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.