It is three years removed now, to the day, of the madness that was Tim Tebow in a New York Jets uniform.
Three years since a quarterback competition with Mark Sanchez played out daily in the backpages, three years since he ran in the rain shirtless and stopped social media, and three years since he had to defend his teammates liking him.
Three years, and the move still seems as shocking as it was that overcast March afternoon when the rumors began to trickle out that Tebow, the most polarizing player in the NFL, might be traded from the Denver Broncos to the Jets.
The Jets were coming off a 2011 season where they faded down the stretch and their offense under quarterback Mark Sanchez seemed stagnant. They had lost wide receiver Brad Smith that offseason, a converted college quarterback who ran their Wildcast offense to perfection. The Jets loved the offense as a change of pace, something that opposing teams had to scheme for that week. And that Smith was a wide receiver who had played quarterback at Missouri meant that he was a legitimate threat to pass the ball.
So during the offseason before the 2012 season, general manager Mike Tannenbaum told Metro this past spring that he wanted to find someone who could bring the Wildcat back. And when Peyton Manning signed a free agent deal with the Broncos, suddenly Tebow became available.
Tebow, for all his flaws and inadequacies as a pure, pocket-passer could still run the Wildcat – or some version thereof - arguably better than anyone in the league.
At one point in March, then special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff piped up. Well-respected around the league as an innovator, Westhoff leaned back in a chair during a conference with former head coach Rex Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff to discuss acquiring Tebow. He said he thought that Tebow would be great as a “personal punt protector” for special teams.
Tebow, thickly built like a fullback, had a good build for it. But he could also step in front of a long snap and turn a punt into a fake. Westhoff loved the idea. So too did the coaching staff.
When the Broncos officially signed Manning to a contract that made Denver instant favorites to win the Super Bowl, the Jets quickly got on the phone with the AFC West team. They wanted Tebow but they needed to act fast.
They knew for sure that the St. Louis Rams had interest in Tebow and the Jets wanted to land the player to help replace the production lost by Smith. They felt, in the words of Tannenbaum, that they “had a real vision for Tim.”
And they knew that the Rams wanted Tebow for the same reasons; not to start at quarterback for them but to be a wrinkle to the offense.
After Manning made the move to the Broncos, Tannenbaum and management went to talk with owner Woody Johnson about the possibility of making the trade. Knowing the magnitude of the move and the scrutiny that would be placed on the team, the front office wanted to get an initial blessing from ownership.
The deal went along rather smoothly with negotiations between the two teams and the terms were forged out.
“We told Mark that he was the starter – we had just signed him to an extension after all,” Tannenbaum said. “We felt like it was another club to add to our bag.
“Rex made a great point, saying that it was an advantage for Mark. He said that for opposing defenses, it would be a challenge in that they would have to prepare for two quarterbacks, two different offenses. You've got to spend some time for Tim Tebow. That's less time to spend on the regular offense.
We knew it would draw a lot of scrutiny. But a couple years before, we had been through everything with Brett Favre. We were a season removed from the playoffs, those back-to-back AFC Championship Games. We were an established team. We thought we could weather any storm.”
The storm that came, however, was a move that brought derision and mocking along with curiosity from around the league.
Almost instantly, a quarterback controversy was manufactured as a title bout of Sanchez v. Tebow, even though the Jets and Tannenbaum and Ryan all made it clear that their incumbent was the starter. Tebow was going to add something to the offense the same way Smith did and he was going to make the punt team unpredictable.
As history shows us, it didn't play out that way. But what is interesting is that the Jets tried to do right by Tebow, even before they made the deal official.
Before the Jets even traded for Tebow, they gave him a call and spoke to the young quarterback. They talked with him openly about what his role was, what it would be and look like.
Clearly, Sanchez was the starter, they said, but there was a big role for Tebow if he was willing to come on board. They saw him extensively used in the 'Wildcat Offense' in a way that the Jets didn't even use Smith. His arm was an asset to them, as were his feet.
What the Jets wanted to make sure was that Tebow knew that this wasn't a quarterback battle. He wasn't set for a competition with Sanchez. Their incumbent was No. 1 and Tebow was coming in to be an asset, be a part of the team.
It was a huge sales job by the Jets and for the Jets. After all, Tebow came in with 23 games played over the previous two seasons, including 12 starts the year before. He was loved in Denver, in large part due to his playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card just a season before. But the Jets were open and honest bout their vision.
And Tebow was interested.
“He responded favorably to the idea and his role and that Rex would want him to wear many hats,” Tannenbaum said. “At no point on the call did Tim ask if he would be able to start or what his role would be. On the call he simply indicated that he was on board.”