Woody silences critics with Pennington contract

Jets owner Woody Johnson spending habits were questioned by some writers this off-season.<p>

A pair of beat writers implied the owner was frugal when it came to spending money on players. They made it seem like his goal of landing the Jets a new stadium on the West Side of Manhattan took financial precedent over signing free agents.

Well, Johnson went a long way to shutting up his critics when the team announced on Wednesday that they inked quarterback Chad Pennington to a seven-year, $64 million contract extension. The deal includes $23 million in guaranteed money.

This could turn out to be a brilliant decision by Johnson. Pennington seems poised for a big season. He is 100 percent healthy, and coming off an excellent training camp. With the addition of the big receiver (Justin McCareins) he has desperately needed since he's taken over as a starter, Pennington seems ready to duplicate, or surpass his brilliant 2002 campaign.

Jets management feels they have one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. His original NFL contract was set to expire after the 2005 season, and if the Jets waited until then to extend Pennington's deal, it could have cost them a lot more than $9 million a year this new contract averages.

Remember Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning signed a deal this off-season for $98 million, including a $34.5 million signing bonus. If Pennington has a monster season, like he did in 2002 in leading the Jets to the second round of the playoffs, he could ask for a deal closer to Manning's. Remember in 2002, Pennington finished the season with an outstanding 104.2 quarterback rating.

If you think back to some of the games Pennington had in 2002, you get the idea of how good he can be. He had a three game stretch at the end of that season, and into the first round of the playoffs, with quarterback ratings of 126.5 (at New England), 134.7 (Green Bay) and 142.0 (Indianapolis).

Watching Pennington this summer, he seems poised for another season like that. And if he does match that special season in 2004, he might not have received $98 million, but he might have been able to get over $80 million. So the Jets could save in the area of $20 million by being proactive and getting this deal done now.

While it's a given the Jets are going to re-sign defensive end Shaun Ellis (possibly in the next week), whose deal is also up after the 2005 season, the cap-friendly nature of the Pennington deal, could help them sign players like right tackle Kareem McKenzie and defensive end John Abraham, also with one year left on their current contracts. Another player on the new contract radar screen is wideout Santana Moss, who's deal is up after 2006. If he stays healthy this season, the Jets will likely look to give Moss a new deal after this season.

Giving a quarterback with a 12-9 lifetime record $23 million in guaranteed money is a risky proposition, but it could turn out to be a stroke of genius.

Only time will tell. If Pennington is as good as Jets management thinks he is, this will turn out to be a bargain.


Don't read too much into the Jets signing of fullback Casey Cramer. The might just be bringing him in for a look-see, and he could be headed to their practice squad. They liked him a lot in the 2004 draft, and feel he's a good fit for their West Coast offense. And he's well-versed in the system after spending the summer with the Buccaneers, a team that plays the same system as the Jets. And what ever slight differences there are between the Jets version of the West Coast system and the Buccaneers, Cramer should be able to pick up fast with his Ivy League education. He graduated from Dartmouth. Cramer is considered a very good receiver for a fullback, an important characteristic for the position in the West Coast offense. The only way Cramer sticks on the regular roster is if B.J. Askew's shoulder injury is more serious than originally thought. Askew is the Jets backup fullback behind Jerald Sowell.

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