Commentary

Tebow is the right play for Jets

Denver QB is a good football player, and Gang doesn't have enough of those

Updated: March 22, 2012, 11:07 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Tim Tebow is a better football player than Drew Stanton, a better backup quarterback for the New York Jets, and so the Jets cut a smart deal with the Denver Broncos even after a long day of looking so hopelessly dumb.

They were hit with what amounted to a $2.5 million fine for getting involved in a messy squabble over Tebow's contract, or at least the part that said a trading partner would owe Denver $5 million. The bumbling billionaire, Woody Johnson, knew he had to pay up.

The Jets couldn't afford to live through another disaster of Belichickian proportions. They couldn't afford to have Tebow resign as QB of the NYJ.

Make that, backup QB of the NYJ. Either way, the Jets landed the big city's most polarizing import since, since ...

Reggie Jackson? Alex Rodriguez? Roger Clemens? Brett Favre?

It doesn't matter. This trade costing the Jets a fourth-rounder and a swap of later-round picks isn't about selling PSLs at MetLife Stadium or peddling Tebow jerseys on the Web or stealing headlines away from the Super Bowl champions down the hall.

Tim Tebow
AP Photo/Jack DempseyTim Tebow is an upgrade over Drew Stanton at backup quarterback.

And no, this trade isn't about asking Tebow to heal a fractured locker room, either. Does the anonymous source who lobbed that one out there really believe Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes will remain committed BFFs because the second-string quarterback with the first-string conscience tells them to?

The idea is sillier than that "Saturday Night Live" skit, and more absurd than Mike Tannenbaum's decision to close the Denver deal without grasping the not-so-fine print in Tebow's contract.

Whatever. Ol' Woody can afford to cover the bill. Tebow will make the Jets a better team on any given Sunday or Monday night, and the fact that Antonio Cromartie kept tweeting otherwise only serves as irrefutable proof.

The Jets absolutely made the right call by sitting out the chase for Peyton Manning, and not only because Peyton would rather watch Andrew Luck win the Super Bowl in New Orleans than play for Rex Ryan in Eli Manning's backyard. At 25, Sanchez is much younger and healthier than Peyton. He's also a quarterback who won four more playoff games in his first three seasons than Peyton won in his.

Sanchez's disappointing Year 3 was nearly identical to Eli's disappointing Year 3 in 2006, the season before the Giants quarterback won his first of two Super Bowl MVPs. It doesn't mean that Sanchez is about to Joe Willie the Jets to their first title since January 1969. It only means that quitting on him in favor of a 36-year-old quarterback coming off multiple neck surgeries and a full year on the sideline didn't make much sense.

Sanchez deserves to remain the undisputed starter, whether or not you believe his contract extension was necessary. But for the Jets to advance beyond the two AFC Championship Games Sanchez has already delivered, they need better skill position players around him, and behind him.

Until Tebow was finally acquired Wednesday night, the newly signed Stanton was right behind Sanchez on the depth chart. There's no doubt the former Detroit Lion represents an upgrade on the mummified remains of Mark Brunell. There's also no doubt that Tebow, already a postseason winner, represents an upgrade on Stanton. If Sanchez goes down for an extended period of time, Tebow's Jets will stand a reasonable chance of making the playoffs, and Stanton's Jets will not.

If Sanchez stays upright, Tebow would offer a dimension off the bench that would complicate things for opposing defenses. Tony Sparano, offensive coordinator, is a founding father of the Wildcat formation, making him the right guy to get the most out of a specialist like Tebow.

That's what Tebow is -- a specialist, the world's most famous role player. There's nothing wrong with that.

Maybe he gets five or six snaps a game, tops, to do for the Jets what he did against them on that final, fateful drive in mid-November. And maybe those snaps are the difference between 8-8 and 10-6.

Tebow brings a rare physicality to his position. When Sanchez runs toward daylight, it looks like he'd rather be doing almost anything else, even booking a two-week Caribbean cruise with Holmes. Sanchez is athletic enough to escape the pocket and throw accurately on the move, but he's not a threat to do any downfield damage with his feet.

Tebow ruined the Jets' season by running wild on that 95-yard endgame drive in Denver. The home quarterback had been dreadful for most of the night, honoring Darrelle Revis' contention that he was a bore. But then Revis whiffed on a Tebow tackle, and then Eric Smith missed his target on a blitz, and then Tebow was flexing his comic book arms in the end zone before the Jets went home a complete 5-5 wreck.

On his way to the parking lot that night, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen stopped long enough to say of Tebow, "I believe he'll be a great one. Better keep him around."

The Broncos weren't listening. That same night, John Elway was practically sprinting through the locker room and away from two reporters hoping for a few comments on Tebow's magical drive. "It was great," Elway said without breaking stride. "Awesome."

And then he pushed through a door and disappeared. All along, Elway was waiting for someone like Peyton Manning to save him from the Tebow craze.

Denver's executive VP of football operations never believed his unconventional quarterback could sustain conventional long-term success, and his full-court press of Peyton proved it. Elway couldn't wait to ship Tebow far, far away from the senior Manning, potentially making him Eli's new high-profile neighbor in the Jersey marshes.

Sure, Rex Ryan is already lording over a no-ring circus, and it's easy to believe Tebow would be just another distracting dust storm for a team that leads the league in them. Sanchez would feel the presence of his backup for the first time, and Jets fans might respond to a 2-3 start with the very chant Peyton wanted no part of in Denver.

But competition brings out the best in winners, and Sanchez is a winning quarterback who could use a small dose of Tebow-Mania to reach what ballplayers are forever calling the next level.

In the end, the Jets are reducing this to a pure football decision. They want to run the ball, and Tebow can run the ball. He can play a little quarterback, maybe a little H-back, as Sparano has the system to accommodate his talents and limitations.

So forget the sales of tickets and merchandise and the forecasted faith healing in the locker room, and understand the essence of the deal. Tim Tebow is a good football player, and the 2011 Jets definitely didn't have enough of those.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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