In his perfect NFL world, Tim Tebow would have the chance to compete for a starting quarterback spot in 2013.
This isn’t happening.
Thirty teams passed on signing Tebow following his April release from the New York Jets. Those franchises either didn’t think he was good enough to help them or weren’t interested in the media circus that Tebow always brings to town.
But if forced to settle for reality, Tebow couldn’t be entering a better situation than with the New England Patriots.
A head coach who knows how to nip media distractions in the bud? Check.
An offensive coordinator who has a history with Tebow? Check.
An elite starting quarterback from whom he could learn and help better his craft? Ditto.
Whether the Patriots keep Tebow exclusively behind center is really immaterial at this point. Even if he’s a reserve passer who gets snaps at tight end, H-back, fullback or becomes a core special teams player, Tebow has a chance to stay in the league for a fourth NFL season.
That’s better than what Tebow’s prospects were before Monday’s initial ESPN report of his imminent signing in New England.
The fact that a waste like JaMarcus Russell was gathering more offseason interest than Tebow speaks volumes about how dim his NFL future appeared. As chronicled last week by Peter Schrager of FOX Sports, Russell is still perceived to have upside despite the sloth that led to his NFL exodus.
The Tebow criticisms have ranged from his being slow to read NFL defenses to an awkward throwing motion made even worse by perpetual tinkering from coaches and quarterbacking gurus. No personnel executive believed what Tebow could provide would outweigh the negatives.
None except for Bill Belichick, that is.
Belichick’s Xs-and-Os genius is equaled only by his ability to control the media exposure of his players. The Patriots will surely limit the Tebow discussion on their end. Tebow also has learned how to inoculate himself from foot-in-mouth disease by never saying anything controversial in his interaction with football reporters.
The things that Tebow stands for – his Christian faith, humility, physical toughness and a penchant for late-game heroics while with the Denver Broncos – help make him one of the NFL’s most popular and polarizing figures. Tebow, though, will now share something in common with others who weren’t held in the same high regard like Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Albert Haynesworth. All are players that Belichick took a chance on that were shunned elsewhere because of the baggage they brought.
Moss worked out brilliantly until outstaying his welcome. Johnson and Haynesworth didn’t pan out, but their contracts were modest enough not to cripple New England’s salary cap.
Moss, Johnson and Haynesworth ultimately proved expendable when they couldn’t help the Patriots win games or weren’t worth the headaches being generated. The same will happen with Tebow if Belichick believes the same. Being a nice guy doesn’t earn a roster spot.
But let’s say the signing does work. Ideally, the Patriots would have an experienced backup who could play if Tom Brady were to get injured. New England doesn’t have that now in Ryan Mallett. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — who used a first-round draft pick on Tebow in 2010 when running the show in Denver — could potentially utilize both him and Mallett in the absence of Brady. Mallett would serve as the traditional pocket passer while Tebow could contribute in short-yardage and read-option packages.
As it stands, I don’t see Brady coming off the field on any sort of regular basis if healthy. He never has. This is a guy who still wants to play when the Patriots are way ahead in the fourth quarter. Brady also is one of the league’s best short-yardage options from having perfected the quarterback sneak during his 13 NFL seasons.
This means quarterbacking alone probably won’t be enough for Tebow. The Patriots only carried Brady and Mallett on their 2012 roster.
To stick, Tebow would be best suited finding other ways to contribute.
Maybe it’s being the protector on punts like he was at times with the Jets. Maybe he is athletic enough to learn how to catch passes rather than throw them. Maybe he can become a decent blocker. And maybe – just maybe – all the critics and general managers were wrong and Tebow blossoms into a quarterback who can thrive in the NFL.