INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning in a Jets uniform? It's not out of the question.
While the Jets have been careful to express support for embattled fourth-year quarterback Mark Sanchez in recent weeks, coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum didn't entirely close the door on signing Manning if he is released by the Colts sometime before a $28-million roster bonus is due March 8.
In fact, they may have swung that door wide open. Both men told reporters Thursday at the NFL combine that they will consider any opportunity to improve the team -- up to and including a change at quarterback.
"Peyton is under contract to a different team, so I can't talk about him specifically," Ryan said. "But with our organization, we will look at everybody. There is a list of 10 free-agent quarterbacks that I've looked at . . . We have a great group of cornerbacks, but that doesn't mean we're not going to do our due diligence and look at every possibility, regardless of the position."
It was suggested to Ryan that he easily could tamp down any speculation about whether Sanchez is the Jets' current and future quarterback -- and he didn't. "We will do always what's in the best interest of our organization," he said. "For us, that means we are going to be prepared. We're going to look at any possibility that is out there.''
Ryan did express confidence in Sanchez and said he still believes in him. "I think Mark Sanchez is an outstanding quarterback," he said. "I think he's got a great future. I'm not coming off any of those."
But . . .
"But will we look at every scenario? Of course. For us to say we're not going to do our due diligence and look at this quarterback, that quarterback, this corner, whoever, that's not who we are," Ryan said.
Said Tannenbaum: "Mark's our starter, and we're really excited about what we think he can do. He's won a lot of games for us and we're excited about his future. With that said, just from a general standpoint, the day I got hired, I meant what I said: 'Every rock, every day.' There is a relentlessness about how we go about things and every day, we're going to look for opportunities to improve the team, regardless of position.
"But as it relates to Mark . . . His competitiveness and his desire to be great give us the belief that he'll be a really good player for a long time."
But will he be a really good player for a long time in a Jets uniform? Too soon to tell, although the Jets certainly would have competition for Manning -- who turns 36 next month -- if he's released and is healthy enough to return to his stature as one of the game's preeminent passers. Among the possibilities are the Redskins, Dolphins, Cardinals, Chiefs and 49ers.
Asked about the possibility of signing Manning, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves and coach Ken Whisenhunt said several times Thursday that they would consider players not currently on the team's roster. The 49ers are leaning toward re-signing Alex Smith, but likely would consider Manning if there are problems in reaching a contract agreement. The Redskins have a huge need at quarterback, and the Chiefs are expected to look at upgrading a position currently held by Matt Cassel.
The Jets won out in the Brett Favre sweepstakes four years ago, and undoubtedly would be aggressive in pursuing Manning if they believed he was ready to return.