The Jets’ decision to trade for Tim Tebow may have appeared to be a rash, shoot-from-the-hip decision by coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. But from listening to Ryan last week at the NFL meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., it was clear that this was a calculated football decision.
Ryan has a clear plan on the field for Tebow and realizes the potential for problems off it - specifically, fan reaction if starter Mark Sanchez struggles.
Last week, Ryan had all the right answers, and you could see how, in his mind, this move will improve the Jets.
But it’s another thing to actually make it work.
Let’s start with how Tebow will improve the Jets.
Ryan remains a firm believer that the Wildcat offense can work in the NFL. He disagrees with the assertion that it has run its course, especially when you have a player like Tebow, who can do what others have failed to do running the offense: run inside and outside, and throw the football.
“It’s 11-on-11 football, meaning you’re going to have to defend the quarterback in the running game, which you don’t have to defend in any other run [systems],’’ Ryan said. “I think that’s much harder to do. That’s why I really don’t think it fizzled out. The fact that you have a guy back there who can throw the football, it makes it tough.
“If you look at that [Denver] playoff game against Pittsburgh, they went Cover 0 - man across the board. Fine, drop back, boom, pump it in there. You’ve got man coverage, so if you miss a tackle, it goes for a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened there.
“You might be able to stop the run, because you have to get all of [the defenders] down [in the box], but that will leave you vulnerable on the outside. So when you have that passing threat back there as well, it makes a big difference.’’
Ryan pointed out that when the Jets ran the Wildcat with Brad Smith, who is now with the Bills, they averaged more than 8 yards per carry. And Tebow is much more advanced.
Ryan said Tebow “is actually a better inside runner than Brad, who was great on the outside.
“He runs inside like a fullback, he can run the option, he can throw the ball, and run on the perimeter. Trust me, I don’t think defensive backs want to tackle him.
“It’s really a unique skill set that we were really fortunate to get when you just look at it from a quarterback perspective. Just that system, that Wildcat, he’s the perfect guy for it.
“Not to mention that I think he will be ascending as a passer working behind Mark and developing with [coach] Matt Cavanaugh. I thought it was a great move for us.’’
Ryan asserted that the Jets will run the Wildcat up to 20 plays, pointing out that the bigger the Wildcat package, the more teams will have to prepare for it, which takes away from planning in other areas.
“Nobody really knows the kind of preparation it takes to get ready for this,’’ Ryan said. “Nobody wants to be embarrassed by this thing. We were embarrassed the first time by [new Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano], the first time as a head coach, we went down to Miami and they lit us up.
“It’s frustrating, because when that thing pops, it’s hard to defend. It really is. You have to be prepared like crazy for it. You go in there, you’re working different kinds of things. As multiple as we can be out of it, it’s going to be tough to defend.’’
So you can see how Tebow running the Wildcat makes sense for the Jets on the field.
But what about the collateral damage it could inflict, internally and externally? This is where there is potential to go off the rails.
Specifically, is Sanchez going to be OK ceding almost a third of his snaps every game?
“All we want to do is win,’’ Ryan said. “So Sanchez will absolutely be OK with it if we win. We will all be OK with it. Santonio Holmes will be OK with it if we win. That’s the key.
“The great thing is, everything we do is about the team. This was strictly a football decision.
“The thing about Mark is he’s a little more confident than people want to give him credit for. This is a confident football player. It isn’t like Mark doesn’t have an outstanding résumé.
“He’s hitting Year 4. It’s time for him to really ascend. And I believe he will.’’
If Tebow is successful with the Wildcat, and Sanchez struggles with the other part of the offense, Jets fans are going to be hollering for Tebow to be the full-time starter.
“I recognize that there would be, because of the popularity and all that, it’s going to be a lot more than it would be for a lot of backup quarterbacks,’’ said Ryan. “I definitely recognize that. But we’re always going to do what’s in the best interest of our football team.’’
Regardless of what you think about Ryan’s bluster, he is one of the smartest coaches in the league when it comes to actual football games. He knows what can and can’t work on the field.
