How Tim Tebow Lost His Appeal to NFL Teams
It is an old story in the NFL. College stars, Heisman Trophy winners and finalists who became busts in the NFL. Many of their names still float around in sports conversations. Gino Torretta, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Ryan Leaf, Jason White and Heath Shuler are all quarterbacks who were briefly in the limelight after phenomenal collegiate campaigns.
After a controversial and at least entertaining 2011 campaign, quarterback Tim Tebow may have solidified his position as a draft bust through the events of 2012 and early 2013.
Now the Jets are reportedly trying to trade Tebow, and they will be lucky if they can get even a late-round draft pick in return. As one general manager put it (via Adam Schefter of ESPN), "I think his career is over without playing another position."
In only three short years in the league, Tebow may have already run out of chances to be an NFL quarterback. The issue is not only that the Jets are unable to get value for him in a trade. It is that it is unclear if any team wants him at all, even for free.
Things change quickly in the NFL. Here are the nine biggest blows to Tebow's career and legacy since he became an NFL player, which have resulted in the situation that exists today.
Poor Performances in Big Games
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The biggest knock on Tim Tebow after his first two years (2010-2011) with the Denver Broncos—other than his poor statistics—was his inability to come through in big games.
The clear high point of the Broncos 2011 season occurred in Week 14, when a fantastically lucky overtime win (their third of the season) elevated Denver to an 8-5 record and gave them a real shot at a high playoff seed. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there, as Tebow went on a historically bad five-game stretch to finish off the year.
The next week featured an appalling showing against the Buffalo Bills. With three interceptions, two fumbles, and an astounding 13-of-29 completions, Tebow made it impossible for his teammates to do anything in a 26-point blowout loss.
Finally came the biggest game of the regular season, a home game against the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. A win would guarantee a playoff spot, while a loss would mean that a heavy dose of luck would be needed to still reach the playoffs.
In one of the uglier games of the 2011 season, the Broncos lost 7-3 despite a stellar defensive performance. Tebow had his worst individual performance of the season, completing only 6-of-22 passes to go with an interception and a fumble.
The fourth game of this historic stretch was a home playoff game against the injury-crippled Pittsburgh Steelers. This one was a famous game, in which a subpar individual performance by the quarterback resulted in one of the strangest and most entertaining overtime victories. Despite completing only 10 passes, the Broncos pulled out the victory on a fantastic game-winning catch and run by Demaryius Thomas.
The final game of this five-game stretch was an embarrassing 45-10 loss at the hands of the New England Patriots. With 9-of-26 passing and a fumble to go with five sacks, Tebow was again confused and frozen by the Patriots defense, as he had been four weeks prior. It would end up being Tebow's final game as a Denver Bronco.
NFL general managers and scouts can look at that stretch of big games and ask:
Why would I ever want that man touching the ball for my team in an important game?
Two months later Tebow was traded to the New York Jets for a pittance in draft picks.
Shut out in 2012
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Here is a tough bar-trivia question. Which NFL quarterback in 2012 played in 12 games but was involved in zero scoring plays?
The answer is of course Tim Tebow.
Each week there was a different excuse to latch onto for why Tebow failed to find success. But looking back at the entire season, it is astounding that he didn't manage to throw a touchdown pass, run for a touchdown or even be present on the field while somebody else scored a touchdown.
In his 75 plays lined up on offense—including red-zone and goal-to-go situations—Tebow was unable to make any sort of production happen for the Jets. He averaged a comically bad 3.2 yards per carry for the season, despite running primarily out of trick formations. In fact, removing the one trick running play that actually fooled a defense and resulted in a long gain, Tebow averaged only 2.6 yards per carry for the entire year.
Throwing the ball was no better; it was actually worse. His 4.9 yards per pass through the air was astoundingly poor, especially considering considering his most successful pass came on a fake punt.
Tebow certainly had his critics in Denver, but it would be impressive if any were so prophetic as to predict such a historically terrible 2012 season from Tebow.
When you get shut out for an entire year, that is going to hurt your stock no matter who you are.
Will Tebow ever see the end zone again? It is hard to say.
Mark Sanchez's Poor Performances
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I argued prior to the 2012 season that Mark Sanchez would be the starter for the Jets unless Tebow could improve as a player. The reasoning was simple. Head coach Rex Ryan cares only about results on the football field, and without showing something as a player, Tebow's name and fame would not be enough.
Tebow could have gone through a quiet season as a well-known backup if Sanchez had lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, Sanchez had the worst year of his young career.
The drop-off was remarkable. After racking up 32 total touchdowns in 2011, Sanchez managed only 13 total touchdowns in 2012. He dropped in every other major statistical category as well, but let us not belabor the point. In his 15 starts, Sanchez went only 6-9 and had an unsuccessful season by any account.
