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Jets' GM expects Pennington back next season

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum thinks Chad Pennington will remain with the team next season and compete for the starting quarterback job.

Pennington, benched in favor of Kellen Clemens midway through the season, has expressed his desire to be a starter -- whether it's in New York or elsewhere.

"He's under contract," Tannenbaum said Monday. "I expect him to be back. I expect him to compete with Kellen, and certainly, if opportunities come along, we'll look at them and try to get Chad's reaction."

The eight-year NFL veteran has three years, plus a team option year, remaining on his contract. It was generally assumed the team might ask Pennington to restructure his contract because he's due $4.8 million next season and his salary cap figure is $7.8 million.

"We're comfortably under the cap right now," Tannenbaum said. "So I don't see the economics driving any decision right now with him being here or not being here."

Tannenbaum, who said the Jets would still listen to trade offers for Pennington, had a brief conversation with him last week. The quarterback was heading to Madison Square Garden to watch the Pro Bull Riders event.

"He was wearing his flannel shirt and it wasn't a long conversation," Tannenbaum said. "He was really fired up about the bulls."

Pennington has said he won't demand a trade if he's not named the starter because that's not his nature. Jets coach Eric Mangini declined to anoint Clemens the starter heading into the offseason, mainly because the second-year quarterback did little to warrant the label.

Pennington was 1-7 as the starter, and Clemens went 3-5, but the veteran actually had the better season statistically. He threw for 1,765 yards and 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Clemens had 1,529 yards, five TDs and 10 interceptions in 10 fewer pass attempts.

"I thought Kellen had earned the right to play," Tannenbaum said. "He did some things wrong and some things he has to do better. That's just part of being a young player in the league."

With that said, Tannenbaum envisions a competition between the two when training camp opens in July.

"In the quarterback position, I expect Chad to be back and the best players will play," Tannenbaum said. "And that's not limited to the quarterback position."

Despite the 4-12 season the Jets had following a 10-6 campaign that included a playoff appearance, Tannenbaum was pleased with how his coach handled the adversity.

"I thought Eric did a really good job this year," he said. "I thought developing the younger players on our team, they got better. I think practices are really competitive, there's a lot of energy, teaching and development and I think that foundation will allow us to have success in the future."

Tannenbaum said he had moments when he reflected on his own performance.

"I sat up a lot during the season thinking about what I could have done better," he said.

One move Tannenbaum made that was considered a critical mistake was getting into a bitter contract dispute with left guard Pete Kendall, ultimately traded to Washington. The Jets struggled to find a suitable replacement and enter this offseason with the position still a major question mark.

"The line play wasn't as consistent as it needed to be," Tannenbaum said. "Sometimes they played at a winning level and sometimes it didn't, and it starts with me. We'll do a better job of trying to make the offensive line play more consistently in 2008."

A number of key players have uncertain futures, including wide receiver Laveranues Coles, who's seeking a contract extension. Coles, who has two years remaining on his deal, would like more long-term security. Last week, he indicated his agent said it might be a tough negotiation.

"Our goal is for Laveranues to be here for a long time," Tannenbaum said. "He's done a lot of great things for our program."

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who had his season cut short by a knee injury, has been the subject of trade rumors since last winter. They have been intensified by Vilma's struggles in the 3-4 defense and rookie David Harris' rapid development.

"He's a hard worker and smart," Tannenbaum said. "I expect him to be back."

Other players looking for new contracts include tight end Chris Baker and safety Kerry Rhodes. Tannenbaum said the team will consider getting new deals, but only after it finishes its offseason evaluations.

"It's really a work in progress from the standpoint that we're trying to assess our team," Tannenbaum said. "That's where it starts, and we're not quite done with that yet."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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