrard, who announced his intention to retire in May because of chronic knee swelling after signing a one-year, $1.1-million deal with the Jets, is under no false pretenses about his status. He knows this is Geno Smith's team.

"Geno has the job," Garrard said Thursday without any hint of resentment. "And if my number's ever called, I need to be ready for that."

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The Jets hope it never comes to that. Smith, who turned 23 Thursday, remains the face of their future, and if he continues to perform the way he did Monday night against Atlanta, he'll keep the job for some time.

"He sure did show some poise, didn't he?" offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of Smith, who completed 16 of 20 passes, threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions and led the winning drive in a 30-28 upset of the Falcons.

Though Smith raved about Mark Sanchez's mentoring, the fifth-year quarterback always viewed himself as the better option at the position. But with Sanchez undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery on Tuesday, the Jets' quarterback room consisted of three players: Smith, Matt Simms and Brady Quinn. Now that has changed.

"I was just sitting watching TV, watching the games and just thinking, 'Man . . . I need to be somewhere.' There's no reason for me to be sitting at home, healthy, and not helping somebody out," Garrard said.

Garrard is eligible to attend practices and meetings. If the Jets keep him long-term, Quinn, 28, likely will be released.

Asked about Quinn, who was drafted in 2007, Rex Ryan said: "I almost see him as a young quarterback as well, whereas [Garrard] has an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and experience."

Garrard has played nine seasons but not since 2010 because of knee and back injuries. He impressed the Jets this past offseason with his throwing, but his mentoring ability was the key selling point.

Garrard said the next two weeks is "pro bono," adding that he doesn't get paid because of his exempt status. But he insisted his return isn't about the money, it's about an opportunity -- and a chance to help shape the career of a young quarterback.

"I'm just going to be me . . . a guy that you can always count on in whatever the situation. And sometimes the situation is helping a younger guy to be better at his craft," said Garrard, who was drafted by the Jaguars in 2002. "Mark Brunell was really there to help me when I first got into the league, so I wanted to return the favor to somebody."