Philadelphia, PA – Tim Tebow is headed to Broadway. The New Orleans Saints could be bound straight for Hell's Kitchen.
The craziest day of what's already been an incredibly zany NFL offseason ended with Tebow the latest apple of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson's ever- wandering eye -- but only after a bizarre period of suspenseful limbo that only the team that made HBO's "Hard Knocks" television series a smash hit could conjure up -- and the Saints subjected to the brutal and uncompromising wrath of the most powerful man in sports today.
Less than three weeks after their underground ring of rewarding defensive players for deliberately attempting to injure opposing players was brought to the surface, the Saints were left dazed by the mighty fist of commissioner Roger Goodell in one of the most monumental rulings the league has ever seen. In one sudden and fateful swoop, the franchise that so valiantly rescued itself from the devastating effects from Hurricane Katrina not so long ago is once again left to pick up the pieces and regroup.
The Saints are anything but tragic victims of circumstance this time around, however, as their blatant disregard of both proper sportsmanship and truthful disclosure each had an enormous hand in Goodell's unmercifully harsh punishment that included a season-long suspension for head coach Sean Payton, an eight-game ban for general manager Mickey Loomis, a six-game ban for assistant head coach Joe Vitt, the forfeiture of two second-round draft picks and a $500,000 fine.
It's no surprise that Goodell came down hard on New Orleans for its "pay for performance" scheme championed by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who received an indefinite suspension that will last at least through the upcoming 2012 campaign, as a previous column (http://bit.ly/GFLJes) outlined how the team's dangerous endeavor threatened the league's headstrong quest to extend the regular season schedule.
But as the commissioner explicitly stated in Wednesday's press release announcing the penalties, the refusal of Payton, Loomis and Williams to either come clean during the two-year long investigation or ignore prior requests to halt the program contributed to his excessively strict decision.
It can be argued that Goodell's verdict on Payton, who must relinquish over $7 million in salary for the 2012 season, was beyond severe. However, the revelation that he denied knowledge of the bounty program -- later proven through an obtained e-mail to be false -- as well as his efforts to cover it up have made it infinitely more difficult to call for any leniency or sympathy.
As Michael Vick found out the hard way years ago, Goodell doesn't like being told a lie. And as the recent stripping of salary cap space from the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys implicitly indicate, those who don't heed his warnings are doomed to pay a heavy price.
Plus Goodell really could not afford to go soft on this issue. Not only was it paramount that the league set a clear example that such contemptible behavior won't be tolerated under any conditions, it's his duty to ensure the NFL continues to emphasize player safety to protect against the potential onslaught of lawsuits from those who may suffer debilitating injuries as the result of what could be construed as a hazardous work environment.
While the sanctions levied against the Saints will be indeed burdensome, are they really any more damaging than the $36 million the Redskins lost for circumventing contract guidelines during the uncapped 2010 season? Sure, Loomis has a major challenge on his hands over the next two years, but not necessarily an insurmountable one.
So while Loomis will spend the next few weeks burning the midnight oil in search of replacements for those defenders still on the roster who also may be facing league discipline for their involvement in the "Bountygate" scandal -- not to mention continuing the painstaking process of hammering out a long-term contract agreement with an unhappy Drew Brees -- Tebow will be trying to adjust to being the newest sideshow attraction for the perpetual circus the Jets have become under Johnson's watch.
Even the charismatic young quarterback's acquisition came with a dramatic flair, with New York actually trading for Tebow twice in one day (the Jets initially backed out of the deal upon discovering a $5 million payment clause to Denver in his contract, before the teams eventually decided to split the difference) and having to fend off a determined late bid from the star- deficient Jacksonville Jaguars.
There were reports the Broncos gave Tebow his choice of which of the two clubs he preferred to join, though that's about as believable as Johnson's recent claim that the Jets ultimately decided to pass on Peyton Manning in favor of maligned incumbent Mark Sanchez once it became apparent that the iconic quarterback had no desire to play in New York.
Whatever the case, and despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the Jets' demonstrative fan base to the move, there's reason to think Tebow actually landed in a more favorable situation than if the Jacksonville native returned to his home roots.
The Jets had planned to enter this season with Drew Stanton, who over five nondescript seasons in Detroit compiled a 55.6 percent completion rate (though that's still significantly better than Tebow's 2011 performance and similar to Sanchez's career mark) and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5-to-9. Hardly inspiring numbers.
In spite of Tebow's obvious limitations as a passer, his dynamic qualities as a runner who helped the Broncos lead the NFL in rushing yards en route to an unforeseen AFC West title this past year seem to suit a New York offense that's seeking a reprisal of the "ground and pound" philosophy that carried Gang Green within a game of the Super Bowl in both 2009 and 2010.
While's Tebow's cult following in North Florida and boundless marketing appeal would most certainly have enhanced the profile of one of the NFL's most anonymous franchises had he gone to Jacksonville, his impact on the field would likely have been far less. With the Jaguars having made a sizeable investment in Blaine Gabbert and signing Chad Henne as veteran insurance in case the 2011 first-round pick flops, Tebow would have initially been resigned to a being the league's highest-profile third-stringer and an unintended and unnecessary distraction.
Though Gabbert was often horrendous during his rookie intro, he's still too young and too talented to simply give up on after just 14 starts, and Tebow's presence on the roster would have only further shaken the 22-year-old's already fragile confidence.
The detractors of the Jets' trade have tried to apply that same logic to Sanchez, whose progress seemed to plateau when given a more prominent role in the offense during his third pro season.
Seriously? Look, if a quarterback playing in the league's largest media market can't handle the threat of competition or the public cries for Tebow that will inevitably come after a bad game, than he's not the right man for the task.
In reality, Sanchez may have had it a bit too easy anyway. He was handed a starting job the moment he arrived at the Jets' training facility as a rookie, benefited from his team's strong running game and coach Rex Ryan's stout defense during New York's back-to-back playoff runs and has never experienced any serious challenge to his status. By all accounts, he's been a hard worker and dedicated to his craft, but he's also been more coddled than pushed by the Jets' brass.
So as much as Tebow's arrival has to do about feeding Johnson's insatiable lust for attention and seizing the back pages of the New York tabloids from the rival Giants, there is a football side to the Jets' perceived madness. Sanchez will either rise to the challenge put before him and become a better quarterback, or he'll crumble under the heavy pressure that Tebow's aura brings.
Either way, the Jets will finally know once and for all whether they truly have a quarterback capable of making Ryan's annual championship predictions a reality.
And in the meantime, the Jets' marketing machine will be milking Tebow's tremendous earning power for all its worth, while attempting to sell the idea that the wholesome persona and outstanding leadership skills he will bring to a notoriously fractured locker room - which the team blamed for last season's failures - was the main reason for his addition.
It's at least one lie that Goodell can probably accept.