Tim Tebow is expected to fill the “wildcat” quarterback role for the New York Jets that was once held by departed wide receiver Brad Smith.
According to one of Smith’s teammates in Buffalo, the Jets are getting the raw end of the deal.
Speaking with me and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Bills strong safety George Wilson didn’t just proclaim that Smith is a better passer than Tebow. He also criticized Jets management for placing additional pressure on embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez and contributing to the circuslike atmosphere that helped derail the Jets in 2011.
“You just have to know what you’re getting yourself into,” Wilson said while shaking his head during an interview at the NFL Players Association’s annual meeting in Marco Island, Fla. “Mark is coming off a year in which his quarterback play was under question and scrutiny by the media as well as his teammates from time to time. Then you bring in Tim Tebow?
“You have to look at your management like, ‘What do you really think about me even though you just gave me this (contract) extension?’”
After an unsuccessful attempt to sign Peyton Manning earlier this month, the Jets extended Sanchez’s contract for two seasons. Jets head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have averred that Sanchez remains their starting quarterback, but Tebow should still receive significant playing time in wildcat packages and push for a first-team role.
Tebow also is among the league’s most popular and polarizing players. That has led to unprecedented NFL media attention and on-field scrutiny that trickled down on the Denver Broncos during the 2011 season. Ultimately, Denver reached the second round of the playoffs despite a 46.5 completion percentage in 12 games that included 11 starts.
Free-agent safety Jim Leonhard, a Jets starter the past three seasons, was asked whether the Tebow acquisition adds pressure to Sanchez.
“I think it has to,” Leonhard said. “You look at the phenomenon that’s Tim Tebow coming to town. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of attention.”
Said Wilson: “The frenzy is for sure going to follow (Tebow) in New York. I hope Mark Sanchez at least gets off to a decent start so he doesn’t have to hear it.”
Wilson enjoyed NFL success against Tebow in Week 15 last season. The Bills tallied three interceptions and four sacks of Tebow in a 40-14 rout.
“What gave us success against the wildcat last year, we played basically a couple of calls against it,” said Wilson, a six-year NFL veteran and Bills team leader who notched 106 tackles in 13 starts in 2011. “We didn’t try to run five, six, seven different calls. We wanted to be able to line up and adjust fast without having to do a lot of thinking or have a lot of moving parts (so) guys can just line up and play and know (their) responsibility.
“We made it easy. We simplified the game plan, and we dominated. They didn’t put up any points really in the second half of that game.”
A star quarterback at the University of Missouri, Smith was converted to wide receiver when drafted by New York in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. Smith, though, successfully moved into a wildcat quarterback role after the formation was popularized by the Miami Dolphins during the 2008 campaign.
Smith was projected to do the same for Buffalo when signed last season as a free agent to a four-year, $15 million contract. Although that didn’t happen as frequently as expected, Wilson has high praise for Smith.
“Brad can throw better than Tim Tebow,” Wilson said. “Tim is a strong, hard runner. Brad is quick. He’s elusive. He can make you miss. He’s strong where it’s third- or fourth-and-one and we put him in as a wildcat, and he’ll move the chains. But also, he gives you that passing dimension Tim kind of is forced into sometimes because of the third-down situation.
“With Brad, he’s a true passer.”
Wilson also questions whether Tebow can develop into a bona fide starting quarterback.
“To say that he’s going to be out there every down and be able to drop back and pass, I don’t know,” he said. “We have to wait and see the work he puts in this offseason and the progress he made.”
Wilson, though, did offer some Tebow positives.
“I can definitely say that without Tim Tebow, the Jets have a very productive run game,” he said. “Now I see that if you add those running backs with the (offensive) linemen they already have, they can definitely improve their running game that much more.”
Whether he succeeds or doesn’t in New York, Tebow will receive a better chance for playing time at quarterback than what was offered by Jacksonville. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tebow told the Broncos he wanted to play for New York rather than the Jaguars before Wednesday’s trade was officially consummated after a brief contract snag.
The publicity that Tebow will bring shines an even greater light upon a team already facing much media attention. The New York Daily News first verified the lack of player confidence in Sanchez, who also had a feud with wide receiver Santonio Holmes that led to a rupture in their professional relationship.
Asked to gauge the impact of the potential distractions that will stem from Tebow’s NYC arrival, Leonhard said, “It’s hard to say. I think the biggest thing is Rex has to stay true to who he is to continue to make moves and be on the front page.
“When you’re already in New York and you’re going to get the attention, I don’t know if you need that. But they make football decisions. A lot of times, there’s a lot of attention drawn to them. Right or wrong, I always think they’re making the right decision. We’ve just got to see how it plays out.”
The Jaguars are dealing with a different type of fallout from the Tebow trade. New team owner Shahid Khan released a statement Wednesday that acknowledged the Jags’ pursuit of Tebow. It’s widely believed Jacksonville had Tebow relegated for a third-string role behind quarterbacks Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert.
Jaguars cornerback and Jacksonville native Rashean Mathis understands why much of the city was gaga about Tebow, who once lived there, and why there would be potential anger over Tebow being spurned.
“I got questions whether I was in a bank or grocery store about Tim Tebow coming,” Mathis said. “It was a circus already before it was even decided.
“He decided what was best for him. That’s all you can ask for a guy. He had that choice, and he made that choice that was best for him. Maybe he didn’t want the circus that was going to be around him. Maybe he felt it would be better for him to go somewhere else. His career is still young.”
Mathis then said something that isn’t out of the question considering Tebow’s uncertain NFL future.
“It’s still not over,” he said. “Maybe he might finish as a Jaguar someday.”