This may be difficult to digest given Peyton Manning's highly publicized neck injury, but the Broncos believe he may be less of a health risk as an every-down quarterback than Tim Tebow.

It was Tebow's rib and sternum injuries suffered during the Broncos' 45-10 playoff loss at New England in mid-January that convinced management to rethink its quarterback position, according to NFL sources. The result was the Broncos' pursuit of Manning, the acclaimed free-agent quarterback, who despite missing all of last season with a neck injury was signed Tuesday to a five-year, $96 million contract. On Wednesday, the Broncos traded Tebow to the New York Jets.

"As a former player, I know the last two weeks were not easy for Tim," John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, said in a statement. "He was put in a difficult situation, and I commend him for how he handled it with the same first-class manner he displayed throughout his career in Denver.

"Our goal was to do the best thing for Tim and the Broncos, and I believe the opportunity that presented itself with the New York Jets accomplishes that objective. Tim made a lot of strides last year and has a very promising career ahead of him. If anyone is willing to put the work in to be great, it's Tim Tebow."

The Broncos are getting the Jets' fourth- and sixth-round picks in the April 26-28 draft, plus $2.53 million in Tebow salary-advance reimbursement. Besides Tebow, the Jets will receive the Broncos' seventh-round draft pick next month.

The trade hit a snag Wednesday afternoon when the Jets balked at reimbursing the Broncos $5.06 million that the Broncos had paid Tebow last year in salary advances for 2012, 2013 and 2014. The trade was rescued early in the evening when the Broncos and Jets agreed to split the difference.

Quarterback Tim Tebow was extraordinarily popular among fans in his two years with the Broncos.
Quarterback Tim Tebow was extraordinarily popular among fans in his two years with the Broncos. (John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Tebow is a rare NFL quarterback who plays with reckless abandon. In his fourth preseason game as a 2010 rookie, he took a crunching blow while diving across the goal line and suffered severely bruised ribs.

In his final start of the 2011 season, Tebow was rocked by the Patriots, leaving him with injuries so serious he would not have been able to play in the AFC championship game a week later had the Broncos won. If an NFL team is going to have its season fall its way, it needs its starting quarterback to be there at the end. Initially, the Jets are planning to use Tebow as a part-time player. The Jets recently hired Tony Sparano as their offensive coordinator. Sparano was the Miami Dolphins' coach in 2008, when his team took the league by surprise with the wildcat formation. Tebow also will be used on two-point conversion plays and in the four-minute offense (where teams with the lead try to run out the final four minutes), and to jump-start the Jets' running game that slumped last year.

Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner, bows out as Broncos quarterback with an AFC West title and a 1-1 playoff record on his NFL résumé.
Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner, bows out as Broncos quarterback with an AFC West title and a 1-1 playoff record on his NFL résumé. (John Leyba, Denver Post file)

Still, as Kyle Orton can attest, don't be surprised if Tebow eventually puts pressure on Mark Sanchez for the Jets' starting quarterback job. The trade also sends the circus that is Tebowmania to the only city that may be big enough to handle it.

There is no way Jets coach Rex Ryan can fully understand what he's getting into. Perhaps more than any player since former Jets quarterback Joe Namath in the rebellious late 1960s, Tebow is an NFL star who crossed over to become a cultural icon.

With Namath, the popularity was about sex appeal. He helped bring the female audience to the NFL. With Tebow, it's about his strong Christian convictions, all-American persona — and ability to pull off remarkable comeback wins despite pronounced flaws as a passer.

"For good reason, Tim has always had a great following," Broncos coach John Fox said in a statement. "He handled that aspect exceptionally during the amazing run we had. The poise and focus Tim displayed were remarkable and speak volumes for the strength of his character. He is real and he walks the walk."

Exchanging sixth- and seventh-round picks will move Denver up at least 40 slots in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars limited their offer to a fourth-rounder for Tebow, according to multiple NFL sources. The St. Louis Rams checked in with phone calls, but they didn't engage in trade discussions.

The interest by the Jets was not a surprise. Ryan and Tebow have the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. And Ryan wound up needing paramedic treatment after Tebow beat his Jets 17-13 in Denver last November with a 95½-yard drive that culminated with the quarterback busting through a blitz by safety Erik Smith and running 20 yards for a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining.

Afterward, an emergency medical service unit from the Denver Fire Department was sent to Harry B. Combs Parkway near Denver International Airport, where the Jets' chartered plane was preparing to take off. Turns out, Ryan was suffering from indigestion brought on by a postgame meal which, combined with his lap-band surgery, didn't sit well.

Ryan is a defensive-raised head coach, and defensive coaches tend to appreciate Tebow more than offensive coaches because the quarterback adds physicality, toughness and energy to his team.

Also, the Jets are forever in competition with the New York Giants for the back pages of the New York City tabloids. The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions. The Jets now have Tebow.

Check out the New York back pages today to see which is the bigger story.

Mike Klis: 303-954-1055 or mklis@denverpost.com


Tebow teamwork

The Broncos shipped quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets on Wednesday. The trade was announced by the Jets, but it wasn't completed until several hours later because of haggling over $5 million owed by the Jets for picking up Tebow's contract. The teams essentially split the difference to make the deal work.

Coming to the Broncos

• Fourth- and sixth-round picks in the NFL's April 26-28 draft. The Broncos now have seven draft picks overall, one in each of the first three rounds, two in the fourth round and one in each of the fifth and sixth rounds.

Going to the Jets

• QB Tim Tebow and a seventh-round selection in the April 26-28 draft.