There was no way John Elway was going to commit to Tim Tebow. That should have been clear all those afternoons during the Denver Broncos' run to the AFC West title when the fans roared, Tebow put his fist on his forehead and the team president scowled.
The signs were there, screaming loudly, when coach John Fox was given chance after chance to declare Tebow the team's quarterback next season, yet refused each time. Even Elway's tepid enthusiasm at season's end – seen as an endorsement – was actually anything but.
"Well I think Tim has earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp," he declared, careful to say nothing about what would happen after that.
Now, with Peyton Manning having signed with Denver, Tebow likely won't even make camp. He's damaged goods, marked for sale and thrown into a bargain bin, available to whatever NFL team wants to send a low-round draft pick and a tackling dummy for the right to take Tebow away.
Such is the price of sensations these days.
The market for Tebow will not be robust. Perhaps it would be easier for him to find a job if he was an ordinary Heisman-winning quarterback with a wonderful college pedigree but suspect accuracy and a game coaches still do not believe is made for the NFL. But Tebow comes with a devoted fan base of Christians and lovers of the underdog alike. They will not sit quiet as their hero languishes on the bench.
Any quarterback competition Tebow is thrown into will be a fiasco. It is not the situation for a new coach, or a coach who sits uneasy in his job. Tebow's arrival in almost any NFL city will be as much of an internal disaster as a public relations boon.
This is why it's hard to imagine Tebow in his hometown of Jacksonville, where new coach Mike Mularkey is supposed to be trying to establish Blaine Gabbert, the team's top draft pick from last year, as the franchise quarterback. The last thing he or Gabbert need is a camp battle with Tebow where Tebow fans push for their man every time Gabbert makes a mistake.
It's also difficult to imagine new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin rushing to throw Tebow into the lineup while trying to build a program in Miami.
Most likely, Tebow winds up as a reserve in a place like New England or New Orleans, where a clever coach can find ways to use him, giving Tebow fans something to savor while not damaging locker room chemistry.
But what kind of player will they be getting?
What NFL people should realize is that regardless of the doubts they had about Tebow going into the draft two years ago, he is a far more polished player now. He has always had an ability to dazzle with his knowledge. Denver coaches and executives in the Broncos room at the draft combine in 2010 were stunned by his ability to not only break down his offense at the University of Florida but theirs too … and San Diego's and New England's. They said they had never seen a college quarterback do such a thing.
No player spent as much time studying either. When he finally left the Broncos practice facility to go home at night, Tebow carried with him stacks of DVDs of different offenses that he would watch over and over, often calling his coaches several times at night to ask about things he noticed on the screen. He worked for hours before and during practice on his footwork, based on the Elway belief that if he had the proper balance he would make more accurate throws.
"He made great strides both mentally and physically," Broncos quarterback coach Adam Gase said two days after the season. "You could actually see it from game to game. You would say, 'Oh, there's a little improvement.' "
Those who have worked with Tebow say he is really obsessed with one thing: getting better. Now he has a playoff run and a playoff win with a bullet pass for a touchdown on the first play of overtime. He also has two years of tutoring under the Bronco coaching staff, which worked tirelessly on his footwork.
Eventually somebody will take Tebow. It probably won't be for much and there won't be much of a chance for him to start. But regardless of how little Elway values him, Tebow is a much better player today than he was in the summer of 2010 and he has the experience of taking a team deep into January. That is worth something.
And it is why even after he is dumped by the Broncos for whatever little they can get, we won't have heard the last of Tim Tebow.
He will be back.
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