Why Greg McElroy Represents the End of the Sanchez Era and Tebow Dream

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 3, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 02:  Greg McElroy #14 of the New York Jets celebrates throwing his first touchdown in the NFL to  Jeff Cumberland #86 against the Arizona Cardinals during their game at at MetLife Stadium on December 2, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets won 7-6.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Greg McElroy may not be the future at quarterback for the New York Jets, but his presence over the next four games may represent the end of the Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow eras in New York. 

The simple fact that the Jets pulled the plug Sunday is a clear enough sign that the light has finally come on about Sanchez's ability as an NFL starting quarterback.

And given New York's reluctance to play Tebow during Sanchez's struggles this season, it's painfully obvious that the backup quarterback is not the answer.

Now, if McElroy is selected as the team's starter in any of the final four games, the Jets may be hard-pressed to move forward with either Sanchez or Tebow as the starting quarterback in 2013. 

A former seventh-round pick in 2011, McElroy entered the Jets' win over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday and led New York on the game-winning touchdown drive. He completed five of seven passes for 29 yards and a one-yard touchdown pass in a 7-6 win.

Sanchez was pulled after throwing three interceptions and scoring zero points on 10 offensive possessions, and Tebow was inactive because of a ribs injury.

Jets head coach Rex Ryan now has to decide which way he wants to go at the quarterback position both next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars and for the rest of the 2012 season. All three quarterbacks will be available. Ryan's looming decision will have ripple effects not only in the present, but also next season. 

A staunch supporter of Sanchez throughout his time with the Jets, Ryan had no other choice than to pull the struggling quarterback Sunday. Sanchez completed 10-of-21 passes for just 97 yards, leaving the game without the Jets scoring a point. 

Unluckily for Tebow, Ryan finally pulled the trigger on Sanchez with the backup quarterback out because of a lingering ribs injury.

However, it's not as if Ryan was jumping at the first moment to play Tebow at quarterback for any sustained length of time. Even when Sanchez has struggled for long periods in 2012, Tebow remained on the bench.

For Ryan, Tebow has been nothing more than a run-first quarterback who can come in for a few gadget plays a game. If there was any moment when Ryan thought Tebow could better help him win football games, he likely would have played significantly more snaps by now. 

By this spring, the one-year experiment with Tebow in New York might not be anything more than that. 

For Sanchez, however, the issue in his future comes down to money. New York owes Sanchez $8.25 million in guaranteed money over the 2013 season, making it difficult for both Ryan and the Jets to axe the quarterback or make him the backup next season. 

Owner Woody Johnson likely wouldn't be happy signing over a $8.25 million check to a player who's lost his job, and taking the enormous cap hit is deterrent enough against releasing Sanchez. 

But Ryan, who is already losing his hold over the head coaching job in New York, can't possibly tell his team before Sunday that starting Sanchez over McElroy or Tebow gives his team the best chance to win a football game. Jets fans won't buy it, either. 

Then again, McElroy is a seventh-rounder who was never expected to become the Jets' starting quarterback. He's limited physically, and there's little chance that the Jets think he's going to become the long-term answer at quarterback. 

But at least for McElroy, the Jets don't know for a fact yet. They know what they have in both Sanchez and Tebow. 

The Jets are in a difficult position both this week and the rest of the season, one that offers little in terms of "easy" solutions.

But if Ryan decides to hand over the job to McElroy and relegate Sanchez and Tebow to the bench, wide-scale changes could be coming for the Jets' quarterback situation for the 2013 season.