Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Oct 2007

Pennington Era Over As Jets Promote Clemens

It was really only a matter of time before Chad Pennington gave way to Kellen Clemens, but time has a way of speeding up when your team is 1-7 and the offense just finished putting up three points against a very shaky Bills defense. There is no question that Clemens has a gun, and he looked good in preseason, so there really is no reason for the Jets not to play him at this point. Pennington still has some football left in him, but he is clearly better suited at this point to play a caretaker role on a team with a top defense. It's kind of a sad decline for a player who flashed real brilliance before his career was derailed by injuries.

Posted by: Sean McCormick on 29 Oct 2007

44 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2007, 6:47pm by Alex


by silentdibs (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 1:50pm

I call two weeks before this decision is criticized because they are 1-9, even though it's all the defense's fault.


by Independent George (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 1:53pm

This really is sad; it seems everyone who comments about Pennington starts his sentence, "I really respect/admire Chad Pennington, but...". I think people often overlook just how good he was before he wrecked his shoulder (while playing through injuries during a playoff hunt).

So what's next for Pennington? Spending the next 5 years as the best backup QB in the league? Jeff Garcia's successor in Tampa? Game manager in Baltimore or Chicago?

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 1:58pm

"nd the offense just finished putting up three points against a very shaky Bills defense. "

We're talking about the same shaky bills defense that killed the cowboys offense, shutdown the ravens, shutdown denver, and pretty much only got beat by NE and Pittsburgh? Defense is not the problem in Buffalo, just like offense is not the problem in NY.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 2:07pm

It was going to happen eventually. You don't draft a QB in the 2nd round and not expect him to play at some point. A loss season is a good enough time to do it, despite Chad probably not being the primary reason why they are terrible.

by johnt (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:23pm

I don't think it'll make the Jets better (actually I think they'll be quite worse) but I think it's still the right move to make.

Bets on who will get Pennington next year? There are a number of teams that could be interesting with an above average QB. And I think he is definitely above average - he's managed to do decently despite having one of the worst running games in the NFL over the past few years.

Ravens might be ideal.

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:28pm

Minnesota Vikings? Its not like the recievers can catch anyway.

by PaulH (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:41pm

Lionsbob is right. You don't draft a QB in the second round with the idea being that he will be a serviceable back-up in the future. You draft him to play, and that's what the Jets are doing.

Pennington is obviously not the Jets' major problem, but by the same token he's also obviously not the guy who will be leading them two or three years on down the road. I guess the Jets are just mailing in this season and hoping to see what Clemens can do.

One more thing, this makes good sense for the Jets in terms of the draft. They'll get a top five pick, and probably a top three pick, and if Clemens doesn't show them that he has what it takes, they'll go the route of a quarterback. Most expect it to be a very strong QB class -- Ryan, Brohm, Woodson, Henne, Booty, Ainge, Brennan, etc. -- and with such a high pick, you would really like to know whether or not you have a legitimate QB waiting in the wings. Because honestly if you think this guy is not going to be very good, you're probably looking at picking a quarterback high in the upcoming draft.

I think that, as much as anything else, is the reason why they are turning it over to Clemens.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:46pm

As a Jets fan, IMO it's about time. Not because it will make the team better this season, because it won't. The season is over and Clemens was drafted to be the QB of the future, so let's see what he can do.

Pennington did a lot for the franchise, it's unfortunate he had all the injuries because he could have been an upper-echelon QB.

by John Beck (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 3:48pm

"It was going to happen eventually. You don’t draft a QB in the 2nd round and not expect him to play at some point. A loss season is a good enough time to do it"

From your mouth to God's ears...unless you stop to consider the team I'd be inheriting. Then maybe it's best to hope I remain anonymous through this entire season.

by LB (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:18pm

Anyone who writes or utters the words "The Pennington Era" is over are guilty of hyperbole or worse. If Clemens gets injured next week, guess what? Pennington is starting again. Maybe only until Clemens heals, but anyone remember Jeff Hostetler. He took Simms job only to give it back a year later. And there's no reason the Jets have to trade Pennington. He's got the tough stuff and egoless team spirit to stick around and help his team. And they way things are going for QB's in the NFL, the Jets may need him back on the field sooner rather than later.

by Are-Tee (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:20pm

"You don’t draft a QB in the 2nd round and not expect him to play at some point."

