Commentary

Rex picks McElroy, sticks it to Tebow

Keeping Tim on bench in favor of third-stringer all but ruins quarterback's career

Updated: December 20, 2012, 9:54 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

Tim Tebow should have seen this coming as clearly as he saw Eric Smith coming on that flawed blitz in Denver last year, when Tebow scrambled left and into the end zone to beat the same New York Jets who are paying him back with interest now.

Remember when the Jets left him alone at the introductory news conference, feeding him to the news media wolves at their Florham Park, N.J., training facility while they cowered behind a palm tree at the league meetings in Florida?

That was the first sign, and it was as big as the one his sponsor, Jockey, had posted over the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel. "We Support Tebow & New York," it read. Well, at least somebody did.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Wade PayneChoosing Greg McElroy to replace Mark Sanchez as the Jets' starting quarterback is a monumental slap in the face for Tim Tebow.

Nine months later, the Jets stuck it to Tebow in a way few New York franchises have ever stuck it to a big-name athlete. The day after Mark Sanchez played his way to the bench for keeps, Rex Ryan announced that his third-stringer, Greg McElroy, had made a Bob Beamon leap off the inactive list and over the second-stringer, Tebow, smack into Sanchez's spot.

And you thought the Mets stuck it to R.A. Dickey by whispering nasty things about his alleged devotion to his three favorite teammates -- Me, Myself and I (Note to Toronto: Any self-promoter who wins a Cy Young Award and speaks out against sexual abuse and human trafficking is a self-promoter worth hiring).

The Jets used Tebow, and then abused him. They used him to sell tickets and PSLs and to steal a few more headlines from the local big-boy franchise that had just won another Super Bowl title.

They abused him Tuesday by declaring that a seventh-round pick who has been inactive for 13 out of 14 games gives the Jets a better chance to do something they often fail to do: win.

"A gut feeling," said the coach who no longer has much of a gut.

Ryan no longer has much of a clue, either. He needs to go with whatever postseason purge Woody Johnson orders up after his 6-8 Jets are done with their final two Sundays. If it's Mike Tannenbaum or Tony Sparano or Sanchez or all of the above, Ryan should be right there with them, as he's no longer fit to lead.

Rex mismanaged the quarterback position like he's mismanaged so many things over the last two seasons, and Johnson needs to call him on it. Of course, Johnson needs to call himself on his most controversial player acquisition, one that made the Brett Favre deal look like a garden-variety move.

"I think you can never have too much Tebow," the owner said long before it became clear Ryan didn't share that opinion and long before ol' Woody would flee from his own quote, one that sure sounded like a cash-register ka-ching.

"Selling seats, man, selling seats," Sanchez said of Woody's remark. Sadly, it was the quarterback's best spiral of the year.

Sanchez was betrayed by a GM who failed to surround him with any playmakers in a playmakers' league, and by a coaching staff running an offense designed to win the 1957 Big Ten title. But the ground-and-pound can't be fingered for the fact Sanchez grounded and pounded himself out of a job. If a former top-five pick in the draft can't elevate the teammates around him -- and, in fact, drags them down -- he deserves to be a former starter.

All of which brings us to Tebow, the lefty who was never summoned from the 'pen. Including his dramatic victory over the Jets, Tebow went 7-4 for last year's Broncos before beating Pittsburgh in a first-round playoff game.

Tebow owns 16 career starts and a 9-7 record over his previous two seasons, including 1-1 in the playoffs. How is he less qualified to face San Diego than McElroy, who has one moderately successful relief appearance behind him and who has eternal backup written all over him?

Ryan's non-answers on a conference call with reporters were barely worth repeating. "I think I have to look at what I think is the best for the team," he said of Tebow, "and not necessarily of the individual."

In other words, Ryan didn't care that he'd all but ruined Tebow's career and his chance to find meaningful NFL work somewhere else.

"I know he wants to help this team be successful in the worst way," Rex said, "there's no doubt about that."

Yeah, despite his obvious limitations, Tebow is as driven to succeed as any Jet. He bulked up at the coaches' request, played on the punt team, and filled the roles of slot back, receiver, and designated fall guy on Sparano's abomination of a Wildcat. Tebow even suited up with broken ribs on Thanksgiving night, another stroke of Rex Ryan genius.

Tebow did it with a smile, forever disarming reporters at his locker with his anything-to-help-the-team approach, all in the hope he would get his chance to play quarterback if Sanchez fumbled the ball. And how did the Jets thank him for taking so many hits for the cause, for letting some anonymous fool make him the butt of a back-page joke?

By lateraling his harmless two-game audition to the likes of Greg McElroy, who didn't even make the game-night roster in Tennessee.

"I'd rather not look at what's behind me," Ryan said of Tebow's success with the Broncos. "I'd rather look at what's in front of me."

What's in front of Ryan is a second consecutive winter of watching the Super Bowl tournament from his couch. He knows McElroy was a seventh-round pick for a reason, and deep down he knows Tebow doesn't deserve this cruel slap in the facemask.

Maybe Ryan is afraid Tebow would go 2-0 against San Diego and Buffalo and make him feel silly for sticking with Sanchez. Maybe Ryan is afraid a return of Timsanity would make him look worse than he looked that November night in Denver he sent the lead-footed Smith on a fateful blitz.

Whatever. Only this much is clear: Rex has a lot of explaining to do to his agent, Jimmy Sexton, who also happens to be Tebow's agent.

Rex also has a lot of explaining to do to his employer. "Ultimately," the coach said of the 6-8 record, "I'm the man accountable for this."

This includes the planet's most recognizable benchwarmer. Ryan loves to fancy himself the ultimate players coach, but he should know he just royally hosed a player like few coaches ever have.

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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