By Kristian Dyer
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No word if they bought PSL’s, but on Sunday morning Jets quarterback Tim Tebow spoke to roughly 20,000 attenders of an outdoor Easter service hosted by an evangelical church in Texas. Stories ran in major newspapers coast to coast, over 1,000 articles were written about his appearance, not to mention the major cable news outlets which dissected his faith and his words at the service.
It was the latest proof that “Timsanity” extends beyond his unorthodox playing style on the field as the media clamors to dissect his orthodox faith off of it. It is his bruising style of play and his unflinching faith that has made him a national talking point but Jets fans need to be worried that the distraction that is Tebow can derail a season with legitimate playoff dreams. The mania can even negatively impact the development of current starter Mark Sanchez, now set to enter his crucial fourth year in the league.
This is not to knock Tebow, who should be praised for talking the talking and walking his talk. Tebow is a role-model, a player who is more concerned with his charitable work and touching the lives of young people than any personal awards. He praises teammates, he works hard and he does things the right way. In every meaning of the word, Tebow is a winner despite how unconventional he might be at the quarterback position.
Talk with a teammate and they will tell you that he is a man of integrity and a leader and that never once have they seen him act in a way that would go against his born-again Christian beliefs. But whether he wants it or not, he is also a distraction.
And this becomes the quagmire for the Jets, who already manage to lead the league in distractions. Regardless of your opinion about Tebow as a quarterback, he may not be worth the diversion for the Jets. This is a team that was 8-8 last season in a town where the other team just won their second Super Bowl in four years. What should have been a rebuilding and retooling offseason is now focused squarely on the distraction that is Tebow.
A distraction, which the Jets swear, is going to be their backup quarterback.
Bringing in Tebow and his outspoken faith – and there is certainly nothing wrong with the man believing what he believes and openly sharing it – now creates an issue in the Jets locker room. This was a locker room that over the past three seasons has rode out storms with a former quarterback accused of sexual harassment, a then current wide receiver being arrested for DUI, a foot-fetish video reportedly involving their head coach, the strength and conditioning coach tripping an opposition player during a game – not to mention the backbiting and public sniping of last year’s 8-8 team.
Throwing Tebow, who created a media circus last year in quaint and understated Denver, into the feeding frenzy that is New York is a distraction that can derail an already delicate locker room balance. It has nothing to do with his faith and everything to do with who he is and who he could become in this market.
The issue and the season now falls on Sanchez to make Tebow a non-issue. If in his fourth year Sanchez steps up and plays the way he has in spurts so far in his career, then he can make Tebow a wrinkle in their offense and only a wrinkle. Sanchez must limit his mistakes; he must be smarter with the ball and not force the issue quite so much. He can’t be content to throw to his first read and his completion percentage, muddled in the mid-50’s, must go up as his interception numbers must go down.
He can be the Grinch who spoiled Tebow.
It is simple really as Sanchez must begin living up to the billing that made him the fifth selection in the NFL Draft four years ago this April. If he doesn’t, if he remains an average quarterback making poor decisions and lacking consistency, then Tebow becomes an even bigger distraction. Fans will shout for Sanchez to get yanked and Tebow to be put in. The New York tabloids will scream quarterback controversy and play up the battle between Sanchez and Tebow to sell papers. Local sports stations will lead off every program with B-roll from practice showing one quarterback in discontent, another determined to win the starting spot.
Sanchez can quiet all this by finally fulfilling the expectations that led the Jets to give him a five-year contract extension last month. If he doesn’t do that, the Jets have an uproar ready to happen in headlines everywhere.
And then Tebow becomes a distraction who quickly becomes a starter.
Kristian R. Dyer covers the Jets for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.