When the Jets drafted Clemens, they had no way of knowing Pennington was even going to be able to play in 2006, much less become the comeback player of the year. There was a lot of speculation before the season started last year that Clemens would be the starter for 2006.

That said, I think a Pennington-Bollinger reunion in Minnesota would be appropriate.

By the way, Mangini officially confirmed the switch at his press conference this afternnon.

by clod (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:25pm

Anyone know how Clemens grades out in the QB projection system? Heres to hoping a Duck does well.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:30pm

A couple of questions -

1. With the issues the Jets have running the ball consistently (and typically falling behind early) will they be able to fairly judge Clemens skills?

2. What's Pennington's salary? I think his performance last year pushed his salary back up into a pretty high range (typical for starting QBs). Can't imagine the Jets will keep him as a backup with that cap figure.

by Temo (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:31pm

"We’re talking about the same shaky bills defense that killed the cowboys offense, shutdown the ravens, shutdown denver, and pretty much only got beat by NE and Pittsburgh?"

The Cowboys gained 385 total yards, 309 through the air. Romo was the only weak point of the entire team during that game, and they couldn't stop him from scoring through the air when it counted. The bills did no killing of any kind.
And shutting down Denver and Baltimore is no great feat. Buffalo is on the border of the bottom third in the league.

by vanya (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:33pm

a very shaky Bills defense

Well, they're #20 in DVOA - so on the bad side of mediocre, sure. But "very shaky"? This is the second week in the row an FO writer has slagged the Bills unnecessarily. Face it, the Bills aren't the laughing stock you thought they would be at the beginning of the year, they are achieving solid "average football team" status, and will very likely finish in 2nd place in the AFC East by a comfortable margin. In fact they'll probably be a .500 team after they beat the Bengals next week, and might even have (crazy) visions of wild card dancing in their heads.

by Are-Tee (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:48pm

Re. #13:

The Jets have been able to run the ball well when they give Thomas Jones the chance;

The Jets actually have not been falling behind early - their problem this year has been 2nd half meltdowns.

by Sean McCormick :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 4:57pm


I don't mean to disrespect the Bills, who are playing hard and who have clearly established themselves as the #2 team in the division (for what that's worth). But they're 31st in yards given up per drive, behind only the Jets. Pennington should have generated more offense than he did.

As for drafting a first-round quarterback, it's highly unlikely. For starters, there is nothing Clemens can show in half a season on a team struggling mightily that is going to dictate his future one way or the other. Secondly, the Jets had an opportunity to do so with a better crop of players and they chose to go with Ferguson and Clemens instead. So they're not going to draft Brian Brohm after passing over Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler. It's more likely that they will do what the Patriots did in 2002-03: take advantage of the fact that they have a starting quarterback making rookie money and use that to upgrade the quality of the rest of the team.

As for Clemens, he projects as an above average quarterback in the Lewin Projection system. His ceiling is probably in the Drew Brees range.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:09pm

So Chris Long is going to be a Jet next season. Is it too early to talk about the NFL draft...

by Chris M (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:18pm

Jets fan, and always did love Chad. Sad to see him go, but he was developing that Drew Bledsoe-esque uncanny ability to throw big picks in the two minute drill. Three or four times this year he's lofted the eight yard out to the sidelines right into the arms of the CB running the other way, killing late drives.

