Two months ago, fresh from the playoffs, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said that quarterback Tim Tebow had “earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp next year.”
Now, the only way that will happen, it seems, is if Tebow is on another team.
According to news reports, former Indianapolis Colt Peyton Manning has chosen to join the Broncos, and a contract is expected to be worked out soon. That almost certainly means the end of "Tebowmania" (not to mention the “Tebowing” meme) in Denver.
Why couldn't Tebow become Manning's understudy?
For one, Tebow is a running quarterback with poor passing skills. He would likely have trouble serving as a backup in an offense tailor-made for Manning, who relies on quick releases from an accurate arm and an ability to read a defenses.
What’s more, Manning is famous for hoarding practice time. In Indianapolis, his backups took few snaps in practice and therefore got little opportunity to learn the offense Manning runs. For Tebow, a fierce competitor who needs to work on his development, such a fate would probably be far worse than being traded.
So who might want Tebow?
By all accounts he is a tireless worker and a fast learner, and the Broncos proved that a team willing to craft an offense around his running style can have success – and even win a playoff game. Moreover, his fervent following would virtually guarantee fans in seats for franchises with attendance problems.
Still, a suitor could be hard to find. Building a team around Tebow means running counter to the current trend in the National Football League of building teams around exceptional passers.
- One option is for Tebow to reunite with the coach who drafted him – Josh McDaniels, who is now the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Rumors are swirling that he could end up backing up Tom Brady.
- He could also wind up in Green Bay, where the exit of backup Matt Flynn has left room for a solid No. 2.
- Another options is the Miami Dolphins, who are looking for star power – and there is no bigger draw for Florida football fans than their native son.
That brings us, inevitably, to the Jaguar in the room. Tim Tebow signing with his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars and reinvigorating the franchise has been a pipe dream for long-suffering Jacksonville fans ever since Tebow was a Florida Gator, an hour away at the University of Florida.
Many still chide the Jaguars for not drafting Tebow when they had the chance in 2010. The team’s new owner, Shahid Kahn, has said that he would “100 percent” have drafted Tebow two years ago if he had been in charge. Even while Tebow was in Colorado, he was still the biggest celebrity in Jacksonville – his No. 15 Broncos jersey is a more common sight across north Florida jerseys of any current Jaguars player.
Now that he looks to be available again, fan pressure on the Jaguars’ new front office will again head into overdrive.
There are plenty of reasons why Jacksonville trading for Tebow wouldn’t be a good move.
New head coach Mike Mularkey is looking to build a passing game around first-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The team also recently acquired backup quarterback Chad Henne in free agency to compete with Gabbert. No one in the Jaguars camp has expressed any public interest in Tebow, so far.
But Gabbert had a disastrous rookie season in 2011. While part of his ineffectiveness can be blamed on the fact that he was working with a poor corps of wide receiver, the Jaguars' attempts to remedy that problem in free agency so far haven’t yielded much.
So from a football standpoint, Tebow wouldn't be a terrible fit for the Jaguars. They have a decent offensive line, a huge running threat in franchise Pro Bowl back Maurice Jones-Drew, and a top kicker in Josh Scobee. (The strong leg of Bronco Matt Prater sealed many of Tebow's comeback wins last year.)
But the bigger argument for bringing Tebow home is an emotional one.
Even as a backup, he’d give Jaguars fans something to be excited about after a solid decade of perpetual disappointment. It would garner the city of Jacksonville some national attention, perking up ticket sales after years of poor attendance. The malaise over the franchise is such that rumors of the team eventually packing up and moving to a bigger market, like Los Angeles, are regular and rampant.
Monday morning, Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio called Jacksonville one the top three "least optimistic" NFL cities, saying that even amid the sense of hope that the offseason can generate, Jaguars fans have "nothing to be excited about."
If Tebow didn’t pan out, it would be the latest in a long string of poor offseason moves by the Jaguars, who haven’t been taken seriously in a long time. But if he did work out, even a little bit, Kahn, Malarkey and company would be heroes, and the First Coast would be relevant to professional football again.
As Kahn said of Tebow back in January, “there comes a time where emotion trumps rationality and this, if I was an owner, would be one of those moments for me.”
The argument for the Jaguars signing Tebow might not make a lot of sense, but as we’ve seen time and again, Tebow has a way of turning conventional wisdom on its head.