Commentary

Tebow trade proves Ryan tone-deaf

Having admitted to losing the pulse of the locker room, Rex hasn't learned

Updated: March 22, 2012, 12:07 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

It was an extraordinary sight when Jets coach Rex Ryan publicly admitted he lost the "pulse" of the locker room and vowed to change after they spiraled out of the playoffs last season.

But Ryan proved he had learned nothing by signing off on the Jets' nonsensical trade for Tim Tebow on Wednesday, and then passing on a gift chance to bail on the deal when the Jets and the Denver Broncos hit a financial snag later in the day.

It just proves Ryan couldn't find the pulse of his own locker room if he had a stethoscope hooked up to loudspeakers. And neither can his bosses. If anything, this deal proves Ryan has gotten more tone-deaf about how to run a team.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Bill KostrounControl of the locker room? Rex Ryan certainly didn't help that by bringing in Tim Tebow.

Remember all those mea culpas and vows to change Ryan made at his post-mortem news conference after last season's ugly end? He was despondent and unshaven. He hadn't slept a wink. There seemed to be a sliver of hope that a real attitude overhaul might be on the way. But now? No way. Rex's self-deluding swagger is back. And that force-fed humility of his? It turns out it had a shelf life of a mere three months.

The Jets' decision to trade two lower-round draft picks for Tebow, and then plow ahead with the deal despite the violent backlash that instantly rose up when the deal was announced, is the sort of publicity-mongering move that's likely to make an already divided locker room of Jets players throw up their hands and flatline. Not pull closer together and rise up.

"Why are we doing this?" cornerback Antonio Cromartie asked on Twitter.

The obvious answer is that Ryan didn't learn a thing. Same old Rex.

The Jets didn't need the new circus Tebow brings. And Ryan shouldn't have wanted him.

Ryan acknowledged that the Jets' locker room was riven by too many subplots and agendas after the Jets missed the playoffs for the first time in his tenure here, and numerous players -- some anonymous, some not -- vented to the media about what a circus the team had become.

But if that seemed bad, just wait. The Jets already confused everyone by trying to flirt with Peyton Manning -- only to get the cold shoulder -- then giving incumbent quarterback Mark Sanchez a three-year, $40.5-million extension although his current contract still had two years to run and his psyche seems eggshell-soft, even in the estimation of some teammates.

So what did Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum do? They saddled Sanchez with malcontent receiver Santonio Holmes and a new offense to learn because they ran off Brian Schottenheimer, the only coordinator he had ever had. Now here comes Tebow -- a phenomenon who actually grows more gargantuan the more he doesn't play.

Ryan and the Jets used to have this conceit that they were the team in the NFL everyone wanted to play for.

When Ryan arrived three seasons ago, Tannenbaum and Jets owner Woody Johnson were vocal about believing that his fast-and-loose personality and motivational genius would be enough to justify the gambles they made on players with character issues or other question marks. They laughed out loud at doubters and reveled in Ryan's bold predictions. They drank it up when HBO's "Hard Knocks" crew showed up, and said they were confident Ryan could make it work all the way to that promised Super Bowl win.

What last season proved is they were wrong about all of that, too.

Now? Free agents with any brains or choices at all have to look at the Jets like Manning did and think, "Why would I want to go play for a franchise that cares more about being a vaudeville act than victories?"

And the players who are already here? They have to feel disgusted that the circus looks likely to continue and Ryan did nothing to stop it. The Jets who were the real grown-ups in the locker room last season -- true leaders like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Moore and the departed LaDainian Tomlinson -- all said or intimated that what went on last season in the Jets' locker room was bad as anything they've ever seen in the NFL.

It's going to get worse when Tebow arrives.

This is not a good move for Tebow, a genuinely good man who would've been better off in Jacksonville or Miami or anywhere but New York, the media capital of the world. And this is not a move that helps Sanchez develop into a better quarterback. It just makes him a more haunted one. He just inherited Kyle Orton's old life in Denver, where nothing was ever good enough to quiet the Tebow chants.

Ryan could've avoided it all if he wanted to. Instead, he flattered himself into thinking he can handle Tebowmania even though a Hall of Famer like John Elway no longer wanted any part of it in Denver.

Ryan hasn't changed. He didn't learn. Faced with the chance to get Tebow, he said what he always says: Bring it on.

Same old Rex.

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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