New England Patriots quarterback Tim Tebow survived the first round of roster cuts this week. Will he make it to the beginning of the regular season?
Tebow was among the team’s most prominent offseason acquisitions. The sports press buzzed with questions. Would he be converted to tight end or used as a running back? Was the wildcat coming to Foxboro? Will Tebow be Tom Brady’s long-term successor?
Just as quickly as the media attention came, it subsided. Soon there were bigger issues. Tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested on murder charges. Several young wide receivers flourished in training camp. Brady had a health scare when an opposing player hit his knee during a scrimmage.
Bill Belichick was masterful at controlling the circus-like media environment that follows Tebow wherever he goes. But the emergence of other stories that took precedence over the identity of the Patriots’ third-string quarterback helped too.
Can Tebow make the final roster? The Patriots have carried three quarterbacks just once in the last four seasons, though that number was the norm for the early Brady-Belichick era. Tebow’s status is a hotly debated topic among local fans.
Barring one of his miraculous performances in tonight’s fourth and final exhibition game, the case against Tebow is straightforward: he has so far had a lackluster preseason at best. He has led just one scoring drive, a 1-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount. He hasn’t found the end zone by himself as a passer or runner.
In fact, Tebow has completed just 26.3 percent of his passes this preseason. He was 4 of 12 on his best outing. In his second game, he completed just one pass and threw for negative yardage. He didn’t play at all in the third game, raising questions that his roster spot might be in jeopardy.
Tebow has been a respectable runner, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He is running a different offense than Brady or backup Ryan Mallett. But in live game situations, he isn’t improving either his accuracy or his reads. If anything, he is regressing.
The case for Tebow is a bit more complicated. The first argument is that the team is in need of high-character players in the locker room and some good PR. Rolling Stone has published an article — co-written by local Patriots-hater Ron Borges — about the Hernandez debacle that is highly critical of Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.
Although they were college teammates, Tebow is the anti-Hernandez. He is a devout Christian who does good works for others. He is by all accounts a hard worker and good leader. And he might help the team’s image in the community, where it has taken a hit this summer.
Second, Tebow is only the third-string quarterback and he should be judged accordingly. No matter what your views are on him as a starter, he has to be one of the top third-stringers in the league. Are there any others with a winning record after 14 NFL starts? Or with a playoff win?
Most teams would be doomed with their third quarterback in the game and perhaps the Patriots with Tebow would be no different. But if both Brady and Mallett went down in a game, would you rather see Tebow jog onto the field or some non-quarterback — probably wide receiver Julian Edelman, who played the position in college — under center? The Patriots will likely either retain Tebow or carry just two quarterbacks.
Third, even if Tebow is a suspect passer, he is one of the more successful read-option quarterbacks in the league. With that style of offense proliferating, New England’s defense is going to need to know how to counteract it. Who better to prepare them for the likes of Cam Newton than Tebow, running the scout team?
Fans who don’t want to see Tebow make the team bemoan the roster spot that could go to another skill player. But whose spot would he be taking exactly? As most roster projections show, the team could keep Tebow and still carry six wide receivers — counting special teams aces Matthew Slater — and five running backs.
If Tebow was released, the team could keep an extra tight end without keeping Rob Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform list. Otherwise, the team will have to make due with two healthy tight ends while Gronk recuperates or keep three but keep their best player at the position unavailable until Week 6.
But the Patriots would likely have to release that extra tight end, or some other player, to make room for Gronkowski come Week 6. To PUP or not to PUP is an important but separate question.
So does New England have room for a third-string option who can contribute on special teams? Does Belichick have a plan for Tim Tebow? And can the young man make the most of his final preseason opportunity?
The Patriots ended Tebow’s last miracle run in 2011. Will this time be differently? It won’t be long until we find out.