Monthly Archive: September 2015

What next, Tim Tebow?

For the second time in 3 seasons…
The decision by the Philadelphia Eagles to terminate the contract of Tim Tebow did not surprise me. Many NFL teams only carry two quarterbacks, partly because of roster needs elsewhere, and partly because under NFL rules, there are severe restrictions on how a third quarterback can be used in games. Basically a third QB can only be called upon if the #1 and #2 quarterbacks cannot play any more, usually due to injury, and once he enters the game the other two quarterbacks cannot return. This is why many NFL teams activate only two quarterbacks on game day, with another player on the roster designated as the emergency quarterback. Usually that player has played quarterback in the past prior to joining the NFL, and can execute a small number of plays if called upon.
The decision by the Eagles to sign a #3 quarterback (Stephen Morris) who has never seen any in-season game action to replace Tim Tebow is somewhat puzzling, but there may be financial reasons behind it. There are several established quarterbacks looking for work after roster cut-downs but if they are on the opening day rosters, their salaries are guaranteed for the season. The likes of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn and Rex Grossman, all of who have been starting QBs in the league, may find a team signs them only after week 1, so that they can always be dropped later if roster needs change. The Eagles may have signed Stephen Morris simply to take a look at him to determine if he has any potential. After week 1, they could drop him and sign one of the established free agent quarterbacks. They could also re-sign Tebow, although given Chip Kelly’s comments that he is not good enough for a #3 role at present, that would be a surprising turnaround.
The only way I could see Tebow being signed back by the Eagles would be If both their #1 and #2 quarterbacks were knocked out due to injury. That is not impossible since Sam Bradford has suffered 2 ACL tears in 2 seasons, and Mark Sanchez suffered a serious shoulder injury while playing for the New York Jets.
Tim Tebow went through waivers without being claimed, so he is now a free agent. At this stage it is unlikely that any team is going to try and sign him for this season – except possibly the Eagles if they lose a quarterback – Tebow should know the system and the playbook by now…
The big question is whether Tim Tebow would consider the CFL as an alternative place to play. Other quarterbacks such as Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia went to the CFL for periods of time when the NFL ignored them. Many people are arguing that the CFL is a poor fit for Tebow, because of the three-downs rule, which results in the emphasis being on the passing game, and the field is slightly longer and wider than the NFL field. The thinking is that Tebow’s lack of accuracy will be magnified in a passing league.
I am not sure that I agree with the hypothesis. Tebow can throw the ball a reasonable distance. He is not able to fire the ball long distances, but Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia did not have a cannon for an arm either, and they were very successful in the CFL as scrambling quarterbacks who could hurt teams by running as much as passing, which is where Tebow also excels. At the end of the day, arm strength can be a curse as much as a blessing (think: Jeff George).
The bigger question is whether Tim Tebow would want to enter the CFL at the present time. His CFL rights are currently held by the Montreal Alouettes, but that team is in turmoil right now in the middle of a poor season, having fired their head coach and offensive co-ordinator, with the GM (Jim Popp) now coaching the team. The Alouettes are also fresh from the distraction of managing another NFL reject named Michael Sam, who engaged in a “will he won’t he show up” routine before walking away from the team after one mediocre performance.
Realistically, if Tim Tebow wants to play football, he only has the CFL or the AFL as options. Either one of them could give him game play that he desperately needs in order to solidify his new throwing motion. Whether he can be successful enough in either league to make it back into the NFL is another question. However, once upon a time, a little-known quarterback from Northern Iowa, having been undrafted and dispensed with by NFL teams, plied his trade in the AFL and then NFL Europe before returning to the NFL as a backup and beginning one of the great Hero from Zero stories.
Tim Tebow is a victim partly of his own inadequacies, but has also been rendered less useful by the end of the read-option fad in the NFL. When he entered the NFL in 2010, the read-option (following on from the Wildcat formation) was a new idea for the modern NFL, and for a while many teams did not know how to defend it, but they soon learned how to contain read-option quarterbacks, and several other quarterbacks who entered the NFL at the same time who were reckoned to be read-option threats are either out of the NFL (Pat White), trying to change positions (Terrelle Pryor) or hanging on by a thread (Robert Griffin III). There is no sign of any significant read-option play-calling in normal game situations in the NFL at present, although there may be one or two gadget plays called in critical game situations.
A bigger question is whether the difference between college football and the NFL is becoming too great for many college quarterbacks to thrive in the NFL. I have not performed any analysis, but it seems that an increasing number of quarterbacks from top-flight college programs are, in some cases, not even being considered by NFL teams. Usually, they are hybrid quarterbacks who also run with the ball. They do not match the prototypical NFL quarterback profile of the tall stand-in-the-pocket general, which is still the preferred operating mode of a league that is, at its heart, very risk-averse. A good example is Blake Sims, who despite appearing in a college title game last season for Alabama, is now bouncing around the CFL, having been briefly considered and rejected by 2 NFL teams as an undrafted free agent, not even playing as a quarterback.
The fact that it has taken NFL teams the best part of 10 years to take Kevin Kelley’s Paluxy Academy possession football approach seriously tells you all you need to know about the innate conservatism of the NFL. There is a reason why many football fans prefer college and high school football, and it has a lot to do with more open and exciting play-calling.
I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that a lot of NFL head coaches and offensive co-ordinators are “system guys”, who try to sign players to fit their system, rather than maximizing a player’s unique skills. But…the fact that the two NFL coaches least likely to pursue a “system” approach, Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly, both spent a fair amount of time evaluating Tim Tebow and decided not to use him in an NFL season, is not exactly flattering to Tebow.

