Jets look to unproven trio for QB starter

Updated: April 3, 2009, 12:32 PM ET
Associated Press

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Kellen Clemens and the rest of the New York Jets' quarterbacks can breathe a little easier now.

Well, at least until the NFL draft.

The Jets were said to be one of several teams interested in trading for Jay Cutler, but that possibility ended Thursday when Denver dealt the strong-armed Pro Bowl quarterback to Chicago. As a result, New York is left with Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge on its roster, a relatively unproven trio new coach Rex Ryan has repeatedly proclaimed his confidence in despite the flirtation with Cutler.

Kellen Clemens

Clemens

"In my heart, I feel that I'm a very good option for this football team this year," Clemens said a few hours before the trade. "So, anytime you hear rumors or you hear speculation or you hear anything, it motivates me a little bit to continue to prove that they don't need to look outside the organization."

While Cutler is no longer an option, the Jets still could look elsewhere. They could bring in a veteran such as Byron Leftwich or Jeff Garcia to push Clemens in training camp, or they could enter the draft with their sights set on a quarterback with the No. 17 pick. While Georgia's Matthew Stafford isn't expected to be on the board when the Jets go on the clock, Southern California's Mark Sanchez or Kansas State's Josh Freeman -- both players New York has worked out and expressed interest in -- could be.

If the Jets draft one of them, it would be a clear indicator that the team doesn't believe Clemens, Ratliff or Ainge are the future of the franchise.

Jets QB competition

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Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge discuss the Jets' open competition at quarterback.

"I trust them to do what they think is best for this football team," Clemens said. "There's been communication so far from both sides. It's not anything we're worried about."

Clemens, who has a year remaining on his rookie contract, said he hadn't approached Ryan or general manager Mike Tannenbaum about the team's intentions regarding Cutler.

"Obviously, I have my own personal opinion on what they should do, but that doesn't rank up there too high just yet," Clemens said. "I guess I question how much good it would do to go in there and just kind of say, 'Hey, what's the situation?' because it could change."

And, it sure did. Cutler requested a trade a few weeks ago and was accommodated by Denver owner Pat Bowlen after a series of disputes between the disgruntled quarterback and headstrong new coach Josh McDaniels.

"You'll be watching a basketball game or whatever you're watching, poker, and across the bottom of the screen, it's: Jay Cutler wants to be traded," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "You can't help but watch it."

It was hard to fault the Jets for being fascinated with the notion of bringing in a player of Cutler's abilities. Compared by some to a young Brett Favre for his arm strength and tools, Cutler made the Pro Bowl in February in his third season after throwing for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. He's also regarded as a franchise-type quarterback, someone a team can build around.

The Jets felt the same about Clemens when they took him in the second round in 2006; the Broncos selected Cutler 11th overall. In fact, some in the Jets organization are said to have been more enamored with Clemens than Cutler at the time of that draft.

So, what happened?

While Cutler won the Broncos job 12 games into his rookie season, Clemens sat as Chad Pennington won the Comeback Player of the Year award. The following season, Pennington struggled mightily and was replaced by Clemens in Week 9. But Clemens also had his troubles, throwing 10 interceptions and only five touchdowns. Granted, he was behind a leaky offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 27 times and forced him to throw at inopportune times.

Then, last summer, Clemens was being outplayed by both Pennington and Ratliff when Favre swooped in.

Just like that, Clemens went from future star to trade bait.

"I've been here before," Clemens said. "First time around, I would've been a lot more uneasy about it, I'm sure, but we've been here, we've done this and I'm sure we'll do it again at some point. That's just the nature of the business."

Jets fans on team message boards and sports radio shows were mixed on going after Cutler, with those in favor trumpeting the physical tools and those against pointing out the questionable way the quarterback handled the offseason drama. Meanwhile, the majority of Jets players made it clear they preferred to see Clemens, Ratliff or Ainge get a chance to win the job despite the fact that the three have thrown a total of 256 passes in the NFL -- all by Clemens.

"You've just got to give those guys a try," cornerback Darrelle Revis said.

"I have a bunch of confidence in those guys because I've been watching them work since they've been here," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "Those guys have been preparing like starters."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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