You can be forgiven for forgetting all about Tim Tebow, unless you really care about God, Florida, minor league baseball or mundane college football analysis.
But Tebow Time is back, people! And it’s not going away any time soon.
The whole situation is hilarious and stupid and utterly compelling. In case you’re in need of a quick Tebow refresher: He had the most successful college football career of any post-2000 quarterback (one Heisman Trophy; two national titles). He was a bad NFL quarterback, even though he won more games than he lost. He is an openly religious person who’s heavily involved in philanthropy. He inspired a frustratingly catchy parody song. He built a children’s hospital in the Philippines. He starred in an anti-abortion commercial that ran during the Super Bowl alongside his mother. He is the only pro football player to become famous for genuflecting in public (Colin Kaepernick knelt – an important distinction). For 13 months, from his debut with the Broncos to his ill-fated stint with the Jets, he was the center of the NFL universe. He washed out of the NFL and tried his hand at professional baseball, despite not picking up a bat for 12 years.
Now, after toiling away in baseball’s minor leagues for five years, he is returning to the NFL, this time as a tight end, courtesy of his former college coach Urban Meyer. On Thursday, the Jaguars officially signed Tebow to their 90-man offseason roster, reuniting the first-year Jacksonville coach with his former quarterback. Tebow has not played in the league in six years and hasn’t taken an offensive snap in nine years. He has not taken a snap as a traditional tight end – running pass patterns, blocking in-line – at any point in his footballing life, from high school to college to the pros.
In fact, his only qualification for the job is that he lives three doors down from his new/old boss. Perhaps they can carpool.
Depending on your perspective, it is a story of ego and arrogance (on the part of both player and coach), of entitlement and nepotism, or of perseverance and loyalty.
Let’s call it what it is: A farce. Already, the signing is being treated differently to any other back-of-the-roster move, flying in the face of Meyer’s claim that this is all about football. When Jacksonville agreed to terms with six undrafted free agents earlier this month, the press release announcing the move gave the players’ names, positions, colleges, heights and weights. Tebow’s was accompanied by a lengthy press release, a full biography, and a graphic promoting his jersey that put Tebow alongside the team’s recent first overall draft pick, Trevor Lawrence.
You will hear arguments that Tebow will be a strong locker room presence. That new coaches – particularly those fresh to the pro game – always want to bring one of ‘their guys’ with them to a new job. It helps them establish their ‘culture’, and allows a veteran pro to serve as a pseudo-coach while the rest of the locker room gets to terms with the verbiage, scheme and mode of operating of the new head honcho.
But, really? The locker room is going to listen to a fifth-string tight end who has never played his position? They’re going to listen to the coach’s pet? I wasn’t feeling it today, but now Timmy has yelled out some sweet nothings and I’m ready to seal the pulling guard.
Professional players are not motivated by rah-rah nonsense. That stuff is for college. Professionals have contracts to earn and mortgages to pay. The best kind of leadership is the boringly dependable kind: Show up and do your job at the highest level each and every day.
It’s just a marketing scheme – that’s the other argument that will be rolled out. But that would be an odd venture for the new staff to concoct (or at least sign off on). Why would a new coach want to drain whatever cache he has within his own locker room by handing out a job to his friend all to sell a couple of extra jerseys and tickets in the first year of his rebuild? If drafting the highest-rated quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck with the first overall pick isn’t enough to fire up a fan base, nothing will.
No, Meyer believes in this. He believes in the power of Tebow.
Check that: Meyer believes in the power of Meyer. He is the Tebow whisperer. He sees things other coaches do not; or at least can harness something that other coaches could not. Never mind that this is not the first Tebow-led experiment in the NFL. Following his days as a starter in Denver, every team that Tebow played for – the Jets, the Patriots, the Eagles – tried lining him up in a variety of positions in practice.
“[The Jets] tried switching him to tight end, and he wasn’t good,” Greg McElroy, Tebow’s teammate in New York and his co-host at ESPN, said last week on SiriusXM.
The most interesting experiment came in New England. Back in 2013, Bill Belichick brought Tebow to the Patriots at the height of the Belichick-Brady dynasty. It was sold, publicly, as kicking the tires on Tebow as a potential third-strong quarterback; it was viewed largely as Tebow’s last shot at playing quarterback in the league.
The reality was a little more complex. Although Tebow lined up as a quarterback in the preseason, Belichick had visions of Tebow in a new role. The Patriots had conducted an offseason study to analyze how they could continue to tip the odds in their favor. Their analysis spat out a clear market inefficiency: two-point conversions. Teams were not going for two often enough, nor did they employ a two-point specialist. New England had a kicking specialist (a one and three-point specialist, if you will), but not a two-pointer; Belichick wanted to change the dynamics of the game. In Tebow, a 240lb bulldozer who had proven to be among the most efficient third-and-short runners in the league during his (admittedly short) stint as the Broncos quarterback, Belichick thought he’d found the answer. Who could stop Tebow and the Patriots in a series of one-on-one matchups from the two-yard line?
The plan failed – it wasn’t even released to the public, with Belichick keeping it under wraps in preseason games. Tebow was not enough of a certainty from the two-yard line to be worthy of a roster spot. He struggled in practice. He was poor on special teams. And Belichick came to his senses; even at the height of his gambling craze, he knew it would be silly to routinely and systematically remove Tom Brady, the greatest to ever do it, in order to put the ball, and perhaps the game, in the hands of a two-point specialist who would otherwise only see the field on kickoffs.
Jacksonville will likely try something similar. Tebow is listed as a tight end, but it’s a stretch to think a soon-to-be-34-year-old who has never played the position will be routinely catching passes over the middle of the field. He will be asked to a little bit of everything, including carrying the ball in short-yardage situations.
This much is clear: He will play. Meyer has thrown his name behind the move, and he’s not a man to admit he’s wrong. And, ultimately, it is what Meyer thinks that matters.
If Tebow cannot block, he won’t block. If he can’t catch, he won’t catch. Jacksonville will adjust. Meyer will find some use for his protégé, even if it’s only as a cheerleader in pads.