When the Jets take the field next Monday for their first offseason practice, the quarterback leading the new-look offense will be Kellen Clemens. It's part of his "hybrid role," as he calls it: Lead the team for the next 30 to 40 days, hand it back to Mark Sanchez and return to being the dutiful backup.
For how long, who knows?
Clemens has seen some strange, eventful twists in his four-plus seasons with the Jets -- remember Brett Favre's unexpected arrival? -- and, once again, he finds himself in what he calls "a bit of a unique situation." That's a kind way of putting it.
With Sanchez still rehabbing his surgically repaired knee, the Jets are counting on Clemens to lead the starting offense through spring drills. That's no small responsibility, considering what's at stake: Two important newcomers -- wide receiver Santonio Holmes and running back LaDainian Tomlinson -- need to be integrated into the system. And Clemens knows Brian Schottenheimer's system as well as any non-coach.
Once that job is done, and once Sanchez returns (possibly for the June 14 minicamp), Clemens goes on the endangered list. The Jets remain interested in free agent Mark Brunell, who visited last month, and they're also monitoring other available veteran quarterbacks. It's conceivable that Clemens could be kicked to the curb before the team reports to training camp Aug. 1 in Cortland, N.Y.
The former Oregon Duck, basically, is a lame duck.
"It's a day-to-day proposition," Clemens said Monday in a phone interview. "I'm fully aware that, because Mark [Sanchez] isn't available right now, my value is higher. Once Mark is back, I'll go back to No. 2. If they sign Brunell ... it is what it is. I understand what the reality is."
Clemens, confirming an ESPNNewYork.com report, said his agent was granted permission before the draft to speak with other teams about a potential trade. He said he received "positive feedback" from potential suitors, none of whom made the Jets an offer they couldn't refuse.
Because of the "Final Eight" rule, which restricts the Jets and seven other teams in free agency, New York can't sign an unrestricted free agent (see Brunell) until July 22. The Jets could strike before then, but they'd have to lose one of their own UFAs. It would be almost cruel to keep Clemens around until late July, dumping him at the 11th hour for a more experienced quarterback, but that's the cold business of the NFL.
"Two or three years ago, it would've bothered me, but that's life in New York and I've come to accept it," said Clemens, who has witnessed three blockbuster quarterback moves in his time with the Jets -- the Favre trade, the Chad Pennington release and the Sanchez arrival/coronation.
Clemens is a true team player, not a complainer. He learned that attitude from Pennington, who learned it from Vinny Testaverde. It's kind of a pay-it-forward deal around the Jets, although Clemens cracked, "I don't think I'm teaching anybody."
Ideally, the Jets would like an experienced backup that could become a mentor to Sanchez, and that's why Brunell, 39, is so appealing. The former longtime Jaguars starter spent last season carrying the clipboard for the Saints' Drew Brees, who is close friends with Schottenheimer. Chances are, Brees gave a glowing endorsement.
Clemens said GM Mike Tannenbaum let him know the situation before Brunell's visit to the Jets, and the former second-round pick claimed he's "not worried about a major blindside occurring." The toughest part, he said, would be relocating with his wife and two small children.
In the meantime, Clemens will tend to his job, insisting, "My mindset is, I'm a New York Jet until someone tells me I'm not." He will keep the seat warm for Sanchez and help prepare a potentially dynamic offense -- an offense he probably will never get to enjoy after June.