Francesa on Tannenbaum on Tebow: Anatomy of a drive-time flaying

Francesa and Tannenbaum. (web.yesnetwork.com)
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For the past two days, sports radio host Mike Francesa has been back in his comfort zone. The Jets had given him a gift that will likely keep giving for many months, by trading for Tim Tebow.

Francesa has to fill up a six-hour, drive-time block every weekday, and football has always been his best sport: Its opacity lends itself to Francesa’s intuition-based analysis and drastic conclusions. And he’s much more entertaining when his indignation is piqued, and unrestrained.

So, for a man who has long made his living channeling the New York fans’ strong suspicions that the owners and managers of their teams are secretly incompetent or insane or both, this Tebow thing was perfect.

Making it better for Francesa, personally, was that this was the Jets. For the past two years, Francesa has established an adversarial relationship with the Rex Ryan-era Jets, whose trash-talking, publicity-seeking schtick is anathema to the old-fashioned sports moral code to which he considers himself a subscriber.

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Toward the end of today’s broadcast, he welcomed on his show Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

In a nutshell, the interview went like this:

Tannenbaum, unwaveringly clinical, insisted that Tebow would have a limited but important role in the offense, but that Mark Sanchez was still the unquestioned starting quarterback.

Francesa, while managing to convey the audio version of an eye-roll the entire interview, came back with some version of You actually expect people to believe that?!

Take, for instance, Francesa’s accusatory disbelief of Tannebuam’s contention that Tebow was acquired primarily to fill the shoes of Brad Smith, the useful jack-of-all trades during the successful 2009 and 2010 seasons who departed for Buffalo before last season.

“I keep hearing Brad Smith’s name,” Francesa said. “I didn’t hear a thing about the Jets missing Brad Smith until Tebow got here.”

“Yeah, I missed Brad last year,” said Tannenbaum. “I thought he was a great change of pace. We see Tim in a similar way. When the ball’s in his hands, good things happen. For us, that’s just another weapon.”

Smith, of course, was missed last season, when the Jets regressed after two good seasons under Tannenbaum and Ryan. He was a vital component to those successful Jets teams. According to the Expected Points Added stat of AdvancedNFLStats.com, which calculates how much players helped their teams win based on the game-scenarios of their plays, Smith was second among Jets in 2009, adding 17.2 points. The next year, Smith added 6.4 points.

That stat does not account for Smith's important role on special teams, and Smith totaled only 140 receiving yards in those two years combined. This means that nearly all of that value was tied up in his role as the quarterback in wildcat formations, a role the Jets say Tebow will fill this year.

Given the extraordinary, high-leverage production they got from Smith, the Jets’ decision to part with a fourth-round pick (plus a sixth-rounder, which is mostly offset by the seventh rounder they got back from Denver) to replace it actually makes some sense, in football terms.

But Francesa, who staged an entertaining tantrum after seeing Tebow’s jersey listed ahead of Sanchez’s on the team website, wasn’t dealing in football terms, and certainly wasn't buying this notion of Tebow as a role player.

“Channel 2 broke into their broadcast to show him landing on his private jet, which has his uniform number on the tail! He’s on the front and back page of every paper! His jersey’s already splashed around your website! And you guys act like you’re just bringing in another backup!”

“We felt we could manage that situation and he’s gonna fit in well with his teammates,” replied Tannenbaum.

Francesa asked what had Tannenbaum told Sanchez about the move.

“You’re our starting quarterback, we’re gonna get Tim some snaps,” Tannenbaum said. “We think [Tebow] can add an element to our offense that will make us hard to defend. And he understood.”

The interview ended amicably. “Ahright, ahright,” Francesa said, the moment the interview ended, as if attempting to bring himself and his listeners back down to reality after several minutes of pure company-man spin.

“Ya gotta come on and say something,” he offered, in what he probably thought was a charitable tone. “But in what system is the backup quarterback guaranteed snaps?”

This wasn’t about Brad Smith, or the wildcat, or anything but bringing Tebowmania to the Jets, Francesa was sure.

“That message, ‘We have designed packages, Tebow will play,’ that’s to energize the Tebow base,” Francesa said, with certainty. “Back after this.”