Finding Truth in the Tim Tebow Circus

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Finding Truth in the Tim Tebow Circus
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The most fascinating aspect of the ongoing Tim Tebow saga is that while the story exists under a national spotlight and all of the evidence is the same for each and every observer to see, the conclusions drawn from the same evidence are radically and fundamentally different.

It has been just over a year now since the first edition of the Tebow-in-New-York saga really got underway. Yet many of the same discussions from one year ago are happening today in much the same form.

On the one hand is the argument that Tebow is a poor quarterback statistically and mechanically and thus should not play.

On the other hand, there is the other popular argument that Tebow has intangible abilities that will allow him to (one way or another) becomes a starting quarterback this season, either in New York or elsewhere.

Both arguments are off the mark.

Brief discussion of Tebow's much-talked-about throwing motion.

Nearly a year ago now, during the 2012 offseason, I argued that Tebow would start zero games for the Jets in 2012. That point of view was orthogonal and unrelated to both of the more popular but less relevant standpoints. The reason that prediction came true had nothing to do with the two more popular arguments being either right or wrong.

The fact is that the situation in New York is radically simpler than many would like to believe. We know that Tebow will not start this year for the straightforward reason that the decision has essentially been made.

To understand that, let us quickly consider how fans make predictions and set their sights on future events. There are three key questions one might ask introspectively.

What do I want to happen?

What do I hope might happen?

What do I think will happen?

 

Hope or Prediction?

The first of the three questions is simple enough. What do I want? Anyone can answer that, and they are never wrong.

The real trick when making predictions is separating the latter two questions. Fans often hope for an event to occur and feel that because it is possible and because it can be imagined clearly, it will happen.

The train of imagination begins somewhere plausible and then makes one small step after another until the path seems so obvious that it feels probable or even certain.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Then why do these hopes often not come true? The answer is that often what we hope to happen is not what we truly believe to be likely. Each step added to the imagined chain of events makes the likelihood diminish exponentially.

This sequence of thoughts can take a rational person to fairly irrational heights, for example claiming that Tebow will "win a Super Bowl" (to quote coach Urban Meyer via Adam Silverstein of OnlyGators.com).

It is somewhat like imagining flipping a fair coin heads 30 times in a row. If you think about it long enough, it feels possible. But trying to do it for real can be quite disappointing.

 

The Fundamental Roadblocks

What is the fundamental roadblock? Why is it so patently unlikely that Tebow will get a shot to play quarterback for the Jets in 2013?

It is because of the steps that would actually have to occur and how improbable each is in turn. Within the Jets' organization, the opinions of writers, bloggers, columnists and even fans do not much matter. There are three men who will truly factor into the decision-making regarding Tebow in 2013, and we already know a great deal about their actions.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

First (of course) is general manager John Idzik. Idzik is the first roadblock. Long before Tebow will have any opportunity to demonstrate anything of consequence, Idzik will decide whether or not he wants Tebow on the roster.

Idzik was hired just this past January and took hardly any time at all to start shopping Tebow. Assuming Idzik has some basic semblance of sanity, he must know that the best he could hope to get in return for Tebow would be a late-round draft pick, perhaps a seventh-rounder. General managers do not often shop potential starting quarterbacks for next to nothing.

Is Idzik wrong? Is he undervaluing Tebow? Is he making a long-term mistake? I will not even bother to answer those questions, because they do not affect the conclusion. The natural and only conclusion to draw is that Idzik appears to have no plans whatsoever to have Tebow be the starting quarterback for his team.

Getty Images/Getty Images

Let us move on. Let us imagine some hypothetical world in which Idzik decides to commit to Tebow. The second man who then comes into play is offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. If Tebow shocks the world by remaining on the Jets' roster in July, then Mornhinweg will have a decision to make.

He could either stick with the West Coast offensive style that he is familiar with and has based his successful career on, or he could switch to a radically different system and bet his career on the hope that Tebow will do something he has not done in the first three years of his pro career: impress people as an NFL quarterback.

Mornhinweg is a West Coast offense guru who knows what he is doing within that system. As a man who has coached in the Super Bowl and who has coached a 13-3 team, he is not likely to be blown away by Tebow's famous one playoff victory or the 8-8 season he patched together in Denver with the Broncos.

Most importantly, Mornhinweg would be taking an enormous risk by even considering Tebow in a quarterback competition this summer. Any type of spread-option offense would be so jarringly different from a West Coast scheme that he would have to implement an entirely new offense before he could begin to evaluate whether or not Tebow would be worth using.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If the experiment were to fail, the cost of a lost offseason could be catastrophic, especially to any young offensive players the Jets might be trying to develop.

Is Mornhinweg going to take such a long-term, costly and easily-ridiculed risk? Or is he going to stick with the system he has built a career out of over the past couple of decades? The safe money sure seems to be on the latter choice.

Let us lastly examine if Mornhinweg has given any indication of his thoughts. Here is what he said, according to Darin Gantt of NBCSports.com:

[Quarterback Mark Sanchez] will probably have just a little bit of a leg up it would appear... Mark’s got a lot of strengths. He’s played at a high level. Our job is to get him to play at a high level at a consistent basis.

That is not a strong commitment to Sanchez at all. It leaves the door wide open for David Garrard, Greg McElroy and any young draft picks the Jets might acquire in this week's draft. But it sure does not sound like a plan to switch the offense over to a spread-option philosophy. It sounds like a regular, open competition to see who will be the best West Coast offense quarterback.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

If miracles one and two happen, then the third and final roadblock is head coach Rex Ryan. Of the three big decision-makers this year, Ryan is the only one who was around last year as well. Idzik replaced Mike Tannenbaum, and Mornhinweg replaced Tony Sparano (who in turn replaced Brian Schottenheimer one year ago).

Of the three men, Ryan is arguably the most important and easiest to predict. He had several opportunities in 2012 to give Tebow a shot. Primary starter Mark Sanchez had multiple sub-par games, and backup quarterback Greg McElroy even earned two games (one as a starter).

Who is the biggest roadblock to Tebow starting in New York?

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Ever since Tebow was brought to New York in a trade with Denver 13 months ago, Ryan has consistently displayed that he is not particularly interested in letting Tebow run his offense.

After a whole year of seeing Tebow in practice every day, and after observing him in multiple game situations, is something in the offseason suddenly going to change Ryan's mind? A little Tai Chi, maybe a speech or some practice throws? 

Let's be realistic. Nothing could be more far-fetched.

Having one miracle occur is... well, a miracle. Having three miracles occur would be something else altogether. To put it another way, people get struck by lightning. It happens. But if you get struck by lightning three times, you might want to start considering the possibility that you are either dreaming or living in The Matrix.

 

Miracle or Self-Promotion?

Over the past week we got to witness the unfolding and subsequent retraction of a supposed miracle. As reported by Bob Glauber of Newsdays.com, quarterbacking expert Steve Clarkson claimed to have solved Tebow's issues through Tai Chi and a little bit of basic footwork coaching. Said Clarkson:

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Most of what people have talked about in his throwing motion were really based on his footwork. He sees the field extremely well. He anticipates where things are going to happen, but his relationship with his feet going to his arm didn't mesh. He would look like he was throwing into coverage. He was throwing into the right spot, but he was just late because he couldn't transfer his weight properly... There was a lot of Tai Chi that we kind of put into his workouts where we really taught him to make his body work as one unit... There's no question he can [shorten his throwing motion]. The things that he needs to work on are very coachable and actually very minor.

Hidden not so well in that quote is the veiled potential insult of any quarterbacks coach who has ever worked with Tebow. The most basic and important aspect of a quarterback's mechanics are his footwork, so basically by claiming that no one had ever coached his footwork correctly, he (intentionally or otherwise) implied that a trivial amount of basic coaching accomplished what four years in college and three years in the NFL had been unable to accomplish.

As one might have expected, as the drama unfolded, reality turned out to be less miraculous than Clarkson's statements suggested. Clarkson himself did not necessarily help his own cause. Beginning with unprovoked personal attacks to the effect that Tebow was "sabotaged" (as Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com put it), he also threw in some unprovoked shots at quarterback Mark Sanchez, calling him "fragile-minded."