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That long running NFL deflation saga

A few quick words about the Deflation saga (No, I refuse to use a word including a suffix word beginning with G. That is so…1970’s).
A judge today vacated the 4 game suspension imposed on Tom Brady and, in the process, excoriated and dismissed most of the NFL’s arguments in its pleadings.
Some quick points:
1. Roger Goodell is not going to be fired…yet. He works for the NFL’s owners, and he will leave only when they decide they want somebody else to be the Commissioner. However, it is clear that some owners are apprehensive and concerned about the clearly negative PR impact of the saga.
2. Despite his occasional attempts to portray himself as neutral in matters of discipline and punishment, Goodell is not neutral. See (1) above
3. If Tom Brady’s suspension has been vacated, then the future draft picks removed from the New England Patriots ought to be restored also. It seems fundamentally unfair that the team’s quarterback’s punishment has been vacated, but the team’s punishment has not been vacated.
4. Despite the NFL’s insistence that they will appeal, they have not asked for a stay. I suspect that this is partly because they know they are unlikely to get one (if you have just been told that your arguments are mostly steaming brown fertilizer, the reaction to an application for a stay is likely to be either laughter or a GTFOOMC), but also partly because they realize that, with the season about to begin, the focus needs to be on playing games, not arguing about player discipline. NBC, Fox, ESPN et al are paying for the product on the pitch, not the behind-scenes wrangling. I expect the NFL are appealing because they can, not because they feel they have any chance of success
5. The NFL has now been slapped around the head over three recent disciplinary matters; Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and now the deflation saga. (We must also not forget the earlier decision by Paul Tagliabue to vacate a number of punishments for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.)
6. The domino effect of this result will be felt from this point forward, with players who have been disciplined by the NFL very likely to threaten or actually take the NFL to court to get suspensions and fines overturned. The credibility of the entire NFL disciplinary process is somewhere between zero and diddly squat at present.
There are some bigger underlying dynamics that have only occasionally been discussed in the media:
1. The NFL has a labor agreement, but it does not have labor peace. The owners bailed early on the last CBA, which was negotiated by Paul Tagliabue and the late Gene Upshaw, because they decided that it was too favorable to the players. They then hoarded cash and hard-line owners made it clear that they would support a lock-out if they did not get what they wanted from a new CBA. The new CBA is more favorable to the owners, and the NFL players know that and resent it. One way in which it is more favorable is the provision for the Commissioner to dispense discipline as he sees fit. This is an easy target for the players to fire at, partly because of the recent extent to which Goodell has used his disciplinary powers to sanction players for perceived bad behavior under the current CBA, but also because the players can fight individual instances of player discipline whenever they occur. They have no recourse over the rest of the CBA, which has no opt-out clauses on either side, and runs until the end of the 2020 season.
2. By all accounts, Goodell’s actions on discipline have been consistently supported by a group of hard-line owners who believe that the NFL should be able to impose pretty much any sort of discipline it sees fit. Those owners (who are, for the most part, elderly rich guys used to getting their way in life) are the ones leading the get-tough approach. Now that the NFL has been slapped around the head in court, it will be interesting to see if the hard-line faction loses influence, or whether they dig in. Ultimately, Roger Goodell will do what the majority of owners want him to do. If he fails to do their bidding, he will be replaced, although there is no obvious successor waiting, unlike when Paul Tagliabue was Commissioner, when Goodell was the heir-apparent for several years, and his accession to Commissioner after Tagliabue’s retirement was one of the most obvious worst-kept secrets in sports.

The net result is exemplified by De Maurice Smith’s quote from Profootball Talk:

“Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.””

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