One of the great things about the Jets this year—the only great thing, perhaps—is that by dealing for Tim Tebow, emphasizing the extent to which they'd use him (they said it would 25% of snaps), and not using him nearly that much (it was 10.1% before week ten and inched slightly higher after), they've put the lie to the relentless Tebow hype-machine that is ESPN. The line in Bristol—"You can't talk enough about Tebow"—was never logical, but it at least made a modicum of sense when Tebow was, against all odds, playing in and winning games for the Broncos.
Now? Now it's just completely irrational. Every time the Jets play, it makes less sense to talk about Tim Tebow. Controversy aside, keeping Tebow more or less glued to the bench is starving the raging ESPN-Tebow fire of oxygen, and perhaps bringing it closer to being extinguished.
Are the Jets managing their QBs this way because they hate ESPN? (They'd be well within their rights—ESPN has singlehandedly made the Jets' most prominent public faces also the most "overrated," in the eyes of other NFL players.) No, probably not: The answer is actually a lot simpler, if a little baroque in its specifics. It's cheaper not to play Tebow, and right now, the Jets are making a lot of decisions based on cost.
A post titled, "Is 2013's Salary Cap Driving the Jets 2012 Decisions?" on NY Jets Cap builds the case that the Jets are holding down the number of Tebow's snaps purely so that incentives in his contract don't kick in, and that they've done the same with other players. The post admits towards the end, "Maybe it's an Oliver Stone conspiracy on my part," but it sounds good to us. Sic'd, but it's the numbers that matter:
Tebow is one of the last remaining players that should be playing under the old CBA rookie contract structure. Under the old CBA 1st round draft picks often had low base value deals to comply with CBA rules with easily attainable escalators based on playing time. For instance Dustin Keller this year saw his salary increase to $3.052 million as he entered the final year of his deal. As a QB drafted in the 1st round those incentives are increased dramatically. Tebow's rookie contract had a base value of $9.7125 million with an easily achievable value of $11.125 million based on reaching the standard playing time escalators of either 35% as a rookie or 45% any year thereafter. He unlocked that in 2011 when he played in about 76% of the Broncos offensive snaps. As a first round QB he had the potential to turn the contract into a $33 million dollar deal through incentives that would only be realized if he turned out to be the next John Elway. The more realistic number was that the contract would be worth $22.5 million if he developed into a starting QB.
The additional $11.25 million, if earned, would be added onto the backend of Tebow's 5 year contract in 2013 and 2014. He had two avenues to earn the escalators. If he played in 55% of the snaps in two of his first three seasons (2010-2012) he would earn an additional $5 million in 2013 and $6.25 million in 2014. If he plays in 70% of the snaps in 2013 he earns the full payment in 2014.
Tebow's current cap number in 2013 is $2,586,875 which includes a guaranteed payment of $1,531,875 that goes to the Denver Broncos as part of the terms of the trade. If Tebow was to earn that escalator his cap charge would balloon to $7,586,875. That is a number the Jets cant handle next season, considering they owe Sanchez $8.25 million guaranteed next year and a cap charge of over $12.8 million.
The whole thing comes together pretty elegantly, such that you may end up believing that Jets management—including billionaire owner Woody Johnson—is playing a role in keeping Tebow's play count low mostly in order to ease a messy cap situation (that they created partly by signing him). Which would be kind of perfectly Jets: trade for one of the league's biggest stars, realize you can't afford to play him, play him sparingly as opposed to trading him, create a titanic media shitstorm, and make everything awkward and confusing.
Of course, it could also be because he's not very good. J-E-T-S!
Is 2013's Salary Cap Driving the Jets 2012 Decisions? [NY Jets Cap]