By Kristian Dyer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (WFAN) – The inevitable will happen. And whether it is in Week 1 or the season finale, Tim Tebow will be the New York Jets’ starter, and a player with his eyes towards heaven will see his new team descend to salary cap hell.
A little over two weeks ago, the Jets handed Mark Sanchez the keys to the franchise, giving him a five-year contract extension worth over $24 million in guaranteed money. It was a commitment by the team for the future as Sanchez enters his fourth year in the league, and despite the criticism lobbed at him after a mediocre season, there was a confidence from the team that he could grow into the role.
Now, usher in Tebow, a player who won a quarterback battle in Denver last year, leading the Broncos to a surprising 7-4 record, a divisional title and a playoff win. Sanchez watched this year’s playoffs from home, a .500 record the result of a year that began with Super Bowl expectations and high-profile additions via free agency.
But even as Sanchez led the Jets to consecutive AFC Championship Games in his first two years with the team, there is still an undercurrent of discontent about his performance. He has yet to show statistically that he has the ability to justify being the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft three years ago, and there hasn’t yet been that signature moment that will define his career. He’s benefited from a good defense, a solid running game and playing within himself.
And after his first interception or ill-advised pass, some fan, somewhere, from atop MetLife Stadium will yell for Tebow to come in and replace Sanchez.
It won’t help matters that Tebow will see the field plenty with the Jets, being utilized in their Wildcat package. Head coach Rex Ryan has hinted that the number of snaps could be roughly 20 a game for Tebow, giving the “gimmick” a chance to succeed and supplant Sanchez.
Tebow has the chance to become the starter on the Jets, as proven both by his ability to win the job in Denver last year and by Sanchez’s lackluster showing with a star-studded offense. He’s cheaper than Sanchez and more difficult for defenses to prepare against, perhaps making him too intriguing of an option to start. He also could well get the backing of the fan base if Sanchez doesn’t come out of the gates gung-ho and firing on all cylinders.
All of which means that Sanchez becomes a clipboard worth $50 million for the Jets over the next five seasons. The move itself hinges on everything working out perfectly.
It’s a roll of the dice by general manager Mike Tannenbaum, assuming that both quarterbacks can coexist, an ideal scenario where both competitors skip merrily into work and are happy to cede their turf for the other’s benefit. As altruistic as Tebow — the son of evangelical missionaries — comes across, he made it clear on Monday afternoon that he was already looking for a way to “expand that role” with the Jets beyond being a backup and a Wildcat quarterback.
Especially dangerous for the Jets is the following scenario: What happens with Sanchez if Tebow wins the starting job? He already has little trade value, and an enormous cap hit coupled with potentially losing his starting job in New York won’t help the team move him if Tebow becomes the starter. The Jets would be saddled with two starting quarterbacks, one of which they wouldn’t be able to move, crippling further personnel moves.
It may not matter much for a trade that seems to be much more about publicity and jersey sales then it is about play on the field. The Jets surely explored the option that Tebow might best Sanchez on the field, and determined that the numbers of PSL’s sold in light of this trade will outweigh the noose tightening on the team’s salary cap.
Of course though, it is all about the wins and losses, right?
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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