- Rich Cimini, ESPN New York Jets reporter
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It happened one year ago, on March 21, 2012 -- the day the New York Jets took a walk on the Wild(cat) side.
At precisely 1:03 p.m., the Jets texted the local media with the big news: They had reached an agreement in principle to acquire Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. The text came moments after an announcement on the team's Twitter page.
It turned out to be a case of premature communication, because there was a snafu between the teams that nearly blew up the deal. The Jets should've taken that as a sign. Eight hours later, the trade became official, the start of a surreal, controversial, overhyped soap opera that has felt like one long news conference.
Happy anniversary, Tim.
OK, we'll drop the "happy," because everybody in the Tebow-living world knows it hasn't been a party. He brought his flock to the big city, expecting to play football and advance his causes, but it turned into a photo op. That's no exaggeration. Through no fault of his own, he spent more time in front of the cameras than on the field.
It's puzzling, because the Jets really wanted him. They wanted him so badly they traded for him twice in the same day.
They negotiated the trade compensation in the morning, agreeing to send fourth- and sixth-round picks in exchange for Tebow and a seventh-rounder. That was the easy part.
After tweeting the agreement, the Jets sent papers to the Broncos to finalize the deal -- a mere formality, they thought. Turns out the Broncos wanted reimbursement for the $5 million they already had paid Tebow in salary advances. There was a big disagreement about whether the Jets were responsible. Robby Tebow, Tim's brother, told a reporter in Florida that the Jets "didn't read the fine print."
Tense negotiations ensued, with the Jets eventually agreeing to pay $2.5 million to the Broncos. By 9 p.m., it was a done deal. At 10:15, general manager Mike Tannenbaum conducted a news conference, explaining one of the biggest trades in Jets history.
In retrospect, the words sound so ... so ... out there.
Tannenbaum: "Mark Sanchez is, has been and will be our starting quarterback. We're adding Tim to be our backup quarterback and to play in other roles and packages."
Reality: Who could've imagined Tebow's greatest impact would come as the personal protector on the punt team? He played only 72 offensive snaps, mostly running into the line or acting as a decoy. The ballyhooed Wildcat package was only a rumor. By the end of the season, he wasn't even the backup quarterback.
Tannenbaum: "What we've become is a diverse, more dynamic offense that's going to make it more difficult for opposing teams to defend."
Reality: Uh, not exactly. The Jets had more turnovers than touchdowns, although they did produce perhaps the most-watched play of the season -- the Butt Fumble.
Tannenbaum: "We obviously know Tim has a magnetic following and he's a dynamic person, but every starting quarterback has a backup quarterback. ... This [situation] is a little more unique than others. Mark, in this market, has shown resilience and toughness."
Reality: Again, we mention the Butt Fumble.
At 11:30 that night, Tebow conducted his conference call, the first of what has seemed like 316 Q&As.
Tebow: "My role is very clear. They want me to come in and compete and get better and get better at quarterback, and help the team any way possible. Whatever that role is, I will do it with my heart and soul."
Reality: Tebow's role never was clear. It became more muddled by the week and, by the end of the season, it was obvious they didn't trust him to play quarterback. They also removed him from the Wildcat because he told them he didn't want to be in that package anymore.
But on March 21, 2012, you could almost see the smile through the phone.
By December, the smile was gone, and everybody was pretty much in agreement: The trade was a mistake -- just like the tweet that announced it.
One year ago, the Jets made one of the worst mistakes in team history: Tebow.