New York Jets Coach Rex Ryan, with his team’s season in the dumpster, announced Tuesday that he was benching his starter, ending the weekly Mark Sanchez Follies, and promoting a backup.

But the backup who will step up Sunday against the San Diego Chargers is Greg McElroy, who leapfrogged the guy who was brought in with such fanfare last spring.

You remember him. Guy by the name of Tim Tebow. Great big billboard welcoming him to New York/New Jersey. Even bigger introductory press conference. Tebow was ready to play and got himself even more ready, bulking up and preparing to play in the Wildcat, even as he reminded people “I’m a quarterback.” Now, though, is he really? And is he going to remain an NFL quarterback?

It seemed odd last season, after Tebow led the Denver Broncos on their incredible run and sparked Tebowmania, that Broncos management in the person of John Elway was so lukewarm on him. What did Elway see in Tebow that led him to say only that Tebow had earned the right to be the starting QB going into training camp after leading the team into the playoffs? Was it a locker-room issue that led Elway to jump at the chance to ship Tebow to the East Coast?

The passage of time and the success of the 2012 Broncos has led some players to talk about that 2011 ride with Tebow. The Broncos are much better now (11-3 with nine straight wins, compared with last season’s 8-8 finish) behind Peyton Manning. “When Tim was here we saw the issues up close,” a Broncos player who requested anonymity told CBS’s Mike Freeman earlier this month. “The Jets didn’t, and now they are seeing the problems, too. … I feel really, really bad for Tim. He’s a good person, just not an NFL quarterback.”

Another Broncos player couldn’t help but compare Tebow to Manning, an impossible measuring stick for any quarterback. “Of course we’re comparing this year to last year,” the player told Freeman. “This year we won the division with four games left. That’s all Peyton Manning. If Tebow was here, we’d still be squeaking out wins, or losing games we shouldn’t be losing. The division would be coming down to the last game.

“I’ve been following Tim in New York and I feel horrible for him. Everyone here, I think, wants the best for him. He’s a good guy. But you can’t turn Tim into something he’s not, and he’s not really an NFL quarterback. He’s more of a gimmick player.”

Freeman reported Tuesday, after Ryan announced that he was going with McElroy, that Tebow feels misled by the Jets, and ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor writes that he has good reason to feel that way. Owner Woody Johnson brought him in to sell tickets and Ryan “royally hosed a player like few coaches ever have,” O’Connor says.

The Jets used Tebow, and then abused him. They used him to sell tickets and PSLs and to steal a few more headlines from the local big-boy franchise that had just won another Super Bowl title.
Tebow owns 16 career starts and a 9-7 record over his previous two seasons, including 1-1 in the playoffs. How is he less qualified to face San Diego than McElroy, who has one moderately successful relief appearance behind him and who has eternal backup written all over him?

ESPN New York’s Rich Cimini thinks Ryan made the right call to go with McElroy over Tebow. The Jets, he writes, “know what Tebow is; he’s not their future.” Still, it has to be tough for Tebow to swallow.

Technically, he’s the No. 2 quarterback. He got passed over in favor of a second-year quarterback whose NFL resume consists of seven passes. Tebow waited patiently all season, never making a fuss about his lack of playing time. Man, did the Jets sell him a bill of goods or what? Only the Jets could bench the starting QB and upset the backup.

Where does Tebow, one of the NFL’s most popular athletes, go from here? The New York Daily News reports that he will ask to be released or traded after the season, but teams weren’t exactly queuing up for his services last spring. Does he go to the CFL, a league where passing is even more critical than in the NFL? He could join the Montreal Alouettes, who hold his rights, and work on his game with the hope of returning to the U.S. sport. All we know for sure, as Jeff Darlington of points out, is that it’s a really bad idea to write Tim Tebow off.

A high school coach at Trinity Christian in 2003 once told Tebow he couldn’t compete for the quarterback job, just as the Jets also did Tuesday. And we all know how that worked out.

Follow @CindyBoren on Twitter and on Facebook.


Credit John 3:16, John Elway and John Fox

Elway to Tebow: ‘Just pull the trigger