But Ryan and the Jets don’t have a great track record with risk assessment. Among the missteps: guaranteeing a Super Bowl title; overrating Sanchez coming out of college and not giving him competition; thinking receiver Plaxico Burress was going to have a huge impact in 2011; replacing right tackle Damien Woody with Wayne Hunter and leaving the offensive line thin; thinking a 5-foot-8-inch safety, Jim Leonhard, would not have injury problems; giving a big contract to Holmes; anointing Holmes and Sanchez captains; believing that running back Shonn Greene was a guy you can build “ground and pound’’ around.
Yes, Tebow makes all the football sense in the world. But given the Jets’ recent history, whether they can execute the plan is very much in doubt.
PACKING THE ROSTER
FB/TE can be useful position
Some Patriots fans were sent into a bit of a tizzy last week when the team briefly had three fullbacks on the roster, once Tony Fiammetta (Cowboys) joined Spencer Larsen (Broncos) and holdover Lousaka Polite, before Polite was released.
The Patriots have basically ignored the fullback position since Heath Evans was released after 2008 and have become a decidedly pass-first team with Tom Brady on top of his game, so some fans wondered what they were doing.
Relax. Even though some teams have phased out the fullback, the top passing teams have not. The Saints have two, and the Packers - whom the Patriots riff on more than any other offense - had three during their run to the Super Bowl title in 2010.
“I’ve always looked at the fullback and tight end position as one,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I’ve always liked to have six between those two positions.
“Always prefer the tight end position because of the ability to play four downs in this league; very important, with the fourth down being special teams. So we’ve had three fullbacks in the past, but if we would have had five tight ends that were better than the three fullbacks, we would have been five tight ends a long time ago.
“The tight end position gives you a lot of flexibility. The body type, between the tight ends and the linebackers, our football team, the way they run out of the tunnel, they look the way I think they need to look.’’
Inside look at new Patriots
Continuing our look at the crop of Patriots free agents through the eyes of league personnel executives who have studied them closely:
■ Former Seahawks guard Robert Gallery (6 feet 7 inches, 323 pounds): “Great guy. Brought to Seattle [from Oakland] by [former Raiders coach] Tom Cable to provide leadership to the group in a shortened offseason. Smart. Tough guy. Competitor. Good leader. A little beat-up. He can be a utility guy. He can get you through a game at tackle if you need it, sure. He’s not a guy you want to be relying on to play 16 games anymore, that’s for sure.’’ Gallery can provide insurance for Logan Mankins, who is coming off ACL surgery.
■ Former Redskins receiver Donté Stallworth (6-0, 197): “Good straight speed. Tight route runner. Struggles versus press. Mostly a vertical guy. Hands are hard. Gets hurt a lot. Has to spend a lot of time working on his hamstrings because he gets so many pulls. At this point, he’s no better than a fourth receiver but offers no special teams value. Likely won’t dress.’’
DOLLARS FROM BILLS
Will Anderson be worth it?
When Mark Anderson told the Patriots that the Bills had offered him what turned out to be a four-year, $19.5 million contract with $10.5 million the first two years, as reported by the Buffalo News, New England’s reaction was probably the same as some of the other teams that courted him, i.e. “So long and good luck.’’
For a guy that went from street free agent to having 10 sacks while playing less than half the snaps for the Patriots in 2011? That’s pretty rich for a situational pass rusher. But that’s not how the Bills envision using him.
“Today, he’s competing to play every snap,’’ said coach Chan Gailey. “That’s the way we watched him and looked at him. You don’t pay that kind of money to specialty players. You pay that kind of money to a guy that you think can be out there 50, 60 plays. In our mind, it wasn’t situational.’’
Anderson will compete with Chris Kelsay, a very good run defender, for the starting right end spot opposite Mario Williams.
Anderson should send a cut of his $8 million signing bonus to Bill Belichick for improving his stock.
