Commentary

Jets sucker punch Mark Sanchez

The Tim Tebow trade is a QB controversy waiting to happen for Gang Green

Updated: March 23, 2012, 5:17 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Jets made two bad trades Wednesday in a span of eight hours. Wait, let's correct that: They made a bad trade and a bad trade worse.

Not only did the Jets give up two draft picks for Tim Tebow, but they coughed up $2.5 million at the 11th hour to satisfy a contract-related disagreement with the Denver Broncos that threatened to blow up the deal -- and that money counts against the salary cap.

The Jets never got a chance to chase Peyton Manning, so they saved up their energy for Tebow. It sure looked that way, considering the way they fought for him over a long, surreal day of negotiations -- including six hours in which the deal was in limbo.

They should've let him get away, the way they let him run away in the final seconds on that frigid night last November in Denver, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum kept at it. The drama finally ended around 9 p.m. ET, when Tebow picked the Jets over his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars -- if you want to believe that fishy postscript to the story.

No matter how the Jets spin it, this sends a message to Mark Sanchez. Two weeks after giving Sanchez a contract extension -- probably to pacify him after the ill-fated flirtation with Manning -- the Jets hit their so-called franchise quarterback with a sucker punch.

Mark, meet Tim Tebow. Don't worry, he's your backup. No competition. We still love ya, kid.

Right.

The Jets, no doubt, will try to sell that to Sanchez, to their players and to the public. Tannenbaum, in a late-night conference call to announce the trade, said over and over that Sanchez is their guy. But only the na´ve will accept this trade at face value, because it's a quarterback controversy waiting to happen. Some players believe it's inevitable.

"There's going to be a controversy, you just know it," one Jets player said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I'm sure Mark doesn't like this. Next to Peyton Manning coming, this is his second-worst nightmare."

Tannenbaum said Tebow will be the No. 2 quarterback and will be used in various packages, namely the Wildcat. But let's be real: You don't give up two draft picks (fourth- and sixth-rounder), take on a $1 million salary, agree to pay another $2.5 million to another team and engage lawyers for an all-day battle just so you can add a backup/role player.

"This kid will do everything in his power to start," one team source said of Tebow, who went 8-5 last season as the Broncos' starter, including an epic playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Suddenly, there's no margin for error for Sanchez, who will hear the "We Want Tebow!" chants as soon as he struggles. This will tell us a lot about his mental toughness. He's never been in this situation before because, let's be honest, no one in the crowd was screaming for Kellen Clemens or Mark Brunell during his first three seasons.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
AP Photo/Evan PinkusAfter committing to Mark Sanchez with a new contract, why would the Jets bring in Tim Tebow?

Sanchez reacted to the trade by calling Tebow, welcoming him to the team. They shared a pleasant conversation, as Tebow described it. Good move by Sanchez. Enjoy the tranquility now, Mark, it's going to get bumpy.

"We obviously know Tim has a magnetic following and he's a dynamic person, but every starting quarterback has a backup quarterback," Tannenbam said. "If you struggle, we understand the popularity of any backup quarterback. This one is a little more unique than others."

You think?

The Jets are a hard franchise to figure.

They make a commitment to Sanchez after a mediocre season, professing their love and admiration. When Tebow becomes available -- hardly unexpected -- they call an audible and bring into the mix the NFL's most polarizing player.

Tannenbaum said they didn't start discussing Tebow until Monday, when Peyton Manning was introduced in Denver.

Maybe he needs to watch more "SportsCenter" because everybody seemed to know that Tebow was going to be on the trading block.

It will get messy. The Jets don't need messy, especially after last season's turmoil.

Tannenbaum kept talking about Tebow in the Wildcat, making it sound like they had gone into the laboratory to discover some new-age way to rip apart their opponents.

"The Wildcat? Nobody runs that anymore," another Jets player said. "We're taking three steps back and the rest of the league is taking four steps forward."

The Jets like this trade because of Tebow's versatility and because they felt his contract was team-friendly  a total of $6 million over the next three years, including the bag of money they had to hand over to the Broncos.

They can justify it any way they want, but this wasn't the right move for this team. Too much risk, not enough upside.

The circus is back in town. How long before they book again with HBO's "Hard Knocks?"

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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