NEW YORK — The quarterback hierarchy has been clearly set by the New York Jets.
Mark Sanchez is No. 1.
Tim Tebow is No. 2.
But how long will it last?
In acquiring the popular and electrifying Tebow from Denver, the Jets have created the potential for a really messy situation. Sure, things will be fine when Sanchez, who's expected to show significant progress this season, has his good moments. But whenever he struggles and Tebow comes in and gets the offense moving, the inevitable question will be: Are the Jets better with Tebow in there all the time?
That's something Sanchez, Tebow, coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum must be prepared to address. Because there will be a quarterback controversy — just ask Kyle Orton how Tebow worked out for him in Denver.
"Personally, you look at this situation, I think for the Jets, this is a disaster," former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth said on ESPN after the deal. "You already have a quarterback in New York that's fragile, that's mentally beat up, that didn't play well last season. What happens Week 1 when Mark Sanchez throws two picks? You can't stop the fans from chanting, 'Tebow! Tebow!' You can't stop the pressure as to what's going to happen to you as a franchise. You can act like you're not listening. You can think you're plugging your ears, but it is deafening."
And there's already plenty of noise.
The trade was done late Wednesday, hung up for eight hours because of a contract issue, and it won't be official until Saturday because of a technicality that requires Tebow to sign a rewritten deal. That gives the New York-area tabloids and sports radio hosts plenty of time to embrace Tebowmania and speculate about the effect it will have on Sanchez and the Jets — before the team even introduces Tebow on Monday.
In acquiring Tebow, the Jets struck marketing gold. They've been the talk of the town since making the trade, with fans and media decidedly split on whether it was a good football move. From a public relations standpoint, owner Woody Johnson probably couldn't be more thrilled. His team is selling merchandise like hotcakes, with an overwhelming desire for green and white No. 15 Tebow jerseys.
Tebow is a rock star, a celebrity unlike any other in New York right now. He has a huge following from his days at the University of Florida, and his Christian beliefs have made him a role model. But remember, it wasn't long ago when Sanchez was being compared to Joe Namath as a New York football-playing matinee idol.
The Jets certainly showed their confidence in Sanchez by recently giving him a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension. Because that deal includes $20.5 million guaranteed, it's unlikely the Jets would be able to trade Sanchez even if he's unhappy about his new teammate.
Instead, the Jets are banking on Sanchez being able to handle the pressure, thrive and prove he is indeed "the guy."
For now, the game plan is to have Sanchez start games and then bring Tebow in in certain key situations: wildcat packages, third-and-long, fourth-and-goal.
"If our offense is sputtering," Tannenbaum said during a radio interview, "we have three straight three-and-outs, and we roll (the wildcat) out there, who knows?"
But that means Sanchez will have to come off the field at points during the game, and that's something he has never been a fan of — even in practice. He was angered when Ryan put in 41-year-old Mark Brunell to take a few snaps, and the coach acknowledged he did it to fire up his young quarterback.
The knock on Sanchez is that during his first three seasons, he never had a backup who would keep him in check, make him wonder about his job security. In Sanchez's rookie season, it was Kellen Clemens — a guy once regarded as the franchise's quarterback of the future who never panned out. The past two seasons, it was Brunell, who was more a coach and big brother than a true threat to his job.
Tebow now becomes the first quarterback who will offer Sanchez some serious competition for playing time.
When it comes down to skill level and the ability to play the position, Sanchez is clearly the better pure quarterback. Tebow's mechanics are off, his decision-making is sketchy at times and his execution is unpredictable.
But when it works ... watch out.
Tebow had an incredible run after he replaced Orton and pulled off one comeback victory after another — after being mostly subpar for the first three quarters of those games. The use of the wildcat offense has faded around the NFL since it was the talk of the league just a few years ago, but the Jets' new offensive coordinator is Tony Sparano, who was at the forefront of the resurrecting the scheme with the Dolphins.
"Mark knows he's the starter, and he knows we all need to improve from last year," Jets defensive end Mike DeVito said. "I think he's going to be motivated and driven. I don't think he's going to be worried about Tim. I think he's going to be more excited about having him on the team. I believe they'll be fine."