I think Chad ends up leading a division winner in the NFC next year - Bears, Vikes, Bucs, Panthers?

by thestar5 (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:23pm

Rich, please. The Cowboys were stopped only by Romo's ineptness that game and even still they drove all over Buffalo. Buffalo has a bad defense. Stopping the Ravens? Who hasn't?

by DMP (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:28pm

#'s 4, 7, and 11:

Donovan McNabb wants to have a word with you guys.

by johonny (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:45pm

The way these things always seem to work out is that after the press and fans waste hours on Clemens/Pennington analysis Clemens gets hurt in his first game and Pennington becomes the starter again?

by Bionicman (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:37pm

As others have said, the Jets need to find out if Clemens is a franchise QB before the draft next year. Pennington probably isn't going to last long enough to play effectively when the Jets build a real contender.

Temo, thestar5: Are you guys homers or trolls? In case you didn't know, this website has a pair of cool stats for measuring the performance of teams: they're called VOA and DVOA. As Aaron Schatz posted the day after the Cowboys-Bills game, the Cowboys offense posted a VOA of -32.5%, which would make them one of the worst teams in the league if done on a regular basis. I wondered if you were the same person, because you both used the hilarious "If you discount all the bad plays made by the QB (the most important player on the field), they did well" logic. By that line of 'thinking,' the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders are once again the league's offensive juggernauts. And for the record, the Cowboys running was terrible in that game, and TO had an atrocious performance (something like three catches out of ten targets).

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:41pm

"Well, they’re #20 in DVOA - so on the bad side of mediocre, sure."

And will continue to go up, as the Patriots Offensive DVOA will definitely go up this week. Considering that pretty much everyone they've played so far (except the Jets) either Won, or had a bye this week, I bet they're top 16 by next week.

"Rich, please. The Cowboys were stopped only by Romo’s ineptness that game and even still they drove all over Buffalo."

somebody had to pick off all those balls. They played great defense. If their offense could have put up more than 3 points, they win that game.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:42pm

"But they’re 31st in yards given up per drive, behind only the Jets."

And how much of that is from the Patriots and Steelers games?

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:57pm

McNabb might be gone sooner rather then later. The Eagles have shown they do not care when they cut players. I have no idea, but I think Kolb is starting in his 3rd season in the league.

by McGaytrain (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 7:34pm

Truly, Buffalo's defense was respectable against a poorly-coached NYJ offense. Thomas Jones was running all over them on 1st and 2nd down, but Pennington kept throwing.

If Buffalo's defense has a weakness, it's poor performance in the 4th quarter. Why this has been so is the interesting question.

by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 9:22pm

"If Buffalo’s defense has a weakness, it’s poor performance in the 4th quarter. Why this has been so is the interesting question."

Because they go into a soft shell where they rush just the linemen and the linebackers drop into deep coverage.

It's sad, really.

by Gus (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 9:35pm

While I think this is the right move for the Jets' future, I really doubt Pennington was "the problem" holding the rest of the team back.

I just finished a FO stats-heavy analysis of the Jets issues this season, as related to Pennington losing his starting job. At the risk of self-promoting, I'd be very interested to hear what y'all had to say about it.

Click my name for the blog post.

by Temo (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 9:44pm

Bionicman- no, I'm not a the same guy posting twice. And as far as being a homer, maybe it's true that my judgement isn't 100% neutral, but if anything else that game showed me more of Romo's shortcomings than anything else. Having watched that game twice now, I can't say that any of the turnovers by Romo (which is what caused the VOA to be so low, for the most part) were the defense making a play than Romo just making horrible decisions.
The Cowboys had sustained drives of 70,72,73, and 80 yards. Six more drives ended prematurely on said turnovers. Sean McCormick has already pointed out how the bills allow so many yards per drive, which was my only point.
If anything, I believe that the cowboys offense may be a little overrated at this point in the season (phenomenal 3rd down play that is bound to regress, and already has).
And don't come at me spouting VOA like that's the sacrosanct way of determining all aspects of a team's play. It is probably the best performance metric around, but you can't have watched that game not seen that the vastly negative VOA was due more to the play of one player than the whole offense.

