He's been there, rather than on the field, because of a shoulder injury from the third game of the preseason — and, as far as the fifth-year quarterback is concerned, for no other reason.
"What I'm really disappointed about is that I got hurt, because I won the competition," Sanchez told NFL Media's Rich Eisen on Thursday.
When Eisen asked him to clarify that he thought he won the QB competition with Smith for the Jets' starting job, Sanchez answered: "There's no doubt. It was a done deal."
It's a view that many shared. Sanchez, a former USC quarterback, looked good at camp and solid during the preseason (completing 28 of 42 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 90.0 passer rating) before getting hurt late in the quarter of the third game.
Meanwhile, Smith struggled, missing the second preseason game with an injury and throwing three interceptions upon his return the following game. Overall during the exhibition games, the West Virginia product completed 22 of 37 passes for 246 yareds with one touchdown and three interceptions for a 54.6 passer rating.
But Sanchez became unpopular with Jets fans with his inconsistent play during the last two seasons. And Coach Rex Ryan refused to name a starter until it became clear that Sanchez would not be ready for the season opener.
While Smith got off to a strong start, throwing for 246 yards with one touchdown and one interception to lead the Jets to an 18-17 comeback victory over Tampa Bay in the opener, the rookie had a letdown Thursday night in a 13-10 loss to New England, throwing three interceptions with a passer rating of 27.6.
Still, Smith was drafted to be the team's quarterback of the future, so it might take an injury of his own to remove him from the starting spot at this point — even if Sanchez is able to play this season, which he says is still a possibility despite recent reports that he needs season-ending surgery on his shoulder.
"I'm rehabbing my [butt] off to try and make it back, and that's where my head's at," Sanchez said. "There is no plan for surgery at this time."