Opinion: The Tebow “Conspiracy”

David Aitken

The first post I ever wrote for this site was about the Tim Tebow trade. I stated at the time that I was actually hesitant to believe that this move had the hands of Woody Johnson all over it, and that for better or for worse it was Rex Ryan’s unwavering confidence in getting the most out of players and interest in acquiring a positive locker room influence that ultimately set the wheels in motion. I’m embarrassed to admit how naive that was, though I can’t blame myself. I was desperately trying to make sense of a move that really didn’t make any sense at all in the first place.

The media circus quickly kicked into overdrive when the trade happened. Radio shows, journalists and TV pundits talked about the trade with a level of fanfare as if the Jets had just acquired Peyton Manning and many suggested it was only a matter of time until Tim Tebow took over for Sanchez as the starting quarterback.

After all, Tim Tebow is a “winner.” It’s been proven as scientific fact! He quarterbacked Denver to an 8-8 record, showed a number of late game heroics and even won a playoff game. This has been hammered home repeatedly, while the fact that Mark Sanchez has never had a losing record as a starter, has actually had games where he has thrown for more than two touchdowns(in the playoffs no less), has a winning record in the playoffs, has an even more impressive fourth quarter comeback record than Tebow, and nearly quarterbacked the Jets to a Super Bowl twice goes unmentioned …. but I digress.

We’re at a point now where it seems that nearly every Jets fan’s biggest fear is about to come true. It appears that the conspiracy is in full effect: Sanchez and the Jets offense has sputtered against a number of good defenses in the early going and will go up against another top defense against Houston next Monday night which may end up being the final nail in the coffin.

But think about some of these things. The Jets gave Sanchez an extension before the Tim Tebow trade, and it basically guarantees he’ll be on the roster next season. The Jets, regardless of what happens this season, are still stuck with Mark Sanchez and will be paying him a lot of money to be on the roster. They have no such commitments to Tim Tebow, who can even be cut next season if the Jets so choose.

The Jets have already played four games, three of which saw the offense struggle to find success for large periods yet Tebow’s work in these games as a quarterback was minimal and Sanchez stayed the course even if he wasn’t productive. Before the season Rex Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum and Tony Sparano were all unified in laughing off the suggestion that Tebow could compete or overtake Sanchez as the starting quarterback and were resolute in their belief.

Even still, Rex Ryan is adamant about Sanchez as the starter. Perhaps he recognizes Sanchez as the only potentially solid quarterback on the roster as was the preseason conventional logic amongst Jets fans, or perhaps he feels that Tannenbaum, Ryan, and Sanchez are all attached at the hip. Sanchez was Ryan and Tannenbaum’s major investment, and if Sanchez goes they may go with him. The idea of there being some secret plan to get Tebow into the starting lineup just doesn’t add up.

So what is Tebow’s role with the Jets, exactly?

Rex Ryan had previously described him shortly after the  trade happened as a talented backup with some unique talents. He’s lined up as a punt protector, he’s taken some snaps as a wildcat quarterback, he’s ran some routes as a tight end and he’s thrown some blocks as a fullback. He’s been a little bit of everywhere though his impact has ultimately been minimal thus far. As mentioned before, the Jets have had opportunities to use Tebow as a “spark player” but appear to be reluctant to do so. Why is this? Was Tebow acquired simply in an attempt to light a fire under Sanchez?

It’s becoming clear to me that the Jets don’t really know quite what to do with Tebow, which is a little strange for a player with such a unique skill set they traded a decent draft pick for. One would expect that if Ryan, Sparano and Tannenbaum all thought it was a good idea to acquire Tebow, they’d have clearly identified a way to utilize him well before the Jets were even practicing up in Cortland.

Frankly, much to the chagrin of the lovely football intellectuals on ESPN’s First Take, it’s clear that there is no Tim Tebow conspiracy. Because the word “conspiracy” implies that something exists that there is absolutely no evidence of …

A plan.

Since the season has actually kicked off, has there been anything less evident regarding Tim Tebow than a defined role for his utilization? The use of Tebow on offense thus far has been representative of the Jets entire offense: an unproductive mess.

There is no conspiracy to make him the starter and there’s no special activation of Tebow as the “secret weapon” imminent. It’s starting to become plain that there’s really nothing special planned at all outside of a meager attempt to force a creative wrinkle to an already sputtering offense and a number of cute ways to take advantage of Tebow’s manufactured “he’s just a football player!” persona. It’s time to call this move what it was and all it ever will amount to being, and that’s a publicity stunt led by owner Woody Johnson that has only served to further paint the Jets as one of the league’s biggest sideshows. Woody Johnson is somewhere laughing at his own stroke of genius.

After all, there’s something to be said about Woody’s Jets acquiring a player that they don’t even have to play in order to make his team the most talked about in sports. Tebow’s popularity is not contingent on him being a starter, and whether he enters the starting lineup or not the attention will still be there, because that’s Tim Tebow.

If he’s starting, ESPN will talk all day about how he will perform.

If Sanchez is starting but struggling, ESPN will talk all day about how Tebow should be starting.

If Sanchez is playing out of his mind, than ESPN will talk about how do the Jets find a way to still get Tebow on the field.

The Jets have been injected with the Tebowmania virus, and it really doesn’t matter how often he plays for the effects to be felt. Perhaps at this point with things looking on the brink of complete collapse, the only hope is that this trade doesn’t end up being representative of the entire Rex Ryan era too: an obnoxious, relentless, annoying sideshow that ultimately has nothing productive to show for it.