by Temo (not verified) :: Mon, 10/29/2007 - 9:46pm

#28. I noticed that all of Romo's 5 INTs that game came when they played that defense.
So obviously it has its uses when you're playing against an impulsive gunslinger. >.>

by Matt Saracen - QB1 - Dillon Panthers (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 3:28am

This is just a smart decision, but I'm glad they waited until they were 1-7 to do it. Face it, you are not going to make the playoffs in the AFC from there, so what is the most prudent course of action? Play for a high draft pick. And you can do that legally and cleverly by promoting your inexperienced 2nd year QB, Mr Clemens. This gives you the added bonus of seeing what real in-game ability he might have during the last 8 games as well. Those 8 games will be important information that will be central to any decisions the Jets take regarding their QBs in the future.

Also, I don't agree that Pennington is worse than Clemens or that his career is over. It is more likely IMO that Clemens will be merely average this year and he will be forced to beat Pennington out based on merit at the 2008 training camp if he wants to start.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:37am

There is no more vehement critic of the Cult of Arm Strength than I am. Arm strength is, by far, the most overrated of a quarterback's skills. (The most underrated is pocket presence/feel for the rush, which Chad Pennington has in spades.)

However, there is a certain absolute minimum amount of arm strength you must have to play in the NFL; you might call it the Gannon Line or something. Chad Pennington is well below that minimum. He simply cannot throw the ball hard enough to complete anything outside the hashmarks. The rest of his game is still solid, or better, but the arm is just too weak.

If he wants, Pennington could go another ten years as a backup in this league. A QB with his smarts, pocket presence and accuracy would make for a fantastic backup. The problem is that, anytime he starts for a prolonged period, opposing coordinators will be able to gameplan for him and load up the middle of the field, knowing he can't throw to the sidelines, just as everyone is doing this year.

But as a backup, generally the opposing coordinators won't be gameplanning for him, and as a guy to enter the game when the starter goes down, or even to start for a few weeks in the Trent Dilfer scenario, Pennington would be a prize catch, and I would pay millions for him on my bench.

He could well just retire--Chad Pennington is plenty smart to make a fortune somewhere else if not as a coach--but if he wanted to, he could take Charlie Batch's mantle as the Practically Perfect Backup Quarterback and keep it for years to come. His days as a starter, though, should be over.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 11:50am

There are 4 teams that would definitely be better off with Pennington, and another 5 that you could make a strong case for. Pennington is a clear upgrade in Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, and Minnesota. And probably an upgrade in Atlanta, Carolina, Baltimore, and in San Francisco and Arizona if you're ready to call Leinart and Smith eras over (although particularly in Leinart's case, it may be too soon to give up on such high draft picks). That's almost a third of the league that may have varying degrees of interest in Pennington as a starter.

I have a feeling that we may have to wait a little while before we can adorn Pennington with the "best back-up" moniker.

by Temo (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 12:13pm

The quarterback play in this league is bad enough at the present time that I don't think Pennington will have to look far for another shot at a starting job. Whether he gets it or not, I don't know, but he will get another shot at it.

by Stuart Fraser (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 1:04pm

34 - Given the way Ken Whisenhunt's preferred offense works in Arizona, I'm not even sure you need to call time on the Leinart era to want to install Pennington. Though there is a limit to how many different quarterbacks even the Whiz can play in one game, I guess.

by Jerry P. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 1:35pm

"I noticed that all of Romo’s 5 INTs that game came when they played that defense.
So obviously it has its uses when you’re playing against an impulsive gunslinger."

I noticed they lost the game when they played that defense. Here, let me help you.

Dallas 2nd to last possession.

