Clemens steps back for the throw
Kellen Clemens is not volunteering to hold the clipboard for Mark Sanchez.
"My expectations haven't changed since the draft," he said today. "I fully expect to be under center opening day when we go down to Houston."
Before the draft, Clemens was poised to battle Brett Ratliff, a former undrafted free agent, for the starting job. Now he'll be challenged by a highly touted rookie in Sanchez, the Southern Cal product that the Jets got in position to draft by sending three veterans — Ratliff, DE Kenyon Coleman and S Abram Elam — and two draft picks to Cleveland.
The Jets believe they have found their franchise quarterback in Sanchez. But Clemens, in his fourth season with the Green & White, does not plan on going down without a friendly fight.
"My opportunity, it's right now," he said in his first public remarks about the drafting of Sanchez. "We have a great football team, great coaches are in place. Speaking with Coach [Rex] Ryan, it's an open competition and I'm going to get a fair shot at the starting job and that's everything you can ask for — have a chance to come in and be competing for a starting spot on a team."
Clemens, who has a 3-5 career mark as a starter, has always maintained a professional attitude. He never pouted last August when the Jets ended his competition with Chad Pennington by acquiring future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. And nine months later, he has again taken the high road.
"For me, it comes down to a simple choice. I can either get mad and get frustrated, or I can get better," he said. "I'm choosing to get better and I'm going to keep working."
Both Clemens and Sanchez are represented by David Dunn, CEO of Athletes First.
"I feel very comfortable with him and obviously Mark does as well. They're going to handle their business between those two and Dave and I will handle our business," Clemens said. "I'm confident there won't be any conflicts of interest."
Hours after the Jets drafted Sanchez, the charismatic rookie dialed up Clemens and the two shared a friendly chat. The gesture was appreciated by Clemens, who met Sanchez prior to the draft and said he'll try to be as helpful to the Jets' new QB as Pennington was to him.
"That's a really classy thing for that kid to do," Clemens said of the call. "We had a good five-to-10-minute conversation but that's all the correspondence so far," Clemens said. "Talk about getting a competitive relationship off on the right foot. That was a neat thing he did."
Running errands with his family on draft day, Clemens got a call from Dunn and the agent told him the Jets were moving up to select Sanchez. Then almost immediately, GM Mike Tannenbaum and Ryan beeped in to reiterate to Clemens that the best player would play.
"I'm a guy who it takes a while for things to really set in," Clemens said. "Then you just reset your mind to what you have to get done and continue to go forward."
Mirroring life, change is the only constant in the NFL, but the Jets clearly want to bring some long-term stability to the quarterback position. Clemens though up a good point when he asks, "What is long-term in the NFL?"
Back in 2004, the Chargers got Philip Rivers in the first round (No. 4 overall, acquired from the Giants in a trade for Eli Manning) but Rivers had a lengthy holdout and eventually sat behind Drew Brees for two years. Then Brees, one of the top passers in the game, became a free agent and signed a lucrative deal with the Saints in March 2006.
"It worked out for Drew. Sometimes when things come up in this business that is so liquid and unstable, you have to have some faith that God has a plan out there," Clemens said. "Sometimes hindsight will tell you whether it was a good thing or a bad thing."
Entering the final year of his first professional contract, Clemens knows the situation and he's determined to make the most of it.
"I'd be lying if I said that Mark being drafted doesn't change things," he said. "There is a reality in the business. I'm in year four of a four-year deal, I love my teammates, I love my coaches, I love this area."