“We don’t need Tebow.” That was the now infamous tweet from New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, as the AFC East outfit prepared to trade for then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
The final deal saw a handful of low draft picks heading each way. That wasn’t the story though.
What was really significant was the decision by the Jets to bring a player who, until Peyton Manning’s signing, was set to be the Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2012 in an offence that already included Mark Sanchez.
In fact 12 days before the Tebow trade, Sanchez had signed a three year contract extension, which included $20 million guaranteed.
Doubts might remain over Sanchez’s ability to elevate the Jets’ game, but Cromartie was right – they didn’t “need” the former Broncos sensation.
As it turns out, the Tebow move is part of an ambitious, but very high risk, plan from head coach Rex Ryan.
Sanchez will take most of the snaps and run the offence as per usual, with Tebow and his Wildcat package (where the ball is snapped directly to the running-back) to offer variety.
The Jets are looking for a surprise packet to stretch opposition defences.
Of course while Tebow’s Wildcat is meant to unsettle their opponents, the concern is the Jets might do just that to themselves.
Jets’ legend Joe Namath is possibly the Tebow move’s biggest critic.
“I’m just sorry that I can’t agree with this situation,” stated Namath on ESPN radio in New York earlier this year.
“I think it’s just a publicity stunt. I can’t go with it. I think it’s wrong. I don’t think they know what they’re doing over there.
“And I’m a Tim Tebow fan, but I’m a bigger Jet fan than I am a Tim Tebow fan.”
There is a legitimate concern here – in looking for an edge over playoff rivals, the Jets risk upsetting their entire offensive machine.
Yet I firmly believe they are right to try it.
American football is a specialist sport, where a flexible and variable offence will work if it’s well-rehearsed.
Having a specialist unit (or quarterback) to run a Wildcat package in hurry-up situations is a legitimate alternative to asking Sanchez to change his game midway through a quarter.
Having Tebow standing on the sidelines shouldn’t affect Sanchez either – enough pressure comes with being the Jets starting quarterback as is and Ryan has given Sanchez his full backing already.
For his part, Tebow isn’t concerned.
“No, it’s not difficult,” the 25-year-old said about his clearly defined smaller function.
“You just know your role and you try to do it the best you can. When you get opportunities, you make the most of them.”
It’s far from the first time a situation like this has happened around the NFL either.
There was a period when the Arizona Cardinals used Matt Leinart as a starting quarterback with Kurt Warner coming on in two-minute situations to play a no huddle system (though instructively, it was with Warner as a sole starter that the Cardinals made the Superbowl in the 2008 season).
If the Jets do employ the Sanchez and Tebow combination, it should work.
Though if it doesn’t, there could be a massive cleanout across the Jets organisation.
Rex Ryan is playing a high stakes game.