There may be no pairing in the history of sports with more explosive potential than New York and Tim Tebow. Not LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Not T.O. and, well, anybody else. Not even Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.
Take a team struggling to recover from a disappointing season that featured poor play and late-season drama, add in a new backup quarterback with a rock-star following and pour it all into a 24/7 media cycle in the world’s most supercharged city, and you get the potential for an unparalleled spectacle.
But what does it all mean, really? From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, Michael Bradley has the answers to some of the more intriguing questions surrounding the Jets-Tebow marriage.
1. Would Tebow have still been the main man in Denver?
It’s possible that the Broncos would have been able to attract better quarterback talent than Caleb Hanie, Adam Weber and draft choice Brock Osweiler to challenge Tebow, had Peyton Manning not chosen Denver as his landing spot. But it wouldn’t have been easy.
The Broncos could have taken a serious run at former Packer backup Matt Flynn, but even though Flynn was great against the Lions last year, he is unproven. Seattle signed him, but the Seahawks guaranteed Flynn a relatively modest $10 million over the three-year duration of his contract and then showed limited faith in the quarterback by drafting Russell Wilson in the third round. The Dolphins, who desperately needed a passer (and ended up selecting Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the draft), low-balled Flynn, demonstrating that the market for a two-time starter might have been soft.
There is no secret that Denver executive John Elway and head coach John Fox were not staunch Tebow supporters, and judging by some of the comments by Broncos in the wake of Tebow’s move to New York, some of his teammates weren’t too thrilled with him, either. But two factors — besides the lack of available challengers — point to Tebow’s being the 2012 starter in Denver, had he stuck around.
First, he did win in 2011. Denver entered the season as a huge long-shot to sniff the playoffs, and the Broncos not only reached the postseason but also did so as the AFC West winner, which guaranteed a divisional round home game. (Denver beat the Steelers in OT on an 80-yard TD pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.) Say what you want about Tebow’s numbers, but he won, and that is the bottom line in the NFL. He would have entered training camp as the starter and would have competed hard to keep his job.
Second, the city loved him. If the Broncos had pushed him aside for Flynn or some other unproven commodity, there might have been an insurrection. And insurrections cost money. Unless Tebow was horrendous in the preseason, he would have started the Sept. 9 rematch against Pittsburgh.
2. Is Tebow merely an insurance policy in New York, or a legitimate option to start?
Tebow may be spouting all the right things about wanting to help the team and that he’ll do whatever he is asked, but make no mistake about it: He wants to start. That’s the best news the Jets could hear, because it might just force Mark Sanchez to step up and become a reliable producer.
Everybody wants to know why the Jets went after Tebow, when Sanchez signed a three-year extension in March. A closer look reveals that while Sanchez will earn a guaranteed $20.5 million in 2012-13, the next three years come in at a modest $12.5 million, making him easy to trade or cut. In other words, if the Jets want to go with Tebow, they can.
But will they? It’s unlikely they’ll do it in the short run, unless Sanchez is absolutely awful. New York is recommitting to the ground game in 2012 (the Jets had 443 rushes in 2011, down from 534 in ’10 and 607 in ’09) and will depend less on Sanchez to make plays. It’s clear Sanchez isn’t the type of passer who can throw for 300 yards every week, so asking him to air it out consistently makes no sense.
Tebow comes to New York to fill a Wildcat role, provide some excitement for a team that must contend with a city rival that won the Super Bowl and remind Sanchez that nobody’s job is safe in the NFL. But he is not in Gotham to replace Sanchez.
3. Can a two-quarterback system work in the NFL?
Go ahead and recite the list of teams that have thrived in the NFL with a two-quarterback system.
Maybe you remembered Miami’s “WoodStrock” combination of David Woodley and Don Strock that brought the Fish to Super Bowl XVII. But that was 29 years ago.
Teams that try to make it through a season with two quarterbacks are courting disaster. It’s one thing to have a Wildcat package that throws a changeup at defenses and forces them to prepare for something extra, and quite another to succeed every game without a set starter.
Denver’s decision to jettison Tebow was to avoid any controversy at the quarterback position. Even though Manning is a legend, his recent injury problems have made him susceptible to a slow start. Elway and Fox were not interested in having fans chant for Tebow, nor did they want to start a carousel under center.
Going with both Tebow and Sanchez in anything other than a starter/Wildcat format will do more than just go against historical precedent; it could also mess with Sanchez’s delicate psyche, which has been well documented. If Tebow is going to do anything more than take a few snaps a game at quarterback, the Jets are courting disaster.
4. Pardon the interruption, but how will Tebow’s presence affect the dynamic of the Jets’ locker room?
Last season ended for the Jets with wideout Santonio Holmes nearly getting into a scrap with offensive tackle Wayne Hunter during the finale against Miami, and Holmes and Sanchez sniping at one another — and the Jets’ missing the postseason. The defense feuded with the O. And the Rex Ryan Show, which seemed so fun in 2009 and ’10, appeared to have jumped the shark.
Even though Holmes and Sanchez have been offseason BFFs, going to Knicks’ games together (and getting booed) and working out in Orlando, all it will take is a game or two when the passing attack struggles for that conflagration to reignite. Bringing in a divisive character like Tebow, who can segment a locker room in so many ways (performance, religion, celebrity), can’t be a positive. Even if he becomes a great Wildcat weapon in Tony Sparano’s offense, Tebow could well cause big problems simply by being there.
The Jets’ offense ranked 25th in the NFL last season, and the rededication to the run, coupled with Sparano’s Wildcat musings, is supposed to invigorate things. But a splintered locker room, not to mention an impatient fan base that could turn on Sanchez after his first preseason incompletion, could give Ryan a huge headache. And let’s not forget that Sanchez’s feelings are easily bruised; witness the flap last November when Ryan gave backup Mark Brunell some practice reps with the first team.
The decision to trade for Tebow seems to have come from above, not from Ryan’s mind. He can deal with that. If the Jets need a P.R. boost to fight the Giants’ success, so be it. But if this is a nod to Sparano’s presence on the staff and his need to have a top-flight Wildcatter (hello, jump pass), then that could be worse for Ryan, who will now face an assistant with a little too much power. No matter what, Tebow’s arrival will create more commotion, something Ryan definitely does not need.
5. Bright Lights, Big Drama: How will Tebow respond to New York?
It can be safely assumed that half of New York (and New Jersey and Connecticut) will dislike Tebow, simply because he isn’t a Giant. That’s what happens in a two-team town.
But Tebow’s troubles are likely to be less about his green-and-white uniform and more due to the expected media eruption once he starts playing ball. No matter how crazy things were in Denver, Tebow was still somewhat insulated from the real media furor. That won’t happen in New York, where the convergence of local and national outlets will create a daily avalanche. Already, Big Apple newspapers are discussing assigning individual reporters to cover Tebow and only Tebow, much like what ESPN did in 2010-11 with the Miami Heat. His progress will be charted, dissected and analyzed, and any possible controversy will be celebrated.
Thanks to his strong religious roots, it’s unlikely Tebow will crack under the enormous expectations and start hitting the town with a Namath-like vengeance. The impact of the furor will likely be more subtle and could impact his play, as he tries to live up to the high expectations that will arise. Since he’s the backup quarterback, it’s likely he’ll be pretty popular among the fan base, but should he get onto the field as a starter, either due to injury or Sanchez’s poor play, Tebow will be scrutinized heavily, and if he struggles to produce magic, he will feel the full force of an angry fan base and carnivorous media.
Want more Tebow? Check out Athlon Sports’ exclusive slideshow of the QB through the years.