As Jets Owner Woody Johnson was set to introduce Brett Favre to the media, he offered a departing word for Chad Pennington.
“We owe Chad a lot of gratitude for the dedication for his dogged, team-oriented persistence even in light of all the adversity that we had in some years,” said Johnson. “He was always concentrated and always a good teammate so thanks to Chad.”
The Jets released Pennington Thursday afternoon, officially ending his eight-year career with the Jets that began when the team drafted him 18th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. Pennington entered the league off a record-setting career at Marshall University, where he threw for 123 touchdowns and 14,098 yards with a 63.3 completion percentage. Teamed with WR Randy Moss, Pennington led the Thundering Herd to three Mid-American Conference titles and was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year in his senior season.
After the Jets sputtered to an 8-8 record in 1999 with the likes of Vinny Testaverde, Rick Mirer and Ray Lucas splitting time at quarterback, Pennington came to New York as a potential savior. For a franchise that had suffered so much at the position since the days of Broadway Joe Namath, Pennington’s arrival was a welcomed site. But a rash of injuries plagued Pennington and never allowed him to reach the league’s upper echelon of signal callers.
However, even with the struggles, Pennington had his moments to shine. After throwing a combined 20 passes (2 TDS, O INT) in his first two seasons, Pennington was handed the starting job in 2002 by Head Coach Herman Edwards. It turned out to be the right decision as Pennington threw for 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions. His 104.2 quarterback rating ranked highest for any season in team history, ahead of Testaverde’s 101.6 rating in 1998. His strong play led Gang Green to a 9-7 record and an AFC East championship. He continued his solid play into the AFC Wild Card game against the Peyton Manning-led Colts, completing 19 of 25 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-0 rout.
But just as the Jets’ quarterback continued to rise onto the scene, the injuries began to set in. In a 2003 preseason game against the New York Giants, Pennington fractured his left wrist when he was tackled from behind by LB Brandon Short. The injury forced Pennington to miss six weeks and he returned to throw for 13 TD’s and 12 INT’s.
The rollercoaster ride for Pennington continued. He returned with a strong year in 2004, throwing 16 TD’s and nine INT’s while leading the Jets back to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. If it weren’t for two boots by K Doug Brien in the Divisional game at Pittsburgh, Gang Green’s run would’ve continued.
Just as Pennington had a strong year to build from, a critical injury again marred his play. In a week-three game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the signal-caller left the field with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. Pennington was placed on Injured Reserve just one month later, essentially ending his season.
With the injuries continuing to mount for Pennington, the Jets drafted QB Kellen Clemens in the second round (49th overall) in the 2006 draft. The strong-armed rookie was viewed as Pennington’s successor, but with Clemens in-waiting, Pennington courageously returned to the field and became one of the league’s top surprises. Under rookie Head Coach Eric Mangini, Pennington started all 16 games and led Gang Green back to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. The surprising return earned Pennington the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Even those closest to Pennington took notice of the quarterback’s efforts. He was the recipient of the Dennis Byrd Award for most inspirational player, as selected by his teammates.
In all, Pennington never did get his storybook ending with Gang Green. He finished his Jets career with a 32-29 record (.525) and ranks fourth in club history with 13,738 passing yards. Even with an injury-battered arm, Pennington’s accuracy never suffered. He enters this season as the NFL’s all-time most accurate passer with a 65.6 completion percentage, ahead of Kurt Warner, Steve Young and Peyton Manning.
As of late Thursday, ESPN.com reported that six teams had contacted Pennington’s agent, Tom Condon, to discuss their interest in the signal caller. Among the teams rumored to be interested are the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs.