A little more than three years after being a first-round draft pick and a sprinkling of highlights later, Tim Tebow's NFL career is at a crossroads.
And maybe this is the best thing that could happen to him.
The New York Jets waived Tim Tebow on Monday morning, announcing the move in a two-paragraph, 138-word statement that was simple and direct. The irony of that was thick.
Nothing about Tebow is simple and direct. Heck, Skip Bayless, who turned Tebow into a cottage industry for himself, would just be getting warmed up in 138 words.
The argument over whether Tebow can actually play is not simple and direct. People who understand player development run headlong into the Tebowites who point to his winning record with the Denver Broncos in 2011 (8-5, including the playoffs).
Heck, nothing about the way Tebow throws the ball is simple and direct.
But what's disregarded about Tebow by so many people on both sides of the debate: He has the physical tools to play in the NFL, but not enough of the training required to do it. That's why Tebow can look great at times and look lost at others.
And that's why the high and low points of his career are separated by all of a week. In the 2011 NFL playoffs, Tebow played one of the most memorable games in league history, beating the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in seemingly miraculous fashion, passing for 316 yards and putting an exclamation mark on the moment. The blitzing, hyper-aggressive Steelers (who were playing with an inexperienced backup safety) played right into Tebow's greatest strength – the ability to look good in chaotic situations.
A week later, the Broncos played against the New England Patriots, a team that was almost comically bad on defense at the time. Instead, the Patriots made Tebow look like he needed to go back to Nease High in Jacksonville for remedial work. The Patriots played the simplest two-deep zone that you could imagine, refusing to blitz him until he broke the pocket. The result was a 9-of-26, 136-yard passing performance along with only 13 yards rushing on five carries.
This was the kind of game where even an average NFL quarterback would have thrown for 300 yards, as one AFC coach said a month later. Granted, that quarterback still would have lost to the Patriots and Tom Brady, but that's not the point. This was yet another illustration that Tebow isn't ready to play conventional NFL football and he's not quick enough to play read-option all the time.
Tebow can't read defenses. He can't explain the differences between two-deep, three-deep and zero coverage, much less see them. He was never trained to do that at Florida by Urban Meyer (not that it was Meyer's responsibility to teach him; it was Meyer's responsibility to win).
Blame that reality on whatever you want. It could be the fact that Tebow is dyslexic. Coaches and players who were with him in Denver say that Tebow would get to the line and immediately lose track of the play call from the huddle in the jumble of what he was told and what he saw across the line.
It could be that he played in funky offenses in high school and college that didn't teach him. He was almost never under center at either level and his high school offense featured him lining up almost in punt formation on each play, giving him an unreal amount of time to read the defense.
Ultimately, Tebow needed a plan if he was going to succeed in the NFL. He needed to sit for a couple of years and be schooled on the subtleties of the game, on reading coverages and other nuances.
That never happened. When former Denver coach Josh McDaniels traded up into the first round to draft the quarterback in 2010, the wrong message was sent to Tebow. The message was that Tebow was OK as is, that all his problems as a player were of little consequence. By God, he was going to make it.
Since then, everything has fallen apart. McDaniels, who quickly realized his mistake with Tebow,, was fired later in 2010. In 2011, the coaching staff under John Fox found a way to trick it up for an 8-8 finish and a playoff berth out of the lousy AFC West.
Tebow was then traded to New York, where the Jets' coaching staff got scared after seeing what an awful practice player he is. Now comes the release.
Unraveling how Tebow got here is like peeling the layers of an onion … it's just that the onion in this case is the width of a 400-year-old redwood tree.
But the tale of Tebow is irrelevant. What matters now is that Tebow take stock of what he is and what he isn't. If he wants to make it in the NFL, he needs to change. He needs to learn the game. He needs to become a backup at some team that has an established quarterback, like New Orleans or New England.
He also needs to stop being a media presence. Tebow is a wonderful human being: polite, gentle, compassionate and giving. But he also never met a camera he didn't like. He wants to be a public figure so that he can spread the gospel he believes in.
That's fine and it's even OK that he has used football to do it. However, he is now at a point where being in the public eye detracts from his ability to make it as a football player. Teams don't like the sideshow Tebow brings. The Jets tried to trade him this offseason and found no takers.
Nobody was willing to give up anything for Tebow, but they might still take him.
Particularly if he's willing to take stock of what he is and what he isn't.
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