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Tebowmania comes to Jets with plenty of drama
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By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
NEW YORK (AP) Tebowmania's headed to New York, and the drama has already started for Jets fans.
It began the moment the Jets pulled off the deal for the Broncos quarterback. Or thought they did.
Eight hours and one huge snag later, the trade was on again. But not before the Jets added to the franchise's already lengthy list of embarrassing moments.
Sure, Tebowmania is coming to New York, but it certainly wasn't a smooth deal. And it didn't come without some controversy - something this Jets season could be filled with the moment Mark Sanchez struggles and restless fans call for Tebow to replace him.
"Mark Sanchez is, has been and will be our starting quarterback," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said on conference call late Wednesday night.
But the Jets have opened themselves - and Sanchez - to added pressure by bringing in Tebow. New York recently signed Sanchez to a three-year contract extension after falling out of the hunt for Peyton Manning, a vote of confidence for a quarterback whose pride took a serious shot at the end of last season as the Jets finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Some players questioned his leadership abilities, but Sanchez recently vowed to be the guy the franchise can lean on.
Turns out, Rex Ryan's Jets now have two of those guys, including one in Tebow who might automatically be the biggest star in New York right now. Not Sanchez. Not Derek Jeter. Not even Jeremy Lin.
"I'm just excited for him and to see what he does," Lin said in Philadelphia, where the Knicks beat the 76ers. "We'll see what happens next year."
Just a few weeks after "Linsanity" swept New York and the rest of the NBA, "Timsanity" now will take over New York after the Jets acquired the polarizing quarterback and a seventh-round draft pick from the Denver Broncos for fourth- and sixth-round picks.
Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, who led the Jets to their only Super Bowl title in 1969, was among many who were unhappy about the deal.
"I'm just sorry that I can't agree with this situation. I think it's just a publicity stunt. I can't go with it. I think it's wrong," Namath told 1050 ESPN Radio on Wednesday. "I don't think they know what they're doing over there."
The trade was completed hours after the sides initially agreed to a deal, which was hung up when the Jets balked at repaying Denver more than $5 million for a salary advance due Tebow. The two sides agreed to split that cost, and Tannenbaum said the team was "comfortable with the compensation."
He said there was a disagreement about how to handle the salary advance after Denver received the papers.
"We knew what the contract was," he said. "We had read it. ... We felt it was one way; they felt it was another. Based on that, they were well within their rights to assess their different possibilities of what to do and their alternatives. And they did so throughout the day."
So the Jets waited and waited - and looked as if they had botched the big deal.
Despite ultimately pulling off the trade, it's just another bizarre moment for the Jets, conjuring memories of Bill Belichick's hiring as coach and his resignation one day later.
"I'm thankful they stuck with me through this whole crazy process," Tebow said, repeating several times that he was "excited" to be a member of the Jets.
But the deal also raised questions about the Jets' commitment to Sanchez, who received a $40.5 million contract extension, with $20.5 million guaranteed, earlier this month. During a call late Wednesday night, Tannenbaum repeatedly referred to Sanchez as "our guy" and the team's unquestioned starting quarterback.
"We obviously know that Tim has a magnetic following," Tannenbaum said. "We understand the popularity of the backup quarterback, and this one is more unique than others."
Tebow said he had a "great conversation" on Wednesday with Sanchez, adding that they've been friends for several years. He said he's not here to take Sanchez's job, but to help him as a unique addition to the offense, someone who could run Tony Sparano's wildcat package - and anything else they ask him to do.
"My goal is to push (Sanchez) to get better, and to push myself to get better every day," Tebow said. "But I think we'll have a great working relationship. We'll have a great relationship off the field, and we've had that the last few years. He's such a classy guy and handles himself so well, and I'll be very honored to call him my teammate."
Defensive end Mike DeVito is excited about the intangible qualities Tebow will offer.
"You've got a tough player on the field, a leader in the locker room and a guy who shares the faith that I share," DeVito said. "So, I'm very grateful to have him on our team, and I feel it's going to really benefit us as a whole."
But, like Namath, not everyone's a fan.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, took to Twitter on Wednesday to express his confidence in Sanchez and the offense as structured before the deal was finalized.
"Y bring Tebow in when we need to bring in more Weapons for (at)Mark-Sanchez," Cromartie tweeted. "Let's build the team around him. We already signed to 3 year ext."
The Jets signed Drew Stanton last week to be their No. 2 quarterback, ahead of Greg McElroy, the team's seventh-round draft pick last year. Tannenbaum said Tuesday that he was confident in the trio, but on Wednesday acknowledged that the team would assess that situation and that Tebow was Sanchez's clear backup.
Regardless, the Jets sure got the headlines and were the talk of sports radio - even on a day when the New Orleans Saints received unprecedented punishment from the NFL for a bounty system that rocked the football world. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended without pay for next season, and former defensive coordinator Greg Williams, now with St. Louis, was banned indefinitely.
But even all that couldn't overshadow another embarrassing episode for a franchise that has had to explain away several missteps in recent years.
The Jets are hoping Tebow can help change all that.
He led the Broncos to the playoffs last season - along the way beating Sanchez and the Jets, who missed the postseason. But Denver executive John Elway believed Manning gave the team a better chance at winning a championship now. For the Jets, Tebow adds a unique dimension to the offense.
"It is very clear: They want me to come in and compete and get better, and get better as a quarterback and to help the team any way possible," Tebow said. "Whatever that role is, I will do my best."
Tebow also provides a solid presence in a locker room that was rife with infighting last season - particularly between Sanchez and wide receiver Santonio Holmes. He also brings with him a flock of fervent fans for reasons that have to do as much with his faith as his football skills. A devout Christian, he's been a role model since his days at Florida, when he led the Gators to two national titles and captured the Heisman Trophy.
Denver started shopping Tebow after signing Manning, and the Jets were considered a long shot as late as Tuesday night. But New York went hard after Tebow.
As part of Tebow's $11.25 million, five-year contract he signed as a rookie in 2010, he had a $6.277 million advance due 29 days after the start of the 2011 league year. That money was paid to him in August after the NFL lockout ended. The trade stalled over the payment the Jets would owe the Broncos from that advance.
That allowed Jacksonville to get back into the hunt, and it came down to the Jaguars and Jets.
"I think we have a duty to consider all avenues of improving the Jaguars on and off the field, especially given the unique circumstances involving the player," Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said in a statement. "I am very satisfied with the outcome."
Tebow said, contrary to some reports, he didn't have final say in where he was going.
"Ultimately, I really didn't have any because the Broncos had all that power," Tebow said, adding that Denver was "gracious" in the way it handled the process. "I was just kind of watching and waiting - kind of like everybody else.
"It was an interesting day."
AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston in Philadelphia, Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., and Arnie Stapleton and Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.
Updated March 22, 2012