NEW YORK (Feb. 20, 2006) -- Chad Pennington is rehabbing his shoulder, working hard to get back onto the field.
That was about all new Jets coach Eric Mangini was willing to divulge when asked about the team's quarterback. Mangini did everything he could to avoid answering the biggest question facing the Jets this week: Will they retain Pennington at a reduced salary or cut him?
The Jets started renegotiating with the franchise quarterback last week, hoping to slash his base pay to make his contract more salary-cap friendly. The team is about $26 million over the cap and needs to come to an agreement with Pennington before the start of free agency March 3.
If not, Pennington could be looking for a new team.
"Chad's status with the Jets is unchanged," Mangini said during a conference call to discuss his new coaching staff. "He's a great competitor, a great person."
Pennington's agent, Tom Condon, reportedly rejected a deal that would have reduced the quarterback's base salary from $9 million to $1 million. Condon, who didn't return phone messages, is expected to meet with general manger Mike Tannenbaum at the scouting combine in Indianapolis this week.
Mangini wouldn't confirm the meeting would take place, saying, "You'll have to ask Mike."
Pennington, coming off a second rotator cuff injury to his throwing shoulder, signed a seven-year deal two years ago. Even if the Jets cut him, they would take a hefty salary hit because of the prorated salary cap.
Complicating the issue is the lack of an extension to the league's collective bargaining agreement with the players' union. The contract expires in 2008, but 2007 would be an uncapped season, leaving questions about the length and size of deals with free agents.
Mangini said he has had several "great discussions" with Pennington. But Mangini wouldn't discuss his thoughts of Pennington as a player. When asked whether Pennington would be the starting quarterback in 2006, Mangini hedged.
"That's a hypothetical question that at this point I can't answer," he said.
Mangini declined to say when Pennington would begin throwing again. Pennington hurt his shoulder in September and missed the rest of the season. Though he is determined to come back stronger than ever, there are serious questions about whether he can do it.
Because of that, the Jets want him to take a pay cut. After Condon rejected the first offer, several reports said the team was on the verge of cutting Pennington. But there are still serious negotiations that must occur.
Even if Pennington is upset with the next offer, he doesn't have much leverage if he decides he wants to break ties with the team that drafted him. Pennington would command the veteran minimum salary on the open market, which is less than $1 million.
"Contracts are something we don't discuss publicly," Mangini said.
The Jets also have asked veteran running back Curtis Martin to take a pay cut, and are expected to place the franchise tag on defensive end John Abraham.
Mangini also announced his coaching staff, with Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator and Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator. Among the bigger names, former linebacker Bryan Cox was hired as assistant defensive line coach, and University of Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann was hired as linebackers coach.