Training camp is still six months away, but the New York Jets may be headed for their second quarterback derby in three years and Chad Pennington very well could be a player.
"The best players will play and that includes the quarterback position," said general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "I expect Chad will be back."
Pennington, who is locked into a long-term deal with the club, lost the starting job at last season's midway point to Kellen Clemens. But head coach Eric Mangini declined to name Clemens, who posted a 60.9 passer rating for the season, as his starter heading into next season.
While Tannenbaum indicated he would listen to other teams if they express interest in Pennington, he thinks the veteran will continue to wear the green and white.
"He is under contract and I expect him to be back," the second-year GM said at his season-ending news conference this afternoon. "I expect him to compete with Kellen. If opportunities come along, we'll look at them."
Money won't play a part in the decision. It had been thought the Jets might want to avoid having Pennington's cap figure entering next fall, but Tannenbaum dismissed that notion.
"We are comfortably under the cap right now," he said. "I don't see the economics driving any decision right now relative to him being here or not being here."
When pressed about the potential of trading Pennington under any scenario, Tannenbaum looked at PR director Bruce Speight and offered a witty retort.
"I'm sure there is a possibility. If we could get a second-round draft pick for Bruce, we'd probably consider that, too," he said. "But we think Bruce will be back."
A summer battle wouldn't be anything new for either Pennington or Clemens. In Mangini's first season, Pennington clearly distanced himself from the rookie Clemens and veterans Brooks Bollinger and Patrick Ramsey. He went on to capture AP Comeback Player of the Year honors and led the Jets into the postseason for a third time.
But the Jets stumbled out of the gate this fall and Pennington was benched after eight games. He saw action in two December games after Clemens injured a rib, but Clemens started the season finale. Pennington completed 68.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,765 yards with 10 TDs and 9 INTs.
"I want to be a starter, here or wherever," he said last week. "I want to be a starter."
It's not inconceivable to think Pennington could line up behind center on opening day next fall. Clemens completed 52 percent of his passes in '07, throwing 5 TDs against 10 INTs. He is more mobile than Pennington and owns a stronger arm.
"There are some things he is going to need to do better, but Kellen's a great worker and I expect him to work hard during the off-season," Tannenbaum said.
Interestingly, Tannenbaum noted the Jacksonville Jaguars' QB situation before the season. Now a playoff team, the Jags cut Byron Leftwich — the No. 7 overall selection in the 2003 NFL Draft — in September and handed the ball to David Garrard. Garrard rewarded the Jags with solid play throughout the year and will lead his team into New England this weekend for an AFC Divisional Round showdown with the Pats.
"You look at what Jacksonville did this year and obviously they deserve a lot of credit. They made that decision within seven days of opening day," he said. "[Head coach] Jack Del Rio and [GM] James Harris do a great job and they have a lot of depth at that position with Quinn Gray and David Garrard and made the decision to give them the best chance."
Football is very much a game of chance and now it appears likely that Chad Pennington will remain a Jet. Will he give them the best chance to win? Stay tuned.