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New York Jets 21st Century Wine Cellar Team: Quarterback

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New York Jets vs Chicago Bears

This is the first installment of a series that will build a 21st Century Jets Wine Cellar Team.

The concept is taken from Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball. Simmons built the best possible basketball team with some of the greatest players through history. There was a catch, though. He picked a vintage of each player the way one picks a vintage of wine.

Putting it into football terms, the rookie version of Darrelle Revis from 2007 is different from the dominant force of 2009. The disinterested 2016 version is different still. To build a wine cellar team, you have to pick a player during a specific year of his career.

It’s also worth noting this is not meant to be an all-century team or all-time team. It is supposed to be a team that could actually win a game. All roles have to be filled, and players need to be willing to buy into their roles.

I have been playing around the last few weeks and developed a 53 man Jets wine cellar team. I only included seasons in the 21st century so anything before 2000 isn’t up for consideration. That will be a task for another day.

Today I will begin by unveiling the quarterbacks for my Jets 21st Century Wine Cellar Team.

Chad Pennington, 2002

There really wasn’t much question that the 2002 vintage of Pennington would be my starter. To me this was far and away the top quarterback season the Jets have had since the turn of the century. Pennington was inserted into the starting lineup early in the season in place of a struggling Vinny Testaverde and breathed life into the Jets.

The team rallied from a 1-4 start to win the AFC East with a 9-7 record. With the season on the line, Pennington went into Foxborough on a Sunday night in Week 16 and threw 3 touchdown passes in a win over the Brady/Belichick Patriots. A week later Pennington had 4 touchdown passes as the Jets clinched the AFC East in a 42-17 rout of Brett Favre and a Packers team playing for homefield advantage in the Playoffs. A week after that Pennington had another 3 touchdown passes in a 41-0 blowout win over Peyton Manning and the Colts. The season finally ended a week later in a loss to the Raiders.

Most of Pennington’s career took place after he had undergone serious surgeries on his shoulder. It left people with an enduring memory of a weak armed quarterback who struggled to get the ball where it needed to go. The pre-surgery portion of his career was so short that I think people have forgotten how good Pennington looked. Maybe he didn’t have a rocket for an arm, but he could make any throw he needed to make. Combined with top notch smarts and the best accuracy in the league, you had a tremendous quarterback.

His first year as a starter was off the charts efficient. He led the league in completion percentage, and it wasn’t like he was a checkdown artist. Pennington also finished with the second best yards per attempt in the league and the highest passer rating.

The fact Pennington still had success in the league after multiple shoulder surgeries leaves him squarely in the Hall of What Could Have Been. Nobody can take away his 2002 season, though. It was special.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2015

Once we get past the Pennington seasons, it becomes a challenge to find quality quarterback play for the Jets in the 21st century. It is pretty easy to settle on the 2015 version of Fitzpatrick as the backup quarterback for this team, though.

Originally slated to be the backup quarterback, Fitzpatrick moved into the starting role after Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw in a locker room punch from IK Enempkali.

Developing great chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick led the Jets to a 10-6 record while throwing a franchise record 31 touchdown passes.

He is perhaps remembered in Jets lore just as much for falling apart in the season finale in Buffalo, which cost the Jets a Playoff spot and a subsequent offseason long contract dispute.

A bonus here is the overlap in the offenses that suit Pennington and Fitzpatrick. Both are at their best in horizontal based passing attacks where they can read the defense presnap.

My only hesitation about this move is pairing the injury-prone Pennington with Fitzpatrick who almost every year seemed to be on a team where the starting quarterback got hurt.

Mark Sanchez, 2010

Finding the third quarterback for this team was a real challenge. There just aren’t any good options.

This version of Sanchez seemed to best fit what I wanted in my third string quarterback. He was battle tested after playing three road Playoff games as a rookie. He also showed he could function well enough if he had the right supporting cast. Sanchez was inefficient this year, but he wasn’t bad enough to make a strong roster lose most weeks. This was the season he protected the football the best with a middle of the pack 2.6 percent interception rate, the only year of his career it was under 3.3 percent. He also came through in numerous clutch spots in 2010.

As a young guy I also think he’ll buy into his role as the third quarterback and not cause any problems.

Toughest Omissions:

I have a feeling the most common criticism people will have is, “Brett Favre had the Jets at 8-3 in 2008, and then he got hurt.”

I have a couple of answers for this. First, I have to judge these players based on how they played. We don’t know how Favre would have done had he stayed healthy. At 39 years old, he very well might have worn down anyway.

We do know he had 22 interceptions and under 7 yards per attempt.

There are a lot of false narrative that has become accepted as fact about the Favre year. One of them is that Favre was consistently great for the Jets prior to the injury. That just isn’t true. He was up and down. Half of those 22 interceptions came in the first two months of the season which was preinjury. In fact, his October was brutal. He had a 65.7 passer rating and threw 3 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Again, this was preinjury.

Favre did have some excellent stretches that season and was part of the reason the Jets got off to a good start. He also had a lot of help. This was largely the same supporting cast that got the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games the following two years with Sanchez.

I just think in the case of Favre people are focusing on the label. If somebody like Fitzpatrick had an and down Favre 2008 vintage type of season, nobody would remember it. Because it came from somebody who was a big name and first ballot Hall of Famer for what he accomplished in the Green Bay portion of his career, the season is probably remembered for being better than it really was.

I can tell you at the time there were very few Jets fans who had fondness for Favre. The overwhelming perception was that the trade was a bust, and Favre was washed up.

I can also tell you that he isn’t starting over 2002 Pennington. He also probably isn’t beating out 2015 Fitzpatrick for the backup role, and at this point of his career Favre isn’t going to take a role low on the depth chart.

Beyond Favre, there aren’t many options for the third quarterback. The 1998 vintage of Vinny Testaverde might have challenged Pennington for the starting job, but our cutoff again was 2000. The 21st century versions of Vinny just weren’t that good. You might argue 2017 Josh McCown. You also could argue 2018 or 2019 Sam Darnold as a third string quarterback capable of throwing up numbers against a bad defense. Sanchez’s big game experience played a big role in giving him the nod as the number three quarterback with no other obvious differentiator.