Published January 19, 2012
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Mark Sanchez is still the New York Jets' quarterback of the future.
Well, at least for now.
Owner Woody Johnson supported his embattled quarterback while meeting with writers who regularly cover the team Thursday for the first time since the Jets finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs.
But, he also wouldn't rule out the possibility of pursuing a veteran such as Peyton Manning if the Indianapolis Colts star became available.
"I'm not going to ever tell you guys what we may or may not do," Johnson said in a 30-minute far-ranging interview.
"Our job, and my job for the fans, is to take this team to the very top level, and I've said that from the beginning. And I have a lot of confidence that we can do it. So, we're going to look at everything. We're going to look at every possibility, and that's what you'd want us to do."
Johnson said "there's no such thing as 100 percent" when asked if Sanchez would definitely be the starter next season.
"Barring whatever," he said, "yes."
That "whatever" could be the status of Manning, who missed the season after a few operations on his neck.
He's still a highly unlikely possibility for Rex Ryan's Jets since he's still under contract to the Colts, is 10 years older than the 25-year-old Sanchez and would be a tough fit financially for New York.
But the fact Johnson didn't completely slam the door on the idea of Manning joining his brother Eli as quarterbacks in New York could keep the rumor mill spinning in the offseason. Johnson did sound later as though the franchise is thinking about Sanchez for the long term.
"With Mark, you have a 25-year-old quarterback that you can develop," he said. "You can have a quarterback for 10 years with a guy like this. These guys are not available everyday.
"We have a lot of confidence in Mark. We think he's our guy. We're blessed that we have a guy that we feel can climb the ladder and he can do everything. He's got the work ethic and has all the ingredients in place to be a great quarterback."
Johnson indicated that new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano taking the reins from the departed Brian Schottenheimer could help Sanchez. Sparano, hired last week, said he wanted the offense to be "explosive," but also wanted a focus on running the ball — as the Jets did in Sanchez's first two seasons.
"My feeling is that Mark is the kind of guy that will learn from this and get better," Johnson said. "We are going to try to make the offense maybe a little bit more suitable to what Mark's development is."
He added that the blame shouldn't be placed all on Sanchez, despite his lousy finish, but agreed that he might need a backup who could help challenge him.
"He's got to have somebody breathing on his back, yeah, I think you could argue that," Johnson said.
Johnson also is "concerned but I'm confident" that the fractured relationship between Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes can be mended.
Holmes was highly critical of the offensive line during the season and clearly had some tension with his quarterback.
It all came to a head in the season finale at Miami when Holmes was benched late in the game after arguing with teammates in the huddle.
"They've won a lot of games together and one is good for the other," Johnson said. "Santonio makes the quarterback a lot better and vice versa. So they have a good reason to iron this thing out and I think they can do it."
Johnson acknowledged that he might sit down with the two, either individually or together, at some point. While he added that Holmes will definitely be back, the Jets are tied to Holmes financially after they gave him a five-year, $45 million deal last offseason — something the owner doesn't regret.
"He may be one of the best players we've ever had here," said Johnson said, who added that he was troubled by the perception that Holmes quit on the team as the season ended.
"I have a good relationship with Santonio," Johnson said. "He's going to have a fresh start this year and I think he'll take advantage of it. He knows it's important to him, it's important to us."
Johnson also disputed LaDainian Tomlinson's claim on Showtime's "Inside The NFL" that the Jets had the worst locker room tension he has ever seen, saying the running back might have overstated things.
"I didn't feel a toxicity in the locker room," Johnson said, adding that he'll talk to Tomlinson to clarify his statements.
"I hear what LaDainian (is saying). I respect LaDainian at the highest level, but I don't think the whole locker room was toxic. I think there were clearly a few players that had conflicts. ... Would you love to have total harmony? Maybe. But maybe it's good to have a little bit of disharmony also. But they have to care about each other."
Ryan has said that he felt he never really had the pulse of the locker room, and many — including Tomlinson — think the coach's brash approach, along with general manager Mike Tannenbaum, set the tone for what took place. Johnson supported the aggressive style, saying it is more of a positive when building a team.
"The great thing about Rex as opposed to people not like Rex, is that he has a very healthy ego," Johnson added. "It's very healthy. He realizes that being a great coach requires admitting mistakes perhaps or changing or altering his style or management style or learning that we don't all grow up being great managers at age 40 whatever he is. Sometimes, it takes you a little longer and in most cases it does to be a good manager."
Johnson has spoken to Ryan about how the season unfolded, and believes the coach will keep improving.
"I think he realizes that he is the head coach," Johnson said. "He's a savant defensive guy, but he is a head coach. He has responsibility for the whole room and I think he will be a lot more involved and take a bit of a different management approach to that, I would suspect. Not because I told him to, but because I think he has figured this out."