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The dignity and grace of Chad Pennington

There is nothing more divisive in a football locker room than a quarterback controversy. As crippling and pernicious plagues go, only a full-flown player mutiny is worse for a team than an uncertain balance between quarterbacks.

The friction a QB controversy causes affects the offense, defense and coaching staff. It divides fans. It corrodes loyalties at every level.

It's bad, folks.

Which is a reason you should be thrilled Chad Pennington is the Dolphins starting quarterback today.

Having watched Pennington from afar for years while he was with the Jets, it amazed me how he never let the quarterback controversy he operated under his final two seasons in New York affect him in the least. The guy was a pro's pro. 

Pennington never made any secret of the fact he wanted to be the starter. He competed hard but never stepped on anyone's toes, least of all his coaches or the other guys he was competing against. They have a word for that in my country: Classy.

Having escaped the New York drama, now Pennington finds himself in a strange situation in Miami. He is, by any account, the starting QB for the Dolphins as they get ready to begin training camp on Sunday. He is the undisputed leader of the offense. Pennington is the lone voice in any huddle he joins.

And being all those things he is also on the clock and about to be replaced.

The Dolphins plan to play Chad Henne in 2010 and possibly earlier. Those plans are not written in proverbial stone, as many things can happen in 12 months. But almost.

Let's just say the Henne name is scribbled in fast-drying cement for 2010. Team sources speak of a coming quarterback transition. Coach Tony Sparano has already said Henne will get a lot of playing time this preseason to make him as ready as possible, not just for 2010, but more precisely, in case he's needed in 2009.

And then there is the most clear indication the Dolphins are planning that transition you just read about: Pennington, in the final year of his contract, can hit the free agent market in 2010 and the Dolphins so far have done little to change that fact because they don't plan to pay him as a starter.

Tell me what other team has a veteran Pro Bowl-caliber QB entering a contract year? It doesn't happen often in the NFL unless the team has other plans. And the Dolphins clearly have other plans.

That brings me back to Mr. Class. Pennington has not complained about his lame duck status. Given the opportunity to demand a new deal or complain about his status, he has quietly talked about understanding the business nature of the NFL.

He has done all he could in the offseason -- including a rigorous workout regimen -- to make himself the best player possible for 2009 so that Miami's decision to replace him would be a difficult one. Pennington knows if he plays well enough with the Dolphins, he can always jump to another team with a starting opportunity if the Dolphins stick with the Henne plan.

Pennington will be Miami's starter this year but only as long as he plays well and wins. If the Dolphins, saddled with the NFL's toughest schedule, find themselves somehow hopelessly out of the playoff race at some point this season, it's an even bet Henne gets snaps.

If that scenario plays out while Henne continues his improvement, the transition to the younger player might come earlier than anyone might imagine.

And what if it does? You won't hear Pennington complain. You won't hear him make excuses. He will not cause division nor friction within the team. He may not be Henne's best friend, which he is not, but neither will he be a foe.

Chad Pennington will handle the looming quarterback transition much like he has handled his seemingly uncertain contract situation: With dignity. With grace.

Mr. Class.

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