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Rex Ryan's Got a Big Call to Make

More than the name of the quarterback rides on Jets decision

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012  |  Updated 6:04 PM EDT
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Rex Ryan's Got a Big Call to Make

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Ryan's the captain of a ship in need of a rudder.

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During his press conference on Monday, Jets coach Rex Ryan was predictably asked about his choice as the starter at quarterback for Sunday's game against the Jaguars. 

Just as predictably, Ryan didn't say a thing. He offered only one thought on what's going on in his head when it comes to the choice between Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy and Tim Tebow. 

"I'm comfortable and confident with all three quarterbacks," Ryan said. 

If this were true, it would be a pretty massive indictment of everything the Jets have been doing over the last two seasons. Their every move has been predicated on the idea that Sanchez was the team's starting quarterback today, tomorrow and way into the future. 

Sanchez is the guy they traded up to get in 2009, the guy they handed the job without any real competition and the guy they stuck with through some very rough patches because they were so convinced he was the right man for the job. He's the guy you guaranteed more than $8 million for the 2013 season and the guy who kept getting more rope that he inevitably used to hang himself. 

Now he's suddenly a guy you're just as comfortable and confident playing as a seventh-round draft pick and a player in Tebow that you've refused to use all season? 

If true, that would say some pretty horrible things about the team's ability to judge talent and make decisions about the long-term health of the franchise. It would say that the team doesn't have anyone who knows or cares about offense because it's simply impossible to have the same general impression of three different quarterbacks if you're really thinking about things critically. 

The chaotic last two years of the franchise have left the team fairly rudderless. They talk a lot about being one kind of team, the team that went to AFC Championship Game in each of Ryan's first two seasons, but they have made moves that bear no relation to that team or even pointing in the direction of another identity. 

Leaving the identity of the starter going forward feeds that chaos and it feeds the atmosphere that leads to stories about Woody Johnson favoring McElroy while others think the team should turn back to Sanchez. We laid out arguments for each side on Monday and, honestly, it's hard to find anything all that persuasive about either one. 

Going back to Sanchez feels like trying to prove that the world is flat at this point. Going with McElroy feels like throwing things at the wall and hoping that something sticks. Going with Tebow seems impossible at this point, even though there's some appeal to just throwing all to the wind and seeing what happens if you roll him out there. 

The choice Ryan ultimately makes will tell us much about him and about whether he feels his job is at risk. Does he stick to the guns he's shown all along and start Sanchez regardless of what might come because he truly believes what he's said for almost four years?

Or does he make a change to appease the populists, who might include his owner? Or does he try to split the difference by starting Sanchez with McElroy playing the role of relief pitcher at the first sign of trouble?

Only the third would be an indefensible choice because it continues the fence-straddling that the team has done all year with Sanchez and Tebow. The Jets need a direction, one that does or doesn't include Sanchez in a leading role, and they need it starting as soon as possible.

Anything else is more of the same and, for the Jets, that's just not acceptable. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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