The New York Jets on Monday made official what everyone in the league has known for about the past month: Quarterback Chad Pennington, who underwent shoulder surgery on Oct. 6 to repair a partially torn rotator cuff, will not play again in 2005.
The team placed Pennington and two other starters, center Kevin Mawae and linebacker Eric Barton, on injured reserve, meaning none of the three players will suit up again in 2005. None of the moves, particularly the fait accompli with Pennington, was surprising. Still, until the Monday roster transaction, Pennington had suggested he held out some remote hope that he might be able to return late in the season, at least as a backup, if his rehabilitation went extremely well.
With his season officially ended, Pennington, 29, will now concentrate on rehabilitating his twice surgically-repaired shoulder. The Jets will err on the side of caution, officials have said, when Pennington returns.
Until the Monday transaction with Pennington, the Jets were carrying five quarterbacks on the roster. Backup Jay Fiedler, who is also rehabilitating from a shoulder injury, may return to practice in the next few weeks.
Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowl performer who had started 177 straight games, tore his left triceps in an Oct. 16 game against Buffalo when Bills defensive tackle Sam Adams fell across his arm. The team's leading tackler in '04, Barton also sustained a torn left triceps last Monday in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The move with Pennington, who has twice in eight months undergone surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, was the biggest news, because it essentially confirmed that he faces a long and daunting rehabilitation period. The six-year veteran was injured in a Sept. 25 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The latest surgery, performed by noted Birmingham, Ala.-based orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, was an arthroscopic procedure, far less invasive that a February operation to repair a more serious tear.
In the Oct. 6 procedure, Andrews addresses the rotator cuff damage, along with repairing the anterior capsule and labrum. Pennington immediately began a rehabilitation program under the supervision of the team medical staff and Andrews. In a news release at the time, the Jets said they "remain optimistic that with proper rehabilitation and time for healing, Pennington will be ready for the 2006 season."
That public optimism aside, sources continue to suggest, even three weeks later, that the team will explore alternatives at the quarterback position. The fact the damage to Pennington's right shoulder was not as bad as the first rotator cuff tear might mean that New York seeks a middle-level quarterback as an insurance policy instead of a more high-profile one. Still, the surgery is serious and, even with nine months to rehabilitate before the start of training camp next summer, the situation is a dicey one.
Considerable controversy ensued in the days following the latest injury, with the team first announcing a rotator cuff tear, and then ESPN and ESPN.com, along with several other media outlets reporting that Andrews had apprised the franchise and Pennington that his findings were inconclusive, and that the rotator cuff might not be torn.
Team officials privately acknowledged that they did not know the extent of the injury, as Andrews had assessed, and might not for another two or three weeks. It was believed that Pennington would embark on a treatment program prescribed by Andrews for about three weeks, and then the shoulder would be re-examined. But Pennington pressed the issue, sought some resolution from Andrews, and the surgery was performed.
Andrews has told the Jets and Pennington he does not believe that the injury is career-threatening. But the Jets almost certainly will seek to bolster the quarterback position with another veteran.
Beyond the football ramifications for the Jets, there are financial implications as well, and so the long-term viability of Pennington as the club's franchise-level quarterback carries significant weight in several areas. Before the 2004 season, the team signed Pennington to a seven-year, $67 million contract extension that included bonuses totaling $23 million.
By the end of this season, Pennington will have banked $22 million on the contract. He is due a roster bonus of $3 million next March and the Jets may attempt, based on the rate of recovery, to have that bonus delayed.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.