NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mark Sanchez says he’ll be back next season “better than ever.”
Whether that chance comes with the Jets remains to be seen, but the quarterback, who underwent shoulder surgery on Oct. 8, has a clear preference.
“Absolutely,” he said during a volunteer stop Tuesday at a Morristown, N.J. soup kitchen. “I mean, there’s no doubt about that. It’s been a dream come true to play here and I don’t want to go anywhere else, that’s for sure. I know I have (three) years left, and I don’t ever want that to end. I love being a Jet and I plan on being here.”
Many fans and media members have speculated that Sanchez, with a $13.1 million salary cap figure next season, can start packing his bags.
“That’s all I’m thinking about, coming back next year, leading this team and playing well,” Sanchez said. “I know I’ve heard a lot of stuff on the outside about me not being here and stuff like that. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case in the building. Hopefully, not. Hopefully, I’m a Jet.”
Sanchez suffered what turned out to be a season-ending shoulder tear during the Jets’ preseason game against the Giants, handing the starting job to rookie Geno Smith by default.
Rex Ryan’s decision to insert Sanchez behind a backup offensive line late in the game was much-debated — and the incumbent starter was reportedly none too happy.
“Today is eight weeks out of surgery,” Sanchez said, speaking for the first time since going under the knife. “Things are going really well. I’m progressing exactly the way they wanted. Haven’t had any hiccups and I’ll be back better than ever.”
While his doctors have been happy with his progress, Sanchez acknowledged it has been tough to be a spectator while bouncing between doctor visits in New Jersey, California and Florida.
“It’s definitely different, something I don’t wish on anybody,” he said. “Not even on your worst enemy you don’t wish this on. It’s hard to be away. It’s hard to not be in the locker room, be on the plane, be on the bus. Little things like that, you miss it so much.
“All the wins, even the tough times, the struggles, it makes you appreciate those times and how much you love being out on the field and how much you love playing,” he added.
The 27-year-old expressed no worries about his arm strength: “The way things are coming along, it sounds like I’ll be bionic. “I don’t want to say like ‘Rookie of the Year,’ but hopefully something like that, where I’ll come back better.”
In an ironic twist, the Jets could actually use Sanchez in a big way at this point. He looked mostly solid during the summer in Marty Mornhinweg’s system before the injury.
“It’s just tearing me up that I can’t play for him,” Sanchez said.
Smith is struggling mightily with one touchdown and 10 interceptions in his last six games, but the only other options are inexperienced backup Matt Simms and veteran David Garrard, who hasn’t played a regular-season game since 2010.
Through it all, Sanchez said he focuses only on getting back on the field.
“This could be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “A lot of people have told me that. It’s hard to see that while you’re going through it, but it does give you a different perspective.”
Sanchez, the Jets’ first-round pick in 2009, led the team to consecutive AFC Championship game appearances in his first two seasons. Then came the regression. He committed 52 total turnovers in 2011 and 2012.
The Jets drafted Smith in April to compete with Sanchez. He led the team to big wins over Atlanta, New England and New Orleans but has struggled in recent weeks, leading some to call for a look at backup Matt Simms.
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