1) False start
2) Short middle pass to Crayton (3rd WR, I assume in the slot)
3) Barber run.
4) Short pass incomplete to Barber
5) Short pass to Witten
6) Short pass to Barber
7) Short pass to Witten
8) Short pass to Crayton
9) Short pass to Barber
10) Short pass incomplete to Witten
11) Short pass to Witten
12) Short pass to Barber
13) Short pass to Crayton (touchdown)

13 plays. 11 passes. 2 incomplete. Both short. All 9 caught were short. All passes were to the RB, TE, or slot receiver. Zero pass rush from the linebackers.

Last possession. After onside kick.

1) Deep pass to Owens. Called back after review.
2) Short pass to Barber
3) Short pass to Crayton
4) Game winning field goal.

They would have done the same exact thing, dumping off to Witten/Crayton/Barber if they had needed more yards but they didn't since the onside kick put them so close to begin with.

You can see the same thing at the end of the Ravens game and the Jets game this past Sunday. The difference is, those offenses suck and won't make you pay for playing defense like a pussy.

Good offenses, like the Cowboys, will wreck that weak ass crap all day long.

The Bills will continue to barely beat bad teams and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against good teams if they continue to play that weak defense in the 4th quarter.

Which they probably will.

by Temo (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 5:40pm

I wasn't disagreeing with you, Jerry. I hate that defense, and I think it's the major reason why Buffalo would even be considered a sub-par defense.
If it wasn't for Romo horribly misreading coverages and throwing the ball downfield with little accuracy, I think the cowboys could have thrown check downs all day and marched up and down the field. Which was my original point on the whole matter.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:33pm

No, Pennington isn't going to hack it as a starter anywhere. His arm is just not strong enough. Most of the teams listed where Pennington would be an upgrade at QB aren't much better at the ten non-QB offensive positions than the Jets are. The Jets have a pretty good pass-blocking o-line--well, from the center left, anyway--and some good receivers. Pennington just can't throw hard enough, and opposing coordinators are game-planning for it.

by JeffW (not verified) :: Tue, 10/30/2007 - 9:36pm

You guys are crazy, Pennington is easily good enough to start for a number of teams. Look at traditional or FO stats and you'll see he's played fine this year.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2007 - 1:51pm

Re: 39

The Jets' may have half a decent o-line and fairly good receivers, but they also have the worst defense in the league. Most of those teams I mentions are significantly better on defense, with the exceptions of Miami and San Fransisco (and maybe Atlanta).

If Pennington was put in a situation where he didn't have to pull off miracles to offset his defense, he wouldn't have to take so many chances thereby decreasing the magnitude of his deficiency in arm strength.

by Alex (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2007 - 4:45pm

I wonder, wrt Pennington's arm strength, if he's given any thought to throwing left handed? I mean, he only injured his right rotator cuff, so presumably his left shoulder should still be ok, right? Now, he'd obviously have to train quite a bit, both to get his left shoulder stronger, and to get used to throwing it lefty, but there's no reason he couldn't do that in an offseason or so.

And he'd really only have to throw lefty on deep outs to be able to make almost all of the throws an NFL QB needs. And while throwing lefty might hurt his accuracy, it wouldn't affect the mental skills that make up such a large part of his skillset. Any thoughts?

In any case, if he were on a team with a great defense, it wouldn't matter, because he'd be able to run an offense that didn't require all those throws. I'm thinking either Minnesota or Chicago, maybe even Green Bay if Favre retires. Any one of those teams would be a title contender with Pennington at QB.

by Temo (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2007 - 8:05pm

42. If you're being funny, you're doing a good job of hiding it :(

by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 6:47pm

42. If you’re being funny, you’re doing a good job of hiding it :(

Which part was funny? The "throwing lefty" or the "Vikings/Bears/Packers would be title contenders next year with Pennington"?

The first was just a question to see if anyone had any obvious reasons why it wouldn't work.

The second was serious, although I guess I should have clarified that I feel that if any of those three teams had Pennington, they'd likely win the division, and then maybe make a run at the Super Bowl. They wouldn't be my favorite for winning it all, but I think they'd have as good a chance as most playoff caliber teams would.