Off-season Jets: Woody Johnson, G.O.P. stalwart, sees Tim Tebow as a Christie-like figure

Tebow's introduction. ()
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It was only a matter of time before the Republicans took ownership of Tim Tebow. And Jets owner Woody Johnson, a major G.O.P. donor who once had Sarah Palin up to his owner's box, was just the guy to do it.

In an interview with Fox Business News—most of which consisted of Johnson and reporter David Asman praising Governor Chris Christie's pro-big business policies—Johnson said of Tebow, “He’s a lot like Governor Christie. He is what he is. He’s not afraid to tell you what he believes in. And he will, I think, be a very positive influence in the locker room and I think he’s gonna help us win a lot of games.”

(On the very day Johnson praised the authenticity of both men, Christie had been caught in a lie over why he killed the long-awaited ARC tunnel project. But never mind.)

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Johnson spent the rest of the interview downplaying and debunking two widely held assumptions about the Tebow trade: That it was Johnson who had pursued Tebow, and not the football brain trust of Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan; and that the rationale for the trade was financial rather than football-related.

“Jerseys aren’t really our main line of business,” Johnson told Asman.

(It’s true: Most revenue from jersey sales is pooled collectively among league owners and players.)

“Our main line of business is winning games," he said. "I expect if we do well, we will continue to sell. We’re pretty well sold out on P.S.L.s despite what you read about.”

Leaving aside the open question of P.S.L. sales, it's pretty unlikely that money was the primary motivation for the Tebow trade. Woody Johnson is one of the richest people in the country, a man whose family routinely ranks in the Forbes Top 10 Richest Families List with a net worth of $13 billion. Even the most outlandishly optimistic forecasters of Tebow’s potential value would admit that whatever he earns the Jets now and in the future amounts to peanuts relative to the family fortune. Besides, as with most teams and their owners, the Jets are more Johnson’s vanity project than they are a source of income.

It’s reasonable to argue that Johnson did this for buzz, or some businessman's sense that is was a way to keep his team relevant after the Giants just won the Super Bowl.

But what he said is as true as it is trite: Ultimately, this trade will be judged by—or more precisely, subsumed by—whether or not the Jets win games on the field.

MARK SANCHEZ AND SANTONIO HOLMES ARE BUDDIES again. They went out for dinner earlier in the off-season, and worked out together this past week in Orlando, along with Dustin Keller and Patrick Turner.

This follows a season in which Holmes griped about his role in the offense and went public with complaints about the team’s shaky offensive line, which had been solid for years leading up to the last campaign. Things hit a nadir on the final week of the season: Holmes skipped out of Sanchez’s after-practice study session between quarterbacks and receivers, and then complained his way through the team’s dismal loss to end the season in Miami. It all culminated when Holmes got into a sideline shouting match with Wayne Hunter, the spirited right tackle, who had a dreadful season.

But Holmes’ contract dictates that he and the Jets are stuck with each other, for better or worse: Holmes is guaranteed $7.75 million this year and $7.5 million for 2013. These are the headaches a team subjects itself to when it embraces players who have worn out their welcome elsewhere.

Holmes had his least productive season last year, setting career lows in yards and yards-per-catch, and his catch rate of 50 percent was moderately worse than his career rate of around 55 percent. The burning question is whether this augurs a decline in Holmes’ skills or whether it was a just a function of the Jets’ disjointed offense, which for the first time in years lacked an adequate running game.

The decline of the running game can’t be overstated: After finishing 8th, 5th, and 8th in yards per rushing attempt going back to 2008, the Jets plummeted to 30th last year. In 2010, they averaged 4.4 yards per carry; in 2011, they averaged 3.8.

Without the run game to set the table offensively, the Jets were taken out of what they wanted to do, like throw to Holmes. But new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has promised a return the Ground and Pound philosophy, which, if successful, will bring with it the return of Tone Time.

THE JETS ARE HOPING TO LOCK UP DUSTIN KELLER to a long-term deal, ESPN's Rich Cimini reports. Keller is signed through this year on his rookie contract, but will be an unrestricted free agent next year.

Despite their setback of a season, the Jets are clearly still in win-now mode, and Keller is an indispensable part of the Jets as currently constituted. He led the team in catches (65) and receiving yards (815) last year, thus fully blossoming into the receiver the Jets envisioned when they made him a first round pick in 2008.

But if the Jets re-up on Keller, they’ll essentially be paying him from his age-29 season forward (he turns 29 in September of 2013). Even though he’s trending upward as a receiver, his run-blocking has always been below average for his position (Pro Football Focus ranked him 28th out of 32 tight ends who were on the field more than half the time last year, and he has never ranked above average.)

Keller’s a good, deserving player. But the decision to sign him to a long-term contract is not an obvious one.

FINALLY, A PLAYER DEVIATED FROM THE BROMIDES and actually said some critical things about Tim Tebow.

Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas came out and said what many people probably assumed: That it’s a pain in the ass for a wide receiver, whose job it is to catch precisely timed and placed passes, to have Tebow as his quarterback.

“I wasn’t getting no balls and you had to make some of these plays where some players were open and he is not making the throws, but I don’t want to talk bad about Tim," he said.  

He added, “You would have people calling him out, saying, ‘Tim, you gotta make that throw. You gotta read the defenses better.’”

He also said he found the media orgy that surrounded Tebow’s every move annoying.

“Everything on ESPN was all about Tim,” Thomas said. “That bothered some players, too, because they would say, ‘Tim Tebow Time.’ I felt like it was a team thing. If it wasn’t for the defense most of the time, there wouldn’t be no supposed ‘Tim Tebow Time.’”

This last knock is a bit unfair: Tebow didn’t court the spotlight and was always quick to praise and thank his teammates first (or second, actually, after he praised and thanked Jesus).

But Thomas’ sentiments, while harsh, amount to a heretofore unspoken flipside to Tebowmania. Having a quarterback whose completion percentage is 46.5 percent—13.5 percent worse than the league average—results in wide receivers whose numbers suffer. And a team that scraps together a decent record despite having a quarterback who completes 46.5 percent of his passes, only to have their efforts chalked up to that quarterback’s magic pixie dust, yields a bunch of players who haven’t gotten the credit they deserve.

BIG DOINGS WITH "HARD KNOCKS."

According to a FoxSports report, Woody Johnson wanted the Jets on the show and Rex Ryan didn’t.

Apparently, the Denver Broncos were offered the gig, but they turned HBO down. The Jacksonville Jaguars offered to do the gig, but HBO turned the Jaguars down.

The latest report, from ESPN, says HBO has offered the show to the Atlanta Falcons.