Tim Tebow goes to the Jets and hysteria ensues, but he’s just a fancy replacement for Brad Smith
“Idiots! They’re idiots in Florham Park.”—Joe Benigno, WFAN
“The Jets chose dollars over football sense!”—Mike Francesa, five minutes later
As I write this, the Jets are in the midst of a public-relations backlash for their acquisition of Tim Tebow early this afternoon, for a fourth and a sixth round pick in this year’s draft.
Like everything involving the Rex Ryan-era Jets, and, more to the point, like everything involving Tebow, reaction to this move has been predictably overheated.
Criticism of the move revolves around a pretty straightforward line of thinking: That the Jets, having puffed out their chests and talked non-stop for two straight years, got their comeuppance last year.
First came their own playoff-less, acrimonious 8-8 season. Second came the Super Bowl championship of the Giants, their staid, steady hometown foil. Starved for attention and desperate to sell seats and luxury boxes in what now can only laughingly be called “Jet-Life Stadium,” the Jets called the one play they know how to execute flawlessly: the attention-grabbing stunt.
Making the move all the more mysterious on the surface was the Jets’ recent decision to renew Mark Sanchez’ contract, after first publicly flirting with Peyton Manning. This extension of Sanchez's contract wasn’t as big a commitment as the reported $40.5 suggested: Essentially what it did was lock the Jets into paying him for both this year and next year (as opposed to just this year), with the benefits of a team option for future years as well as savings on salary cap room this year.
Still, the acquisition of Tebow, arguably the most popular athlete in America, sends a mixed message, and publicly undermines a player whose long-term viability as a franchise quarterback is seemingly hanging by a thread. (The Jets also get a seventh-round pick from the Broncos.)
So no, it’s not surprising that people are reacting like this.
But in all likelihood, the way this all shakes out won't live up to the hype. In other words, this isn’t nearly as big a football decision as it is a news story.
Here’s a prediction: By Week 6 this coming season, Tebow will have settled into a small but useful role. Sanchez will be the regular quarterback, and Tebow will be the quarterback in "wildcat" formations under new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, who was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins when they pioneered the use of the wildcat in 2008.
The Jets used the wildcat to great effect when they had Brad Smith, who, like Tebow, was a college quarterback with great running skills and a strong, but inaccurate, arm. If you forget the whole Cultural Icon thing for a moment, replacing Brad Smith for a 4th and 6th rounder doesn’t seem like such an earth-shattering (or indefensible) move.
The acquisition of Tebow should also provide a marginal boost to the Jets’ running game, which Sparano has stated he’d like to emphasize more this year: Research has shown that having a running quarterback on the field improves the performances of a team’s running backs.
But Sanchez will still be the quarterback, and Tebow or not, his situation won’t change much: If the Jets win and he plays well, he’ll be praised. If they lose and he doesn’t play well, he’ll be criticized.
Immediately after the season, an anonymous teammate was quoted questioning Sanchez’s work habits and saying that he had become “lazy” because of lack of competition. Who knows if there’s any truth to that, but if there is, the Tebow acquisition will be a good thing for him. If there’s not, and the result of this move is that Sanchez crumbles the moment fans start calling for Tebow, then his critics are right, and he wasn’t cut out to be an N.F.L. starter in the first place.
And then those fans will have Tebow for a while, to bridge the gap until the Jets find a new savior.