"If I didn't, they were going to cut me," Clemens said Tuesday, revealing he took a pay cut to ensure a spot on the 53-man roster.
His decision prompted the Jets to waive Kevin O'Connell, who was outplayed by Clemens in a competition for the third-string job behind Mark Sanchez and Mark Brunell. O'Connell played poorly in the preseason, completing only eight of 16 passes for 70 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Clemens was due to make $1.1 million, the amount of his free-agent tender, but his salary was slashed almost by 50 percent. He will make a little more than the minimum salary ($630,000) for a player with his experience, according to sources. Under his old salary, he would've been making more than Brunell.
As previously reported, Clemens was on the trading block. He was recently granted permission to speak with other teams and, although a couple expressed interest in making him their No. 2 quarterback, he ultimately decided to remain with the team that drafted him in 2006.
"You dance with the girl you came with," he said. "That's the way I was brought up."
Coach Rex Ryan confirmed the obvious, saying Clemens outplayed O'Connell. Ryan said the only way he would've traded Clemens was if another team offered a starting job. There was never a chance of that happening. So Monday night, Ryan explained the situation to Clemens, who signed his new contract Tuesday morning.
The Jets are down to three quarterbacks on the 74-man roster, not counting Erik Ainge, who was placed on the reserve/did-not-report list at the start of training camp after checking into drug rehab.
Brunell and Clemens will play Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles in the final preseason game, with Sanchez resting. The potential downside to cutting O'Connell before the game is the injury factor. If Brunell or Clemens gets hurt, they'd have to hope O'Connell still is available to re-sign him.
Ryan, explaining the timing of O'Connell's release, said he wanted to unload him before they started working on their game plan for the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener. This way, another team -- i.e. the Ravens -- won't be able to sign him and pump him for sensitive information.
Of course, O'Connell still has some knowledge of the Jets that could be useful to one of their early opponents. In Week 2, they face the New England Patriots, famous for signing marginal players, picking their brains and discarding them.
The Jets themselves did it last year, acquiring O'Connell two weeks before facing the Patriots. O'Connell was a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2008, but he was waived and claimed by the Detroit Lions. The Jets wound up sending a conditional draft pick to the Lions (seventh round, 2011) in exchange for O'Connell.
Clemens appeared to be on shaky ground as far back as the spring, when the Jets put him on the trading block. When they signed Brunell before the start of camp, it looked like Clemens was a goner. In last week's episode of "Hard Knocks," in a scene that reveals the Jets' depth chart, Clemens' name appears with an "X" next to it -- seemingly an indication he was in jeopardy of being released.
Ryan claimed there was no "X," saying the only question with Clemens was his salary.
"That was the issue," Ryan said. "From his skill, from the type of playing he is, we were not looking to cut Kellen."
Just his pay.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.