Mark Sanchez is the Jets' main man, not Peyton Manning.
After acknowledging that New York "looked into" pursuing Manning, Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum announced Friday night the team extended Sanchez's contract by three years. The move ended speculation the Jets could push him aside to make way for the former Indianapolis Colts star who's now a free agent.
"To find out that I could come back for three more years means the world to me," Sanchez said in a conference call. "I'm absolutely pleased to be a Jet. My family's ecstatic and now it's time to get to work."
Sanchez, 25, had two years remaining on the deal he signed when the Jets made him a first-round draft pick in 2009.
The contract extension is for $40.5 million, giving him five total years for $58.25 million, with $20.5 million fully guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hadn't announced financial terms, said the deal includes an additional $10 million in potential escalators. So, the maximum value of the three new years is $50.5 million, and $68.25 million over the entire deal.
Tannenbaum did not elaborate on the Jets' inquiry about Manning, but acknowledged the team had internal discussions about possibly going after the four-time NFL MVP.
"When a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback becomes available," Tannenbaum said, "you look into it."
Sanchez led the team to the AFC championship game as a wild card in his first two seasons, but struggled as the Jets lost their last three games in 2011 to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Sanchez, along with former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, took heavy criticism for the team's step back.
"If anything, that fuels me," Sanchez said. "It gets me excited about this next year, and I think if anything, I learned more this past year than my first two years combined about how to handle adversity and the things I could've done better."
But Sanchez's poor play down the stretch led to speculation that the Jets would pursue Manning, who was released by the Colts on Wednesday. Sanchez, who said the team approached him about an extension shortly after the season ended, understood the Jets' interest in Manning.
"That's part of Mr. Tannenbaum's job, to look at every viable option," Sanchez said. "The best part about it is they chose to stick with me. I'm going to be the starting quarterback for the next few years here. That's exciting. It gives the team just a reminder that I'm the leader of this team."
New York is in the market for a backup quarterback after Mark Brunell served in that role for two seasons. But Sanchez remains the man, as coach Rex Ryan has insisted he would be.
Sanchez had his best statistical season, throwing for a career-high 3,474 yards and 26 touchdowns while also rushing for six scores. But he was dogged by inconsistent play and subpar decision-making at times with 26 turnovers. There was also a rift between him and wide receiver Santonio Holmes — something Sanchez said has been smoothed over.
"We've been in contact, really, the whole offseason," Sanchez said, adding that he has met with Holmes. "I think a bigger deal was made out of that than needed to be, but that's OK. ... We've kind of laughed that off at this point now, weeks ago."
Sanchez also brushed off a media report after the season in which anonymous players and team executives criticized him and called for the Jets to make a serious run at Manning.
"If you're an unnamed source, you don't speak for yourself and therefore, you don't really speak for the team," Sanchez said. "So, I didn't really pay it any mind."
Both Sanchez and Tannenbaum declined to speculate whether he would have remained on the team if the Jets had gone ahead and been able to sign Manning. Despite the minor flirtation with the idea, the Jets showed their faith in Sanchez in the end based on what he has accomplished in just three seasons.
"We've won a lot of football games with Mark as the starting quarterback of the New York Jets, and that's really what convinced us," Tannenbaum said. "It's not a projection. It's not a hope. It's not an incremental leap of faith. It's, 'Here's a three-year body of work.'"
Even if it has had some ups and downs, as Tannenbaum acknowledged.
"We don't have blinders on," he said. "It has to get better and we think it will get better and we think it will become more consistent going into Mark's fourth year."
In an effort to do that, Sanchez said he has visited former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington to try to pick up new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's system before offseason workouts begin. Sanchez is also eager to put last year's failures behind him.
"Our first two years together, those are some of the best years the Jets have had in a long time," Sanchez said. "So, they understand that, and they wouldn't let one season change their view on me. They know how hard I'm going to work to come back next year and be the player that we all know I am, and we can be the team that we all know we are."