ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Mark Sanchez is thankful for a fresh start in Denver — emphasis on start.
Sanchez said Monday that general manager John Elway told him to come in and compete for the No. 1 job with the Broncos, "and what a reinvigorating feeling this is."
"This isn’t an opportunity I’m going to squander," the 29-year-old veteran said Monday during his introductory news conference at the team’s suburban headquarters.
The Broncos acquired Sanchez from the Philadelphia Eagles last week for a conditional 2017 draft pick after the Super Bowl champions lost Peyton Manning to retirement and Brock Osweiler to free agency.
Sanchez, due $4.5 million in the final year of his contract in 2016, said the trade caught him off-guard, but as it sunk in, he quickly realized how fortunate he was.
Sanchez said he’s the perfect player to follow Manning after replacing another QB icon, Brett Favre, in New York his rookie season. What he learned from that experience, he said, was that playing in the shadows of a superstar doesn’t have to be suffocating.
"You don’t try to be Peyton Manning," Sanchez said. "Obviously we’ll let No. 18 sit on the shelf there for a while. We’ll let somebody else take that number. That’s just rarified air. I’m so impressed with what he’s done and would love to learn as much as I can from him and the guys who have been with him. But you know you’ve got to be yourself and work as hard as you can, be the best version of yourself and give everything I’ve got to the team."
And he’s eager to make his own, well, mark.
"I wasn’t a part of anything last year, so I’m not hanging on any coattails that way. I’m eager to win. And I’ve seen a lot in this league," Sanchez said. "I’m not married. I don’t have a girlfriend. I don’t have kids. I just want to play ball and I want to win. I really want to win.
"And I’m so lucky to be in a spot like this. So, you know, every waking moment, that’s all I’m thinking about is what an opportunity this is, that I want to win and I want to play here."
Sanchez spent his first five NFL seasons with the Jets, helping them to the AFC championship game in his first two years by winning playoff games on the road against teams led by Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers. But the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft out of Southern California eventually lost his job in New York and spent the last two seasons as a backup in Philadelphia.
Sanchez, who went 0-2 as a starter last season, said he’s a better quarterback for all he’s been through.
"I’m battle tested," he said. "I’ve been through the fire. I’ve been in some tough media markets, played in some great games. I’ve seen the highs and lows of this league. And I’m just eager to get started. … This is an incredible opportunity."
The only other quarterback on the Broncos roster right now is Trevor Siemian, who took just one snap as a rookie last year, a kneel-down against Pittsburgh. Elway will likely draft another quarterback next month and could very well add another veteran either through free agency or another trade.
None of that would change Sanchez’s mindset.
"Come on, let’s go, let’s compete, man," Sanchez said with a smile.
Sanchez, 37-35 as a starter, said that’s the first thing Elway told him: come in and stake a claim on the starting job.
"And taking a call from him was pretty special," Sanchez said. "I got the guy’s picture in my room growing up. He and Brett Favre, Dan Marino. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I got him on the phone. This is really happening.’ So, as soon as that wore off, you think about what an opportunity this is."
Sanchez said the setbacks he’s experienced in recent years never shook his confidence.
"I’ve just been hungry these last couple of years to just get an established, starting role … and not wait for somebody to get hurt or for something to happen to go in the game. And so now I’m in a lot of ways in control of my own destiny here," he said. "To have that in my power for the first time in a few years, that’s pretty special.
"And then to see what this could be, I mean, it’s incredible. So, like I said, everything I’ve got I’m pouring into this thing. I’m looking forward and I’m definitely not looking back."