“He took advantage of his opportunity, which all of us have done at some point in time to get where we are,’’ said Gailey. “That’s what he did. I’m sure he’s forever indebted to the Patriots for giving him that chance.’’
Jets good for a little hot air
The Patriots passed on offering a contract to former Redskins safety LaRon Landry because, according to reporting done by Shalise Manza Young, the medicals on Landry’s oft-injured Achilles’ tendon came back iffier than they expected.
But Jets coach Rex Ryan sure sounded pumped about Landry, who signed a one-year contract with New York.
“Anybody see LaRon Landry on tape?’’ Ryan said. “We feel good about him medically and everything. Wait till you see this guy. As impressive as he looks, see if he’s not knocking the tar out of everybody.
“You put him between David Harris and Bart Scott . . . oh, I can’t wait to see those dudes on the field. There’s going to be some collisions out there.’’
Ryan may ultimately be right about Landry, but don’t let his overzealousness fool you. The Jets aren’t that sold on Landry’s health, either. Just look at his contract. It has a maximum value of $3.5 million, and half ($1.75 million) is tied into per-game bonuses that he collects only if he is on the active roster.
That’s more like half-hearted gusto from the Jets.
1. Don’t be surprised if the Redskins and Cowboys take their cap penalty cases as far as they can. This is going to get messy. A preliminary injunction could be sought if arbitration doesn’t go well for the teams.
2. Bill Parcells has to be loving all this attention. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be talking so much. I get why the New York media is obsessed with him, considering the two Super Bowl titles. I don’t know why New England seems to have a fascination with Parcells. Yeah, he brought the Patriots to the Super Bowl. So did Raymond Berry, and nobody is stalking him. And Berry didn’t maneuver his exit while preparing for the Super Bowl, unlike some other people who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame.
3. One of the more startling sights at the league meetings: super-agent Drew Rosenhaus actually being cordial to the media. For the past couple of years, he has basically shut off communication with all but a few outlets (most notably, profootballtalk.com). That often is a disservice to his clients, who, among other things, pay him to be their conduit to the media and to make sure accurate information is out there (even if teams don’t like some of it).
4. Bears coach Lovie Smith said he is very encouraged about his offensive line. He has been saying that the past couple of years, when it has been a disaster.
5. Still can’t believe that Sean Payton - if he was being truthful - hasn’t read the league’s report on the bounty scandal. Maybe he and Drew Brees are staging a two-man protest. Or are afraid the truth will hurt too much.
Rex Ryan on the Patriots’ forays into free agency: “Patriots always do a great job. They bring a lot of guys in, they’ll bring in four or five receivers, keep one or two of them, but they all think they’re going to make the team. But they keep the best player and the other ones go. They’ve always done that. I was more focused on our team, not really worried about anyone else. Although Buffalo got a decent guy [Mario Williams].’’ . . . That Bill Belichick is smarter than everyone else is widely accepted. But having encyclopedic recall of current NFL personnel? That’s what Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano marvels at when the two talk. “He knows every player in the National Football League,’’ said Schiano. “I mean, he has it up here [tapping his head]. I have books right now that I’m checking and reading. He’s got it in one book. That’s neat to just talk about players. And he’s been doing it for so long. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, the players.’’ . . . A lot of people are down on Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft, but don’t forget that he didn’t turn 22 until Oct. 15 and he came in during a lockout with what turned out to be a failed coaching regime. “He was a young quarterback when he got here, starting into training camp, no [offseason] camps at all, really, with no intentions of starting the season,’’ said new Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey. “That experience he got, I can’t tell you how important it’ll be coming into this season, where he will have some time to be in a controlled environment with our coaches, watch film, go through the mechanics and everything with a very comfortable atmosphere where there’s no pressure on him to prove his worth. I think it’s going to be huge.’’ . . . The Harvard Graduate School of Education will host a discussion Monday at Longfellow Hall from 5:30-7 p.m. on “What the NFL Can Teach Teachers.’’ Time Magazine education columnist Andy Rotherham will moderate the discussion, which will feature NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly, and Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project.