Although QB Chad Pennington had an admirable comeback this season, does he have a long term future with the Jets? (Jets Insider.com Photo)
A day after their season-ending loss in New England, the Jets returned to Weeb Ewbank Hall to clean out their lockers, reflect on a surprisingly successful season, and look ahead to a promising 2007.
While there was a feel good vibe throughout the locker room as players exchanged numbers and autographs and said their goodbyes as they packed their things, the team seemed pleased with their work but disappointed in the end result.
“When your goal is winning a championship, your proud of how far you came but at the end of the day there is still something that burns inside of you that tells you there’s unfinished business,” veteran quarterback Chad Pennington said of a 10-6 season that ended with a loss in the Wild Card round.
Pennington’s performance was certainly one of the positives of the season as he established himself as the leader of the team and bounced back tremendously from a career-threatening shoulder injury and even won Comeback Player of the Year. Still, not even Pennington is sure of what the future holds as head coach Eric Mangini continues to promise there will be competition at every position. The general feeling in the locker room was that while 2006 was a stellar season, it was time to move on to a fresh start in 2007.
“Eric just told us all it’s a fresh start and everyone starts off 0-0 next year,” guard Pete Kendall said. “I think we all learned first hand this year that what you did this year has nothing to do with what you do next year.”
While the players seem enthusiastic about what the future holds for the team, there is some uncertainty as to which players will be let go and who will be back and in what role. Another aspect of the offseason players are not looking forward to is the grueling training camp and all the hard work that Mangini demands from his players.
“I don’t think I can do another one of his camps, but it is what it is,” star wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who acknowledged retirement is just a couple years off for him, said. “I’ve thought about it all year like, man, can I make it through another one of these camps? I mean I guess we’ll see how I feel in a couple of weeks but I’m not looking forward to it that’s for sure.”
Despite its rigorous demands, players have clearly bought into Mangini’s program. Running back Curtis Martin, a future Hall-of-Famer who was kept out all season by a knee injury that will likely end his career, said this year was the best coaching job he had ever been around. The veteran said he had never known more about the game plan for each week than he did this week under Mangini.
“I don’t have to blow smoke up Eric and for me to say it doesn’t do it justice,” Martin said. “The Jets got the best coach that was out there and I don’t know how many in the league, available or not, are better than him.”
With that said, there seems to be greener pastures in the future for Eric Mangini and the New York Jets.
-While he did not make an official announcement, Martin reiterated that the end result of his knee injury will likely be retirement. “I’ve come to grips with the fact that my career is probably over,” said the future Hall of Famer. “I’m grateful that I put in my all and I put my heart out on the field. I’ve done everything I can to help my team win games and at the end of the day, that’s something I can leave the game with; no regrets.” He went on to add that while he would like to stay involved in the organization, he has no interest in coaching. Look for an official press conference announcing his retirement in the next few weeks.
-Martin also acknowledged that he liked what he saw out of rookie running back Leon Washington. Martin said Washington’s will and perseverance should give him staying power and could help shape the youngster into a feature back.
-Although comeback player of the year Chad Pennington was a feel good story of the season, don’t think that the starting job will be automatically given to him next year. The young strong armed Kellen Clemens will be entering next year with a season under his belt and for sure will be looking to challenge Pennington. Mangini will also undoubtedly keep the job open to the best person in next summer’s camp.
-Players who are a lock to be gone next year include, RB’s Derrick Blayock and Kevan Barlow, DE Dave Ball, QB Patrick Ramsey and FB BJ Askew. On the bubble could be WR Justin McCareins, G Adrian Jones and CB David Barrett.
-Next year looks even more promising with a base of young players and most all of the team’s starters signed for next year. Even better news is that Gang Green goes into 2007 with reportedly a whopping $29MM in cap space which is the most of any NFL team. Obviously with this type of financial flexibility, the team can be very aggressive in recruiting free agents. Top priority will undoubtedly be a RB and CB.
-Safety Kerry Rhodes, who had a breakout season in 2006, summed up the individual feeling among most of the players, saying that he feels the team has a good nucleus but that they must dwell on the negatives to continue to improve.
-Mangini encouraged players to take some time to relax and appreciate their families and said he will do so himself. The coach acknowledged that a trip to Disney World may be in order for his family.
-WR Jerricho Cotchery who had a breakout season this year felt the hard work since Mangini’s grueling training camp was worth every second. “We got to a point where nobody thought we could get to and nobody gave us a chance,” said Cotchery “But we always played tough together and we played well together. The worked paid off.”
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