If the Jets meant to wrest the spotlight from the Super Bowl champion Giants by bringing in Tim Tebow, it worked. New York papers last week gushed with headlines seemingly prepared in advance. GOD HIM! trumpeted the New York Post. SO MUCH TIMTATION, said the Daily News, warning the famously devout Tebow about Gotham's "Hookers & poker & bars, oh my!" Even the Times published an investigation of Tebow's local roots. It seems an Andries Tebow settled in Hackensack, N.J., in the late 17th century. Like his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, it is surmised, Andries probably had a prominent nose.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum insists his franchise coveted the former Heisman winner not for his celebrity but for his quarterbacking. Indeed, if Tebow is viewed not as a 24-year-old culture-war icon but as a football player who possesses distinctive if limited skills, the gambit makes sense. The Jets say they're committed to fourth-year starter Mark Sanchez, to whom they gave a five-year, $58.25 million extension three weeks ago. They see Tebow as a reasonably priced reserve (he'll cost New York a fourth-round pick and $6.5 million over three years) and "another club in our bag," to be used when the situation fits. Says Tannenbaum, "We think there's tremendous roster efficiency, in that he can do so much more on the field."
Still, New York was virtually alone among NFL teams in that mind-set. "To use Tim the right way you'd at least have a package of plays for him," says Broncos president John Elway, who traded Tebow away shortly after signing Peyton Manning. "The problem is, we're not taking Peyton Manning off the field."
Tannenbaum dismisses the notion that Tebow was brought in to push starter Mark Sanchez. "We're really happy with Mark," he says. "Since he's been our QB, we've won the eighth-most games in the league. He'll be our guy for a long time." In the best case Sanchez, the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, will continue to develop but will be supported by a player who can throw defenses an occasional Wildcat changeup. And if Sanchez does crumble from the pressure of having such a charismatic backup—you can bet that the Tebow chants will begin with Sanchez's first interception, if not earlier—it might prove once and for all that he doesn't have the stuff of an elite NFL quarterback.
As for Tebow, it's hard to see how he'll be changed by his move to New York. His personality does not contain many moving parts—his areas of interest include Christian doctrine, charitable works and fitted vests—and his game is similarly uncomplicated. At his formal introduction on Monday he said, with typical earnestness, "I will give my whole heart to being the best Jet I can possibly be." Shutters clicked like machine guns for the entirety of the 33-minute appearance. So yes, the Jets created buzz, and it will last as long as Tebow does. But more than that, they're poised to benefit from something more important: a proven reserve and a player who will give them a more versatile offense.
SHARP SET How Tebow's presence affects Sanchez's psyche and the locker room dynamic will determine whether the Jets' gambit pays off.