NEW YORK -- The worst-kept secret in New York football became reality Wednesday, when the Jets signed free-agent quarterback Mark Brunell to a two-year contract to serve as Mark Sanchez's backup and mentor.
Brunell, who turns 40 in September, was targeted by the Jets in April, when he took a free-agent visit to their facility. In a final audition, he worked out Wednesday for team officials in Florham Park, N.J. Because of the "Final Eight" rules, the Jets couldn't sign Brunell or any other unrestricted free agents until last week, the first day the restrictions were lifted.
The former Jacksonville Jaguars star has an impressive résumé. He played the last two years in New Orleans and the previous four with Washington after nine years with Jacksonville. The three-time Pro Bowl selection spent his first two years as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay. Brunell has spent the past two seasons in mothballs with the New Orleans Saints. Basically, he served as Drew Brees' caddie, completing only 15 of 30 passes for 102 yards and an interception last season.
Nearly all of his stats came in the final regular-season game, an underwhelming performance in which Brees was rested for the postseason. The Saints, convinced Brunell is beyond his days as a productive quarterback, made no effort to re-sign him.
But Brunell did make a contribution to the Saints, helping Brees behind the scenes. They developed a solid rapport, and Brees no doubt gave a glowing recommendation to his close friend, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets wanted a seasoned quarterback to help Sanchez through his growing pains.
Erstwhile backup Kellen Clemens won his only start last season, but he now has fewer career starts than Sanchez, who embraced the idea of having a more experienced pair of eyes with him on the sideline.
Clemens' future with the team is up in the air. He apparently will go to camp with the Jets, ostensibly battling Brunell for the No. 2 job. Part of the motivation for retaining Clemens would be to use him as trade bait, especially if another team loses a backup to injury in the preseason. The Jets tried to trade him before the draft.
This is a risk because if Sanchez is out for any significant length of time, the Jets -- in Super Bowl-or-bust mode -- could be cooked with the aging Brunell at quarterback. He has been on the decline since 2005, when he posted a solid season for the Redskins.
But one thing about Brunell that appeals to the Jets is his reputation for being a low-interception quarterback, and they hope it rubs off on Sanchez. In more than 4,600 career pass attempts, Brunell has thrown only 107 interceptions -- one per 43 attempts. He should be able to help the sometimes careless Sanchez, who averaged one interception per 18 attempts in his rookie year.
Brunell was in the news recently, but for the wrong reason. He filed for bankruptcy last month in Jacksonville, claiming about $20 million in debt. He still owns a $3 million house in Ponte Vedra, Fla.
He has thrown for 31,928 yards and 182 touchdowns in 18 NFL seasons. Brunell was the 1997 Pro Bowl MVP, and shares the NFL record for most consecutive completions in a single game with 22, set in 2006 with Washington.