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Revisiting the Trade

With the Dolphins coming to town this Sunday, there will be an endless barrage of stories in the media covering the Brett Favre-Chad Pennington angle. This is only natural. The Jets acquired the future Hall of Famer, Favre, and kicked Pennington, their longtime leader, to the curb. Pennington has gone on to have a better season, and his team has played better, regardless of what Pro Bowl voters think. This will lead to the specialty of sportswriters, the second guess. They will say that the Jets were foolish to make the deal and get rid of Chad. All of this is missing the point.

It is easy to say these things now. Remember where things stood in August. Favre was coming off a year in which he could have won the MVP if not for a season for the ages by Tom Brady and Randy Moss. He had Green Bay a game from the Super Bowl. Pennington was coming off a season in which he was benched. Chad started eight games in 2007 and won once. He seemed to throw a weekly killer interception in the fourth quarter. The offense was stagnant under his leadership. He was not even playing well enough in training camp to guarantee winning the starting job over Kellen Clemens, who was terrible in his eight starts a year ago. Anybody who saw Pennington outplaying Favre this season at that point can criticize the Jets. Anybody else would have made the same move.

It is also no guarantee the Jets would have been better with Pennington under center. Everybody knows about his physical limitations, mainly his lack of arm strength. It only got worse after a pair of rotator cuff tears. It is overblown as an issue, but it does come into play at times against elite defenses. Arm strength does not matter on the deep routes as much as everybody seems to think. Chad has always thrown a good deep ball. The stats back that up, and he has had success throwing it long this year with the Dolphins. Where a lack of velocity comes into play is on throws into traffic. These passes have a tight window that is closing. If the ball is not zipped on time, the pass will be broken up or interception. These were the balls Favre completed all game at New England and Tennessee, leading successful offensive attacks while his receivers were covered tightly. Chad simply cannot make the kind of throws Brett did to win those games. The Jets probably lose both with Pennington.

Having a legend like Favre for those critical contest also seemed to give the team confidence. The Jets did not back down from Tennessee's physicality or seem rattled when the Pats overcame an 18 point hole or scored on the last play to force overtime. Brett brought a sense of calm to the club. Even had Chad won other games this team lost this year, the Jets would be right where they always were with Pennington. They beat the teams they are supposed to beat but never step up in big spots. This would be a solid club that would be out by the second round.

That might be the biggest difference in the players. Favre is a future Hall of Famer. He has won a Super Bowl, been to another, and played in four Conference Championship Games. Chad is an above average quarterback. He is a warrior. He is a great teammate and a fierce competitor. He is also the most genuinely good man off the field anybody could hope to be, a role model in every sense of the word (My father knows people who did PR work with Pennington, and they could not stop raving about what a great guy he is). He has also never been out of the second round. Doug Brien deserves an assist, but this is mainly because Chad is not good enough to lift a team on his back like Brett. His physical limitations get exposed by the best defenses. On a team like Minnesota with a great running game and defense, he could win a Super Bowl. With the Jets and Miami, he probably will not. The ceiling  became Super Bowl with Favre. It was not with Chad. This alone makes the gamble worth it.

Chad also probably would not be playing this great with the Jets. He seems rejuvenated with the Dolphins. There is a chip on his shoulder over how the Jets treated him. That would not be driving him had the Jets not cut him. He is in a perfect situation playing with good weather, not a driving wind hampering an already suspect arm.

Do not believe for a second Favre is the biggest problem on the team. While his play has been an issue, replacing him with Chad Pennington would not have made this a Super Bowl club. Chad could not make adjustments for the coaches, call more blitzes, make the defense finish tackles, help the team avoid constant coverage breakdowns, or magically heal Kris Jenkins' hip. These persistent issues are more pressing than Favre. He landed with a team that does not have these issues in part because of good coaching. If Favre had Tony Sparano with the Jets, and Chad had Eric Mangini in Miami, the team's fortunes are more likely to be reversed that by changing quarterbacks.

Sometimes the right move does not pay off. It remains the right move. The Jets should have no regrets about the trade for Brett Favre. Anybody who thinks things would have been vastly better is kidding himself.