Yet Rex Ryan continued to assert that Sanchez gave the Jets their "best chance to win." His choice of words was interesting. He always said best chance to win. He was not displaying satisfaction with Sanchez's level of play. His words were an indictment of the Jets' depth at quarterback.
The sad fact is that Ryan was right all along. Of the Jets' three awful quarterbacks, Sanchez was the least awful. Tebow's failure to improve or beat anybody on the practice field was brought into such spotlight only because of the poor play of Sanchez. If Sanchez had played up to his potential, Tebow's spot on the bench would not have needed to be brought into question.
As Tebow's teammates in New York reportedly said of him (according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News), "He's terrible." According to the same report, another player added, "We don’t look at [Tebow] as a quarterback. He’s the Wildcat guy."
With every fumble and bad throw from Sanchez toward the end of the season, it was a constant reminder that what Tebow demonstrated on the practice field was even worse. Mark Sanchez certainly hurt his own stock in 2012. He also hurt Tim Tebow's.
Inability to Run the Ball
Jeremy Kerley was the Jets' best Wildcat back in 2012.
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One of the most surprising failures of Tebow's 2012 campaign with the Jets was his inability to get production through the running game. The Jets had garnered success with the Wildcat running game in previous years and were expected to use Tebow as that type of running back.
The idea was that Tebow would be an improved version of Brad Smith, another former college quarterback who ran the Wildcat for the Jets in the past.
While the Jets were able to get some success out of the Wildcat formation with Brad Smith in the past and also with guys like Jeremy Kerley and Joe McKnight, they were unable to do so with Tebow. Tebow averaged only 3.2 yards per carry on the season, including zero touchdowns and only one run for 20-plus yards.
As head coach Rex Ryan said prior to the 2012 season (according to Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports):
[Tebow is] replacing a guy that I love in Brad Smith, and everybody knows that, and we were very effective running the Wildcat, and he's basically replacing Brad in that role. He's also your number two quarterback and personal [punt] protector as is Brad Smith.
Ironically, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley was successful in his Wildcat attempt, hooking up with Clyde Gates for a 42-yard reception. But Tebow had no such luck.
It is hard to explain exactly why Tebow was so inept running the football in 2012, but part of it may have been the weight he put on in the offseason. The amount of bulk and muscle he has taken on at this point may have slowed him too much for him to be mobile as a quarterback or running back. He reportedly weighed in at 249 pounds, which is even more than John Conner, who was the Jets' fullback in 2012.
Of course a move to the fullback position has been suggested for some time now. However, changing positions in the NFL requires time and dedication. If Tebow is dead set on going quarterback or bust, then playing the fullback position is not likely in his near future.
Emergence of Running Quarterbacks
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One obvious but often overlooked fact is that there are only 32 starting quarterback jobs in the NFL. Teams are not going to consider giving Tebow a chance if there are 32 other viable options to fill all of those jobs.
The sudden flood of young NFL quarterbacks over the past two seasons is becoming a major hindrance for Tebow. More importantly, the dramatic increase in quarterbacks who can run the football means teams that want to try out unconventional offenses are not going to think twice about Tebow.
In addition to the ones we already knew about—such as Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick—2012 saw a whole new class of mobile quarterbacks emerge. Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III all ran the ball well in their respective first seasons playing quarterback.
That makes six young quarterbacks who all not only throw the ball better than Tebow could ever hope to but also run it more effectively than he can. The flood of young quarterbacks has increased the number of viable quarterbacks in the NFL beyond 32.
Legitimate starters like Alex Smith, Chad Henne and Matt Flynn are available for the taking either through trades or free agency. It is unimaginable to think that any NFL team would look at Tebow while guys like those are sitting on the bench.
Somewhat ironically, with running quarterbacks now in style, the problem for Tebow is that they are too much in style; his skills are no longer unique or desirable.
Starting to Become a Diva
The last thing you want in an under-performing bench player is a diva attitude. Just ask every team that chose not to keep former NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
The belief that Tebow can use his religious beliefs and cultural experiences to inspire people and players is certainly not a new one. Doubtless, it is still true that he can inspire people out in the world.
However, on the football field, he seems to be anything but inspirational. His selfish attitude has become increasingly apparent and has rubbed players and teammates the wrong way.
Tebow's image as a team player first developed when he was in Florida, playing for a dominant national champion. Of course, when you are playing for a proven winner and receiving tons of credit for the excellent play of your teammates, it is easy to get along with everybody. What could possibly cause conflict?
It has been the more demanding NFL standards that have not gotten along with Tebow. The most significant source of conflict was his position on the bench and on the Jets' depth chart. With Tebow falling to the No. 3 spot behind Greg McElroy, he was unwilling to accept his spot as a backup and role player.
Prior to this, Tebow had already lost the respect of many NFL players, being voted as the landslide winner for most overrated player. But it was when he refused to be a role player for the Jets that he began to lose respect from the fanbase as well.
