The most polarizing player in the NFL has now joined forces with the league’s most controversial coach. The New England Patriots’ surprise signing of quarterback Tim Tebow has haters hating and speculators speculating.
How will Bill Belichick use Tebow? We’re talking about the coach who deployed linebacker Mike Vrabel as a tight end to score receiving touchdowns, played wide receivers Troy Brown and Julian Edelman as defensive backs, had running back Kevin Faulk complete passes to quarterback Tom Brady, and let tight end Aaron Hernandez run the football.
Thus there is buzz that Tebow will be converted to tight end or H-back, despite initial reports that the former Heisman trophy winner will remain at his position.
ESPN AFC East blogger James Walker popped off about the pickup being a sign of “desperation” from a team with too much offensive turnover. Walker concluded piously, “New England took yet another step backward on Monday.”
By signing a third-string quarterback with a playoff victory on his résumé?
It will be interesting to see what Tebow can do for New England. But the real story is what the Patriots can do for Tebow.
Lost in all the headlines about “Tebowing” is this: Tebow is a talented athlete with high moral character and good leadership ability but a mechanically flawed quarterback who struggles with accuracy and NFL-caliber defenses.
Tebow’s career completion percentage is 47.9 percent. Even during his 2011 miracle run in Denver, which saw the team secure a playoff berth by winning a weak division, he was completing just 46.5 percent of his passes. A strong arm and fast legs cannot give an NFL quarterback long-term success when he is connecting on fewer than half his pass attempts.
Paired with a capable defense, Tebow’s big-play ability is good enough to win close -- and frequently low-scoring -- games. But he can’t keep up with more proficient offenses, especially when opposing defenses force him to stay in the pocket.
New England exposed this in brutal fashion during a playoff game against Tebow. They limited him to just 13 rushing yards while he completed 34.6 percent of his passes. The final score was 45-10, Patriots.
What Tebow needs is a team that will try to develop him as a passer, not just harness his natural athleticism for the week’s game plan. What’s happened so far in his career is that teams either embrace him as a gadget player or fail to use him entirely.
John Fox, coaching for his job, revamped Denver’s offense to accommodate Tebow’s limited skills. But he didn’t do anything to improve Tebow as a player. Rex Ryan of the inscrutable New York Jets didn’t do anything with Tebow at all, other than attempt to use him as a motivational tool for hapless starting signal-caller Mark Sanchez.
As aging diva receiver Terrell Owens has learned, NFL teams are loath to put up with a media circus for a player who isn’t going to start. Tebow as a developmental prospect attracts the wrong publicity-to-playing time ratio while embroiling borderline starters like Sanchez and Kyle Orton in counterproductive quarterback controversies.
Unless Brady experiences a huge drop-off in performance after his 36th birthday, there won’t be much of a quarterback controversy between Tebow and the future Hall of Famer. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the coach who drafted Tebow and will be invested in his development. And the tight-lipped Belichick loves to rain on the media’s parade.
If the reclamation project doesn’t work, New England can simply part ways with Tebow like they did previous failed experiments Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. Even Randy Moss was run out of town once he wore out his welcome.
Tebow isn’t guaranteed to make the team. With injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the team is likely to invest in depth at tight end. With so much uncertainty at the position, they probably can’t afford to carry fewer than five pure wide receivers, not counting near-roster-lock special teamer Matthew Slater. So carrying three quarterbacks -- Ryan Mallett isn’t going anywhere without the team receiving compensation -- may be a luxury the Patriots cannot afford.
Belichick would certainly love the sight of Tebow spiking the ball in the end zone like Gronk 2.0, after some trick play designed to prove the rest of the NFL wrong. The Patriots could use a new offensive star in lieu of Wes Welker.
But it isn’t the Hoodie who has the opportunity to revive his career here. The man with the most to gain from this unlikely pairing is Tebow.