In seven years as the New York Jets' general manager, Mike Tannenbaum signed off on more than 1,000 player transactions. One will follow him forever -- the ill-fated trade for Tim Tebow, which, 10 months later, remains a "Whodunit?"
In his first interview since being fired at the end of the season, Tannenbaum took responsibility for the trade. He acknowledged it was a failure, but he expressed no regrets.
"I'm disappointed it didn't work out, just like I'm disappointed when certain draft choices don't work out," Tannenbaum told ESPNNewYork.com Tuesday. "We put in a lot of time and effort. We had a rationale for it. At the end of the day, it didn't go as we had planned."
That's an understatement. Tebow was used sparingly and his presence became a season-long distraction for the Jets, who finished 6-10. Just recently, retired special-teams coach Mike Westhoff called the Tebow situation "an absolute mess." Tannenbaum refused to go that far.
"It's just a trade that didn't work out," he said. "Each year, we'll make 200-plus transactions. Some worked out, some didn't."
Initially, owner Woody Johnson was thought to be behind the move, hoping to generate publicity, but he was initially reluctant, ESPNNewYork.com reported last week.
"Once we met on it and talked about it, ultimately that was my decision to trade for Tim," Tannenbaum said. Asked if he had to convince Johnson, Tannenbaum said, "I had a great working relationship with both Woody and Rex (Ryan). Anytime we'd make a decision on something like this, we'd talk about it, discuss the pros and cons and ultimately it was my decision. I've always said that.
"For seven years, I had final say on everything. That was an honor and a privilege and a responsibility I totally embraced -- whether it was trading for Tim Tebow or trading up for Darrelle Revis or trading for Brett Favre and everything in between. Ultimately, I had the final say on things."
Tannenbaum explained his rationale for making such a controversial trade.
The oft-told story is that he came up with the idea last March while sitting with Ryan at Newark Airport, eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream and waiting for their flight to the North Carolina Pro Day. That's when the Manning-to-Denver rumblings were getting louder.
In truth, Tannenbaum and Ryan already had been discussing the idea of adding a running quarterback to the offense. They wanted to find a replacement for Brad Smith, who ran the Wildcat through 2010.
Tannenbaum also recalled philosophical conversations with Ryan, who always remarked how difficult it was for him as a defensive-minded coach to contain running quarterbacks. Plus, they had just hired a coordinator, Tony Sparano, who was familiar with the Wildcat.
I'm disappointed it didn't work out, just like I'm disappointed when certain draft choices don't work out. We put in a lot of time and effort. We had a rationale for it. At the end of the day, it didn't go as we had planned.” -- Mike Tannenbaum, on Tim Tebow trade
In Tannenbaum's mind, "It all seemed to make sense," right down to the compensation. They surrendered a fourth-round pick for Tebow, the same round in which they drafted Smith in 2006.
"We thought there was a role for him," said Tannenbaum, speaking publicly for the first time in nearly two months. "Working with Rex every day, and seeing the way the league has evolved with the ball being in the quarterback's hands and making plays with your feet, we thought it would give us a chance to make our offense more dynamic. It just didn't work out that way."
Tebow participated in only 75 offensive plays, although that can't be blamed on Tannenbaum. Sparano and Tebow didn't see eye to eye, and that disconnect likely contributed to his lack of playing time.
From Day 1, Tebow was a constant storyline that eventually chafed teammates and coaches. It blew up late in the season when Mark Sanchez was benched in favor of third-stringer Greg McElroy, a snub that upset Tebow so much that he told Ryan he no longer wanted to be used in the Wildcat.
Clearly, the Jets mismanaged the enormity of Tebow-mania, fueling it at times with their own words and actions. "I think we all knew the popularity Tim brought to the organization," Tannenbaum said. "We just felt confident we had the infrastructure to deal with it."
So why did Tebow fail?
"Some moves work out, some don't," said Tannenbaum, refusing to give specifics. "Maybe, if we had more success on offense, it would've allowed more plays for everybody and it would've meant more opportunities for Tim."
Tebow remains on the Jets' roster -- he's signed through 2014 -- but new GM John Idzik is expected to trade or release him.
Tannenbaum also has been criticized for extending Sanchez's contract last March. At the time, he still had two years left on his rookie deal, but he received a three-year extension, including an $8.25 million guarantee for 2013, meaning they're stuck with him despite a poor season.
"We thought we were getting cost certainty for a guy we thought would be our quarterback for years to come," Tannenbaum said. "That was our thinking when we did it. Obviously, based on this year, it hasn't worked out that way yet. But I think Mark's career is far from over."
Tannenbaum said he harbors no bitterness toward the Jets even though he was fired only two years removed from back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game. He took the fall for the 6-10 season, yet Ryan was spared. Tannenbaum said he has no problem with that.
"Ultimately, I report to Woody. It was his decision to make," he said. "I was disappointed, but I totally understood it. I had final say and authority on the football team. We fell short this year, and that's what happens when you fall short."