The Jets’ gamble on Tim Tebow could be more than good theater; it might actually pay off

Throughout the on-again, off-again, we-should-read-the-fine-print saga of the New York Jets’ pursuit and eventual landing of Tim Tebow on Wednesday, the motivation at the team facility in Florham Park went back to one thing.

During his days in Miami, the Jets’ new offensive coordinator, Tony Sparano, had become a believer in the wildcat offense as both a game changer and a quarterback helper. Meanwhile head coach Rex Ryan, a tried and true defensive guy, held the same conviction because he never could find an easy way to stop it.

New Jets QB Tim Tebow rushed for 660 yards last season.
(Getty Images)

“Tony likes to use the wildcat, and Rex is a big proponent because of how hard it is to defend a good one,” a source said.

Wednesday was a long one for the Jets. It was, perhaps, the most Jets kind of day the Jets ever could put together.

In the end though, Ryan, Sparano and general manager Mike Tannenbaum blasted through a trade with the Denver Broncos to get their man, Tebow, a wild-card pickup for the wildcat offense that everyone in green and white thinks can alter the way the Jets play.

It cost them a fourth-round pick, a sixth-round pick and a bunch of pride as everyone laughed that the Jets (of course) announced a deal publicly, then (as it was reported at the time) bothered to read Tebow’s contract with the Denver Broncos, saw it would cost them an unexpected $5 million and then put the brake on everything – only to resuscitate it later. The Jets deny the idea they didn’t understand the contract, but it hardly matters.

In the end they wound up with Tebow, a seventh-round pick, half the $5 million picked up by Denver and a little humiliation, which, at this stage of the Tannenbaum/Ryan era isn’t worth much.

They’ve been through over-the-top predictions, endless soap operas, a foot fetish video, a collection of characters, DUIs, signing guys out of prison, more back page covers than they care to count and, worst of all, a fall to 8-8 last year, the only truly intolerable act.

[ Les Carpenter: Tim Tebow gets to play the Brad Smith role ]

So, what, you thought they’d just smoothly land the biggest sensation in football?

“[Why] bring Tebow in when we need to bring in more weapons for Mark Sanchez?” cornerback Antonio Cromartie tweeted after news of the trade broke on Wednesday. “Let’s build the team around him.”

Where else would a defensive back feel comfortable blasting a fresh-off-the-presses trade? Cromartie didn’t realize that Tebow is every bit another weapon for Sanchez, even if it means he’s taking some snaps when Sanchez isn’t on the field.

A change-of-pace offensive package, and a 6-4, 240-pound bull to run it, shakes up the Jets offense and makes it easier for Sanchez to operate. It also should help put points on the board.

“What we’ve become is a diverse, dynamic offense that’s going to make it more difficult for opposing defenses to defend,” Tannenbaum said Wednesday night.

And if Tebow’s arrival, complete with his nation of devotees, puts a little pressure on Sanchez, maybe makes him look over his shoulder a bit, then that’s a positive, too. Tebow wasn’t acquired to be the starter in New York, but his presence creates the illusion of a contest.

The Jets handed the starting job to Sanchez the moment they boldly moved up to pick him fifth overall in the 2009 draft.

[ Related: What kind of fantasy value does Tim Tebow have with the Jets? ]

If anything the lack of a viable backup might have coddled him. The jury remains out on the USC product. He has done some great things – winning four road playoff games, showing poise beyond his years and displaying a canny ability to lead late-game comebacks.

He also had 26 turnovers last year (18 picks, 8 fumbles lost).

New York needs better out of its offense. The Jets went after Peyton Manning to no avail. Then they went after the man Manning replaced and, in the end, got him.

Sanchez is the main guy, but Tebow comes along to help. That’s his role.

This isn’t the ideal situation for Tebow. A more stable, established franchise where he’d have time to develop without the pressure of even a perceived quarterback battle would’ve been preferred.

This is better, however, than getting thrown in as a starter, savior and ticket taker in Jacksonville, where a football decision was being made with the box office in mind. He has too far to go to be a traditional star in the NFL. At just 24, he has plenty of time and potential.

Tebow will bring a circus with him to New York – media and otherwise. The thing with the Jets is how will they notice? It’s always a circus there. It’s always about some drama, some locker room dysfunction, some story about off-field antics from quarterback to coach.

Tebow may not fit into the “let’s get a [expletive] snack” franchise at first glance, but that’s mostly because he is unlikely to seek out the spotlight. Even during his magical run as a starter in Denver he rarely did more than one media session per week and spent his time concentrating on game plans, not sideshows. Besides, Tebowmania is big. But nothing is big enough to overwhelm New York City for long.

This is how the Jets operate. Always willing to gamble, always swinging for the fences, always trying to add ability without concern for what everyone else will think about it.

Yes, this was bizarre. Yes, it could turn into a disaster. Yes, there are other holes to fill. Yes, it’s a nontraditional move that not even the players understand.

But all throughout this wild day in Florham Park they held onto one belief, this one unwavering conviction. Tim Tebow makes them better.

In the end, here in this crossroads season for the Jets, that’s all that matters. And all that should.

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 21, 2012