DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mark Sanchez spoke for more than 20 minutes about the New York Jets’ crowded quarterback situation, saying all the right things throughout.
Yes, he believes he’ll be the starter, and, yes, he looks forward to the competition.
Then came the question everyone really wanted to know: Hey, Mark, what’s up with that headband?
"It’s my inner-soccer player," said a smiling Sanchez, his hair slicked and held back by a thin green band. "My hair’s getting long. I’m going to donate it at some point, if I can last. We’ll see."
There’s already a spoof Twitter account dedicated to the headband, and it received plenty of attention during the team’s first locker room availability since last season. But while everyone appeared to be in good spirits, Thursday marked the first of what will likely be many conversations about who the Jets’ starting quarterback will be.
Tim Tebow was cut on Monday, but the situation is far from settled. New general manager John Idzik said Sanchez, David Garrard, Greg McElroy, Matt Simms and second-round draft pick Geno Smith are all candidates to be the starter.
"No doubt," Sanchez said when asked if he expects to be the No. 1 guy this season. "Sure. Of course.
Sanchez’s future with the team became extremely uncertain when the Jets drafted Smith, the playmaking former West Virginia star, last week. Many fans and media assumed the move signaled the arrival of the future franchise quarterback for the Jets, with a chance that could happen as soon as this season.
Sanchez is coming off a miserable season in which he threw 18 interceptions, was benched for the first time in his career and had perhaps the most embarrassing NFL play in recent memory when he fumbled after running into the backside of former Jets guard Brandon Moore in a game on national TV.
But that was then and, of course, Sanchez has already put that all in the past. With new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg running a West Coast-style offense that might suit him better, Sanchez is fully motivated to get himself and the team back on track.
"Hopefully winning a bunch of games, that’s really all I’m worried about," Sanchez said. "Whether it’s a make-or-break thing? I feel that way every year. It should feel that way if you care about it. It’s an exciting time."
Center Nick Mangold couldn’t put his finger on it, but thinks there’s "something different" in the way Sanchez is carrying himself this offseason.
"There’s a little fire going, and that’s good," Sanchez said. "I think it’s good for everybody."
Mornhinweg spoke to Sanchez before and after the Jets drafted Smith, just to check in with him. There were rumors that the Jets might be looking into trying to part ways now with Sanchez, who is owed a guaranteed $8.25 million this season. Meanwhile, Idzik and coach Rex Ryan haven’t spoken to Sanchez specifically about his status, and that’s OK with him.
"They don’t owe me that," Sanchez said. "It’s up to them if they’d like to. I’m free. I’m here."
And, Tebow isn’t -- he’s now a free agent after clearing waivers -- and Sanchez believes that might help eliminate some of the distractions that marked most of last season. Sanchez said neither he nor Tebow were in the ideal situation, especially since they’re at a position in which only one can be a starter.
"We both competed our best, tried to be the best of friends we could," he said. "Honestly, under different circumstances we would be really good friends. It’s just hard when you’re competing like that. There’s just a professionalism about it that you don’t get too close to guys like that. You’re just professional and you’re cool. If the guy’s got a flat tire on the side of the road, I’m going to stop. I’m not going to just blow by him. But at the same time, I’m not sending him gifts on his birthday."
Sanchez insisted no hard feelings exist between the two, and added that he will be there for Smith when he joins the team. Rookies don’t report to the facility until next week.
"If he’s got a question, of course I’m not going to be a jerk," Sanchez said. "I’ve heard plenty of stories about guys like that. They come ask you a read on a thing and they say, ‘Hey, go look at your book."’
Garrard, signed as a free agent, is the veteran of the bunch at 35 years old, but hasn’t played a regular-season snap since 2010 because of injuries. He was in line to win the Miami Dolphins’ job ahead of Matt Moore and rookie Ryan Tannehill last year, but hurt a knee and ended up sitting out the entire season after he was released.
So, quarterback competitions are nothing new for Garrard.
"I’ve been a No. 1 quarterback before," he said. "As long as I’m healthy, as long as I’m able to continue to work with the team and don’t have setbacks with my knee or my back or anything like that, then I know that I have the ability to."
He added that he isn’t with the Jets to simply collect a paycheck, and doesn’t believe that Sanchez’s salary or Smith’s high profile will play a role in who ends up being the starter in Week 1 against Tampa Bay.
"It shouldn’t be any politics," Garrard said. "It should be the best guy playing. With that, if I’m going at it and I’m giving you my all and I’m healthy and you beat me at it, then that’s great for the team."