The debate over Tim Tebow’s worthiness as an NFL quarterback will undeniably continue in the offseason.
What’s not in doubt is his status as the Denver Broncos’ starter.
The team sought to curb the circus that’s sure to surround Tebow over the next several months by declaring him the incumbent at a season-ending news conference Monday.
”Well, I think Tim’s earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp next year,” Broncos boss John Elway declared at the beginning of a 40-minute news conference in which 24 of the 47 questions were about Tebow.
”I think he made some good strides this year,” Elway said. ”He obviously played very well against Pittsburgh and played very well in a lot of football games.”
And exceedingly poorly in plenty of others.
That’s why Elway, a Hall of Famer who rejoined the team a year ago as chief of football operations, has pledged to personally work with Tebow this offseason to polish his passing game and help him become a better quarterback.
He has a willing pupil in Tebow, who said his offseason goal was ”to work pretty hard and try to get a lot better.”
Elway said he wants to ”help Tim in every way I can, to be able to improve through what I learned.”
And that was this: Mobility is great, but to compete for a championship, you have to become a pocket passer. That’s what Elway learned late in his career, which he capped with back-to-back Super Bowl titles after losing the big game three times.
”Hopefully, I can teach him what I learned over my 16-year career,” Elway said, ”to be able to tell him what I learned in Year 10, hopefully get that to him in year 3 or 4.”
The Broncos, like everyone else, are looking for that franchise quarterback ”and we’re so hopeful that Tim’s that guy. Obviously, we have some work to do and he knows that, too.”
Tebow took over a 1-4 team in October and guided the Broncos to their first playoff berth since 2005. But the clunky dual-threat quarterback completed just 46.5 percent of his passes in the regular season and 40.4 percent in the playoffs while compiling an 8-5 overall record that included five second-half comebacks.
His 80-yard TD toss on the first play of overtime beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card round and capped his best performance as a pro.
Then, he had the worst completion percentage – 34 – in a playoff game since 1998 in a 35-point loss at New England on Saturday night in a game that showed how far both he and the Broncos have yet to go.
Sticking with Tebow as the starter doesn’t mean the Broncos won’t be adding a quarterback or two in the offseason either through the draft or free agency.
”Well, right now as we look at it, we’ve got two quarterbacks under contract,” Elway said, noting that practice squad QB Adam Weber signed a futures contract. ”So, we’ve obviously got to be in the market to find some more quarterbacks.”
Coach John Fox didn’t rule out the return of Brady Quinn, who hasn’t taken a single snap in his two seasons in Denver.
Selling a veteran quarterback on Denver might be difficult.
”Now, I think that anybody that comes in, a free agent, no matter what position, is going to believe they’re going to come in and have a chance to compete,” Elway said. ”That’s the thing. Anybody that comes in here, when we start training camp, is going to be competing for jobs. Obviously, with Tim’s reputation, if the guy is afraid to come in here and compete for that job, then maybe it’s not the right guy.”
With Tebow entering his first camp as the unquestioned starter, it’s likely the Broncos will seek out a veteran backup via free agency, but Elway said he wasn’t sure whether the team would look at QBs who are stylistically similar to Tebow.
Tebow’s growth was stunted by the NFL lockout and Kyle Orton’s status as the starter through training camp and the first month of the season.
Despite winning seven of his first eight starts, the Broncos were unbalanced under Tebow. They had the league’s best ground game but were ranked 31st in the 32-team league in passing.
”So, those are the strides that we’re going to have to make for us to be the offensive football team that we want to be,” Elway said. ”And so that’s why we’re looking forward to this offseason and we know what kind of mentality Timmy has, he’s a great worker and I know he’ll work his tail off this offseason. … I think he will make those improvements.”
Fox said he wasn’t worried that Tebow’s many off-the-field commitments would detract from working on his faulty footwork and messy mechanics. He said all the players deserve a break from football.
He also said the read-option he installed midseason to capitalize on Tebow’s unique skills served as a bridge to his becoming a conventional quarterback but might remain a part of the Broncos’ arsenal in 2012.
The Broncos’ brass like the way Tebow handled pressure in his first season as the starter. Elway said what he went through in his career in this quarterback-crazed town was nothing compared to what Tebow has to endure.
Elway said his scrutiny was mostly local, ”but when you look at Tim Tebow, what he went through was nationally based or maybe even worldwide-based. I mean, you talk about people Tebowing outside the Eiffel Tower, you know, that kind of tells you.”
Still, Elway said Tebow was unaffected by all the attention.
As for Elway, he said he enjoyed his first year as an NFL executive even as he was lambasted on Twitter by Tebow’s legion of fans after showing tepid enthusiasm for the second-year quarterback early on.
”Yeah, I want to keep doing it, no question,” Elway said. ”There’s no question, we had some tough situations this year, obviously with the quarterback situation, where we were coming into camp, even coming out of camp, but I think for the most part I enjoyed that.”
He said what he’s proudest about ”is the bandwagon is now full again. That thing was pretty empty last year.”
The Broncos could lose the architect of Tebow’s game plans if offensive coordinator Mike McCoy leaves. He interviewed for the Miami Dolphins’ head coaching vacancy Monday and will also interview with the Oakland Raiders, as will Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Calling the Broncos ”a work in progress,” Fox said his message to his players at their final team meeting Sunday was that there will be plenty of changes in 2012 because ”we would do whatever it takes to win the big boy championship, not just the AFC West championship.”
”They understand the business side of it and the offseason means we’re in the business side of football,” Fox said. ”We’ll march forward.”