When Tebow realized he was not going to win the starting job, he reportedly asked to not have to play as the Wildcat back, preferring to be left out of the mix than serve in a secondary role. This reported act, along with his generally cold relationship with at least some of his teammates, made it appear that Tebow was not so interested in being a team player if the team was about more than just him. As Bob Glauber of Newsday.com put it, the act was "a level of insubordination that can neither be ignored nor excused."
Even Merril Hoge came out about the drama Tebow was causing, famously calling him "as phony as a three-dollar bill." Hoge continued:
[Tebow] is not going to win for the Jacksonville Jaguars. All he will do is set the franchise back further, if that is a possible feat. This organization is down as far as you can get. The last person they need is a guy like this now that we're starting to see his true colors.
If not for the reputed attitude problems, Tebow might still have some trade value around the league right now. Former first-round picks nearly always draw attention. Guys like Jason Smith and Aaron Maybin were complete busts but still found new homes. Even JaMarcus Russell is still able to garner attention.
But if Tebow expects a starting job and a team to be built around him, he may not be able to find further work in the NFL.
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The one city that seemed like it would always have a place for Tim Tebow was Jacksonville. The Jaguars fanbase is heavily overlapped with the fanbase that watched Tebow win a Heisman Trophy in college. Moreover, with a 2-14 season, they are at the level of hopelessness that would drive a franchise to try something unique and a little bit crazy.
If there is one team that should be considering making the Jets an offer, it is the Jaguars.
But it appears they are not interested in the slightest. Jaguars general manager David Caldwell came right out and said that he would not take Tebow. Said Caldwell (according to Brendan Porath of SBNation.com), "I can't imagine a scenario where he would be a Jacksonville Jaguar, even if he's released."
With the Jaguars not making any offers, the Jets might have trouble giving Tebow away even for nothing. The guaranteed money remaining on his contract makes it non-trivial to get rid of him.
One could hypothesize that Caldwell might change his mind down the road. However, it is unclear if that is likely at all. Jaguars players have not been shy to express their opposition against having Tebow on the team. Star tight end and veteran Jaguar Marcedes Lewis came out and said (via Evan Hilbert of CBSSports.com):
My honest answer? No, no. I'm going into my eighth year, I've had about four or five different quarterbacks... We need a guy that's going to put us over the hump right now, not a project.
With the majority of NFL teams having starting quarterbacks locked into contracts, with the Jaguars having no interest whatsoever, and with the Kansas City Chiefs having the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the real question:
What NFL team remains that has any interest in Tebow?
Truth Starting to Come out of New York
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As late as November and December of 2012, there was still a prevalent attitude that Tim Tebow deserved a chance to start. The lingering theory that head coach Rex Ryan was in some way holding Tebow back and preventing him from developing served as an excuse to negate all of Tebow's failures.
With former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum being fired early in 2013, the truth slowly began to trickle out, quashing many of these conspiracy theories.
First, Tannenbaum admitted that the Tebow trade was his idea, saying it was something that he pushed for and something that he had to convince owner Woody Johnson to accept. Tannenbaum further clarified that Tebow was meant to be a Brad Smith replacement—not a quarterback—a comparison that I and several others made throughout the 2012 season.
When looking back, Tannenbaum compared Tebow to a draft bust, a young player coming in and being unable to bring productivity to the team.
While there are still a few who will try to argue that Tebow did not have a fair chance to prove himself, the more we learn about his role in New York the more it seems Tebow shot himself in the foot. Tannenbaum brought him in with every intention for him to become and active and successful Wildcat back, and Tebow's lack of success on the field prevented that from becoming a reality.
Tebow was involved in 75 offensive snaps for the Jets in 2012, many of them in the red zone. But none of those plays resulted in touchdowns for him or anyone else.
As more and more of the truth leaks out of New York, it seems the situation will only look worse for Tebow. His Teflon coating may be finally wearing off.
What It All Means
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It is hard to say where Tebow will be in the 2013 season. His trade-ability was questioned as early as 2011. Yet he managed to draw trade offers from both the Jets and Jaguars in 2012.
There are several ways that Tebow can remain an NFL player in 2013. It is still a possibility that a team will trade something—perhaps a seventh-round draft pick—for him and take on his contract. However, that possibility appears to be dwindling.
If there are no willing trade partners, Tebow could remain a Jets bench player. However, if only for the sake of avoiding media scrutiny, cutting Tebow seems to be the more likely option. At that point, any team can try to pick him up. If he will take the minimum salary, it is imaginable that a team will have creative ideas for putting him to some use.
Whichever scenario become the reality, it does not seem probable that Tebow will end up as a quarterback anywhere anytime soon. There are simply too many more desirable quarterbacks around the league looking for jobs.
Ultimately, what happens to Tebow will be largely up to him. Will he accept a conventional backup role? Will he be willing to learn to play fullback? Will he embrace a spot on special teams?
Nobody knows the answers to those questions yet, perhaps not even Tebow himself.