The arrival of Geno Smith hasn’t changed Mark Sanchez’s outlook on the future or his status for 2013. At least, that’s what the fifth-year quarterback is saying publicly.
Despite the Jets’ five-person quarterback competition, Sanchez said Thursday he “of course” expects to be the opening-day starter and “absolutely” sees himself as the franchise’s future QB.
The only question is: does the front office feel the same way?
“I’m worried about me playing well, competing my butt off, being the starter, learning this offense, being the best teammate I can be, and other than that,” said Sanchez, “it’s really out of my hands.”
Sanchez said he feels like every season is “make or break,” so the second-round selection of Smith las week or the free-agent signing of veteran David Garrard hasn’t made him nervous. In fact, Sanchez -- who was sporting a thin green headband over his curls as a way of channeling his “inner soccer player” -- said he’s welcoming the stiffer competition.
“I’m thrilled to compete and it’ll bring out the very best I have,” he said.
Asked whether he expects to retain the starting job, he said matter-of-factly: “No doubt. Sure. Of course.”
Sanchez’s presence in Florham Park, however, is largely tied to the fact that the Jets owe him a guaranteed $8.25 million this season. If the organization were to cut him with a June 1 designation, it’d be charged with a $12-million salary-cap hit. When asked about the financial implications of his contract, Sanchez simply said: “I don’t know (if that has anything to do with it).”
Sanchez said he's bringing a new “focused approach” this offseason, as he gets acclimated to his third offensive coordinator is as many seasons. His teammates have also noticed a change in him as well.
Center Nick Mangold couldn’t put his finger on it specifically, but said there's definitely "something different” about how the fifth-year QB is going about his day-to-day work – mainly in terms of Sanchez’s maturity and focus.
Though the Jets front office repeatedly said last year that Sanchez was the starter, Tim Tebow’s presence in the locker room (and the media attention that followed the former Heisman Trophy winner) helped to derail Sanchez's production in 2012. This year, however, John Idzik & Co. have offered Sanchez no assurances about his role, and have made it increasingly clear that no player is exempt from competition.
“Well, it’s a new GM, so…,” Sanchez said, his voice trailing off.
Unlike his first two years in the NFL, Sanchez said he wasn’t looking over his shoulder during last week's draft. After four-plus years in the league, he said that he’s not as anxious about his status on the team.
“There’s less to worry about,” he said. “You’re not hanging on the draft, watching, biting your nails. Like those first two years I felt like, ‘Oh, I wonder who we’re going to get?’ I mean, who cares? They’re going to try to get this team better, bring in the best talent available on the board.”
Though he wasn’t informed the Jets were going to take Smith 39th overall Friday, Sanchez said his older brother, Nick, and his agent, had an idea. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg also called Sanchez before and after the draft just to check in on him.
“Marty just said: ‘Hey man, we’re heating this thing up. Go win the job. If that’s what you’re going to do, go win it. Compete, just like Geno is, just like David is and get ready to roll.”
“I mean, they said ‘We’re going to compete,’ and that’s what we’re doing. They drafted a quarterback, so let’s compete.”
But Mornhinweg's multiple calls to Sanchez during the draft speaks volumes about what many believe is the QB's biggest character flaw: his seemingly fragile psyche.
“He said, ‘You doing alright?,’" Sanchez said, relaying his conversation with Mornhinweg prior to the Smith selection. "I said: ‘I’m doing fine, why?’ ...He said, ‘OK, I’m just making sure you’re hanging in there.’
"I said, ‘I’m fine, Coach. Come on, man. That's part of the job.’"