Pennington restructures contract, will stay with Jets

Quarterback Chad Pennington, still recovering from rotator cuff surgery that limited him to just three games, will remain with the New York Jets for the 2006 season, ESPN.com has learned.

The six-year veteran agreed to terms Sunday on a restructured contract that provides the team with salary cap relief, removes the Jets from considerable financial exposure, and essentially keeps him from being released. The agreement, which will significantly reduce Pennington's $15 million cap charge for 2006, has not yet been signed, but all principle issues have been resolved.

"Heading into the offseason, I knew that re-working elements of my contract was a possibility," Pennington said on Sunday evening. "That's the business side of the industry and that's what the offseason is for. It was nothing personal and I understand that. Moving forward, I am anxious to return to the playing field and feel very positive about where I am in the [rehabilitation] process."

Under the new agreement, Pennington, who was scheduled to pocket a $3 million roster bonus this month, and earn a $6 million base salary for 2006, will drop his total compensation from $9 million to a guaranteed $3 million. But the contract also provides Pennington the ability to earn back $6 million if he is healthy again and reaches certain predetermined performance levels.

"Our intention all along was to have Chad remain with the Jets and we never wavered from that," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "Chad is a courageous and talented leader. Throughout this process, he put the interests of the team ahead of his own, enabling us to reach an agreement on terms beneficial to both parties."

The Jets also announced Sunday that they have released center Kevin Mawae. Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, played eight seasons in New York.

Mawae's release means that the Jets will not have to pay his $2.8 million base salary for 2006, though the team will only save $633,333 against the cap.

Meanwhile, the team announced a contract extension for offensive lineman Pete Kendall.

"We are pleased to extend the contract for Pete," Tannenbaum said in a statement released by the team. "In 2005 [Kendall] displayed the versatility that we knew he possessed when he signed with the Jets in 2004. His leadership skills and high level of play provide us flexibility along the interior of the offensive line."

The Jets, who were dealing with a huge cap overage, had originally proposed cutting Pennington back to a base salary of $1 million. Tannenbaum and agent Tom Condon of IMG Football met at the scouting combine in Indianapolis last week and the Jets raised their offer.

Pennington said he hasn't spoken with new Jets head coach Eric Mangini yet about his prospects for keeping the starting job but said, "If they did not
think I'd be the starting quarterback, I don't think they'd want to
renegotiate at all."

"I think that coach wants me to lead this team if at all
possible," he added. "As a coach he has to make the final
decision, he has to feel in his heart if he can believe in me and
have no doubt I can help our team win. A lot of that has to do with
my health. He's played against me, coached against me, defended me.
He knows what type of player I am."

Pennington indicated in interviews with the New York media last week that he preferred to remain with the team. If healthy, Pennington will have the chance to regain his starting job. Had he been released, the uncertainty of his physical status certainly would have affected the number of suitors he might have attracted in the free agency market.

Had the Jets released Pennington outright, certainly a consideration at one point, the team would still have been forced to carry a $12 million salary cap charge for 2006, basically because of the seven-year, $64 million contract to which they signed the former NFL passing champion two years ago.

Even with the restructuring, the Jets are still expected to bolster the quarterback position, given the team's uncertainty about Pennington's rehabilitation. New York is expected to either sign a veteran quarterback or perhaps invest a high-round draft choice to acquire one. The Jets have the fourth overall selection in this year's draft.

Pennington, 29, underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in early October of 2005. It marked his second such surgery in eight months. The former Marshall star has been rehabilitating of late at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., and expects to start throwing in two weeks. Pennington has said that he feels he will be recovered in time to participate in the Jets' offseason program.

Pennington's second shoulder injury occurred in a Sept. 25 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game to which the Jets' starter returned after sustaining the injury. Pennington underwent surgery less than two weeks later. He originally injured his shoulder in November of 2004, played through the pain, and then underwent fairly invasive surgery in February of 2005.

Between the two shoulder surgeries and a broken wrist, Pennington has started just 25 games over the last three seasons. He took over the starting job in 2002, started 12 games that season, and won the league's passing championship with an efficiency rating of 104.2. For his career, Pennington has appeared in 44 games, starting 37 of them, and has completed 767 of 1,174 passes for 8,621 yards, with 55 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions.

Pennington's career passer rating of 92.1 is among the top 20 in league history.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.