Unsurprisingly (and inevitably), this stream of events led to quite a bit of ridicule.

Could we somehow spin this to seem positive? Could this somehow become the unlikely miracle that would make everyone in the Jets' front office have an epiphany regarding Tebow's future.

What would we hope to happen, and what really happened?

Well, Clarkson quickly let it out of the bag that he was extensively exaggerating.

To quote Kevin Patra of NFL.com, Clarkson began the phase where he "frantically was backpedaling" from his remarks, saying that "[Mark Sanchez] should be the Jets' starter" (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com).

To top it off, Clarkson admitted (also via Marc Sessler) that he, "Isn't Tebow's personal coach and only worked with him for a couple days."

 

Where is the Truth?

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
David Garrard is a quarterback who is expected to compete for a starting position this summer in New York.

What can we learn from the experience with Clarkson? Will that be the last pseudo-miracle or the last dramatic event regarding Tebow in New York?

Of course not.

All the experience really does is remind us of Occam's Razor, the principle that the simplest explanation of what we see is most often the truth.

If Rex Ryan benched Tebow for 16 games in a row, it is probably because he plans to continue doing so.

If the Jets' front office and coaches appear to be planning to not use Tebow, it is probably because that is in fact their plan.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Greg McElroy is a quarterback who is expected to compete for a starting position this summer in New York.

If a miracle-worker makes outrageous claims that sound too good to be true, that is probably because he is seeking 15 minutes of fame.

Or to put it simply, if Tebow has been a New York Jet for 13 months without the slightest hint or indication from anyone in the organization that he is expected to start, it is probably due to the simplest possible explanation:

They are not planning to start him.

Will some fans be upset? Sure.

Will some fans call for him to play? Sure.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Geno Smith is a quarterback prospect who the Jets have expressed some interest in.

Will it matter? No.

I made the argument a year ago, and I'll make the same argument again now. The men making decision for the New York Jets organization have no reason to want to start Tim Tebow and have given no indication to the effect. For that simple reason, Tebow will not start for the Jets in 2013.

The majority of discussions pertaining to Tebow are remarkably off-topic. It is not his mechanics, his statistics, his ethics, his religion or his personality that will determine who plays quarterback for the New York Jets in 2013. It will be decided by three men, and those three men have done nothing to lead any rational observer to think they are interested in Tebow at all.

Thus, my advice to Tebow's fans:

Maybe 2014.

 

The Options that Remain

A few alternate options still remain besides riding the Jets' bench. As has been reportedly repeatedly since Idzik joined the front office in January, the Jets are seeking trade partners. The issue is that interest in Tebow around the league appears to be slim to none. Brian Bassett of TheJetsBlog.com summarized the inherent difficulties in the situation:

The Jets are doggedly trying to get cap relief from Tebow is the only explanation I can come up with on why he is still with the team.  We’re sure the Jets are doing everything they can to trade Tebow (and I wouldn’t be shocked if he was some sort of throw-in in a Revis trade) but it seems highly unlikely that any team will suddenly become interested.

Revis has been traded, but Tebow still lingers. While rumors have come and gone, the last truly concrete hope disappeared when the Jacksonville Jaguars (who were supposed to be in love with Tebow) declared their lack of interest. Jaguars' general manager David Caldwell put his foot down, claiming:

I can't imagine a scenario in which [Tim Tebow will] be a Jacksonville Jaguar, even if he's released.

Of course, no matter what happens the Tebow saga is likely to continue. Alternatives remain available in the CFL and AFL. The Orlando Predators of the AFL came out and said they would take Tebow right away if he could not get an NFL job.

The saga will continue and along with it the wild expectations that have followed Tebow since he was drafted in 2010. Nonetheless, reality is reality, and there are some things we can expect with high confidence by simply observing the events as they unfold.

The safest bet right now: Tebow will not be under center in New York in 2013.

 

Adam Waksman is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report who writes primarily about the New York Jets and the NFL. Be sure to follow Adam on Twitter to receive updates right away.

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