HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (June 14, 2007) -- Pete Kendall was down on one knee on the sideline away from the rest of his teammates, his left hand cupping his chin as he stared out at the field.
The New York Jets' first-team offense ran through drills while the veteran offensive lineman barely appeared to be a part of the team. If Kendall gets his wish, he won't be for much longer.
Kendall has asked the Jets to trade or release him because of a bitter contract dispute, and his frustration and anger were clear as he spoke to the media for more than 20 minutes after the morning practice at veteran minicamp.
"My situation's just become a circus," Kendall said. "I'm very unhappy."
Kendall, a 12-year veteran and an offensive co-captain who'll be 34 next month, is looking for a big raise on his 2007 salary, but the Jets haven't budged. That's because he re-negotiated his contract last year, signing a four-year deal.
"I'm not here to win a spitting contest," Kendall said. "I just want to be fairly compensated."
Kendall was praised throughout last season by coach Eric Mangini for mentoring rookie linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Kendall also adds versatility on the line and can play a number of positions. He's also well liked by his teammates as well as the media, in particular for his candidness.
On this day, Kendall occasionally practiced with the first-team offense, but was regularly replaced by Adrien Clarke at left guard while he was relegated to second-team work.
"It's awkward. I'm not happy to be here," he said. "I suspect there are people in the organization who aren't happy that I'm here. It's very awkward. I guess now I'm second team."
Kendall, obviously, believes he is still a starter in the NFL -- and deserves to be paid that way.
"I think my play and my performance and my contributions warranted reconsideration," Kendall said.
So Kendall and his agent, Neil Schwartz, approached the Jets, Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum in the offseason and told them he wanted more money.
"I had a conversation with Mike Tannenbaum two weeks ago," Kendall said. "I said what I'm asking for is not unreasonable, and he agrees that I'm underpaid. I think we have an agreement, we just don't have a contract."
What they do have, though, is lots of hard feelings.
"The situation bothers me," Kendall said. "It's just one thing after another. I placed a phone call to Eric right before the draft and I'm still waiting for a return phone call. I don't know how to take that. He talked to my agent, and my agent told him, 'Call Pete.' I still haven't gotten a phone call back. I guess you take it for what it is."
Kendall actually did receive a call from Mangini sometime the night of June 14, but he said it lasted only seconds and was far from friendly.
"All I know is he wanted to know how this was going to go down today," Kendall said.
Mangini quickly brushed off questions about that conversation.
"All meetings that I have with the players are really internal meetings," Mangini said. "That's not just this meeting. It's really all meetings."
Tannenbaum was complimentary of Kendall, and said the fact Schwartz represents first-round pick Darrelle Revis has no bearing on this situation.
"I have all the respect in the world for him," Tannenbaum said of Kendall. "He's played for this organization for three years, came in and played at a high level. He helped Curtis Martin to a rushing title, he played hurt the next year when we were 4-12. Last year, he played well, which did not surprise me."
Before last season, the Jets were set to cut Kendall, but gave him the chance to shop himself around to find a new deal with another team. When the offers were not as good as New York's, Kendall chose to sign a four-year deal -- not a one-year contract -- with the Jets.
"I think all parties went into last year with the understanding that it was a one-year deal," Kendall said. "Eric had serious reservations about keeping me on the team, but we were able to come to an agreement."
Tannenbaum downplayed the situation, and added that the Jets are not trying to trade Kendall.
"Last year, he signed a contract he felt comfortable with at the time and that was a good one in everyone's interest," Tannenbaum said. "And he's here at a mandatory minicamp."
But for how long? Kendall didn't participate in voluntary OTAs during the past few weeks, saying he was working on a continuing-education program. As for training camp next month, Kendall isn't sure if he'll be there.
"You never say never and I wouldn't say the bridge has been totally burned, but it doesn't seem like there's any room to give," he said. "When I'm told that my request is reasonable and there's agreement that I'm underpaid, I don't know what else to say."
The Associated Press News Service
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