Where has Kellen Clemens seen this before: Coach tells you it’s an open competition at quarterback heading into training camp. And then boom! all of a sudden it’s not.
Flash back to last summer, when Clemens was in the midst of a preseason battle with Chad Pennington. Just before midnight on Aug. 6, the New York Jets blew up those plans by trading for Brett Favre. Pennington was shown the door, Clemens the clipboard.
Here it is, not even a year later, and there are trade rumblings yet again, this time involving Broncos disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler. The Jets have expressed interest in Cutler although at this point, it’s extremely preliminary, and there are increasing indications that Cutler isn’t going anywhere.
Even so, Clemens can’t help hear the background noise.
“At this point, it’s March 26, and it’s either going to happen or it’s not,” Clemens said last week during a break in his off-season conditioning workouts. “I am approaching it the same way I did last year when everything started surfacing about Brett (Favre). Now, granted that came true. If it happens, it happens. My job right now is just to go out in this first mini-camp especially, to prove that we don’t need to go outside of what is already in this locker room.”
As it stands now, Clemens is in a battle with Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge for the starter’s job. New Coach Rex Ryan has indicated to all three quarterbacks it’s a wide open competition. Then again, a few more blowups from two time zones away, and things can easily change. If Cutler refuses to mend fences with rookie Coach Josh McDaniels, who entertained the notion of trading for Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, then there is no assurance that either of the three quarterbacks in the locker room yesterday will be under center on opening day.
Ratliff, who had a terrific preseason in 2008, said he has no problem tuning out the speculation about Cutler.
“I try not to focus on things like that because I can’t control that,” he said. “I can control being here early. I can control how hard I work so that is what I am going to continue to do. If they do decide to trade for Cutler, or pick him up, or draft a guy, or whatever they feel they need to do to help the team, I am all for it. That is what I am trying to do here to help the team.”
Earlier in the week, Ryan gushed about his three quarterbacks during the NFL owners meetings in Dana Point. “We like the guys we’ve got,” he said. “We think with Brett Ratliff, Kellen Clemens and Erik Ainge, we have three young quarterbacks. These quarterbacks have been able to stay in the same system their entire career. It’s not like you’re getting a rookie. For Kellen Clemens, this will be his fourth year in this system. He’s backed up some pretty good quarterbacks. Obviously with Brett Favre, everyone’s going to back him up. With Brett Ratliff, all he did last year was have a 122.5 passer rating in the preseason. Obviously, he’s never had a chance in a regular season game but it would be hard to get that kind of rating if you were going against air. We’ll see how he plays.”
Sure doesn’t sound like a coach who’s ready to blow everything up. Then again, what’s Ryan supposed to say? Even if the Jets are interested in Cutler, it’s in Ryan’s best interests to stay out of the fray and support the guys already on the roster. After all, if the Jets don’t end up acquiring Cutler, Ryan has to deal with the quarterbacks he already has. And if Cutler does come aboard, then Ryan can adjust accordingly.
But at least the first-year head coach knows he has three guys willing to fight it out and let the best quarterback play. No bellyaching in this locker room, especially not from Clemens, who actually has reason to feel uncomfortable about his situation. Eric Mangini slammed the door on his opportunity in 2008, although it was the coach who paid the price for Favre’s late-season swoon; Mangini was fired after losing four of his last five to miss the playoffs.
Clemens now has another chance, but knows Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum might slam the door in his face once more. The quarterback would at least like to state his case.
“I believe if I’m under center,” he said. “we have playoff potential.”
Not a bigger promise than that?
“I’m not going to pull a Namath on you just yet,” he quipped.
Understood. After all, Clemens knows from experience there are no guarantees. All he wants now is a chance.