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As a journalist who has consistently experienced the wrath of Tebow Nation — mostly for passing along the slings and arrows voiced by various NFL players, coaches and talent-evaluators — I'm well aware that many devotees of the world's most celebrated unemployed quarterback carry a heavy persecution complex.
Yet as Tim Tebow's career wheezes to an underwhelming halt, with less apparent interest in his services than Massachusetts funeral parlors have in Tamerlan Tsarnaev's remains, something strange is happening. Against all odds, I'm starting to wonder whether the man who helped the Denver Broncos become one of the league's most stunning success stories in 2011 is getting unjustly blackballed.
Nine days after Tebow was released by the New York Jets, it has become increasingly clear that the ultra-popular quarterback who has hijacked many a news cycle has no viable landing spot. No NFL team seems to want him — as a starter, backup, converted H-back or fake-punt decoy — and it's not like he's fending off big-money offers from Canada, either.
Now, here's the interesting part: Tebowmania is at least partly to blame.
As much as prospective employers are wary of Tebow's flawed mechanics, much-maligned throwing motion or deficiencies when it comes to reading defenses, the incessant media and fan attention that accompanies his presence on the depth chart is an even bigger concern.
"He seems like a great guy to have on a team, and I'd be tempted to bring him in as our backup," one NFC head coach told me Wednesday. "But it's just not worth dealing with all the stuff that comes with it."
In a business in which coaches and general managers strive to avoid distractions, Tebow, as one NFC offensive coordinator told me last spring, carries more of a stigma than Terrell Owens.
Or, in the words of one AFC head coach to whom I spoke recently: "You don't want to put up with the circus."
Given that his presence in the Jets' locker room coincided with a Benzini Brothers-style disaster of a 2012 season — and provoked controversial comments from teammates on various sides of the Tebow vs. Mark Sanchez spectrum along the way — it's easy to understand why some teams are shying away from Tebow.
But all of them, in a league in which guys like Ryan Lindley, Chandler Harnish and Matt Blanchard have jobs?
It's as if Tebow is the unwanted love child of Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell.
So, even though I sort of understand why Tebow is toxic, the fact that he's not even being given a chance to compete for a third-string job is troublesome. And just as I feel compelled to call out the league when it comes to injustices like the dearth of minorities in offensive play-calling roles, the apparent blacklisting of a quarterback who went 7-4 as a starter in 2011 and won a memorable playoff game over the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't seem kosher to me.
Tebow, by all accounts, is a hard worker who radiates a relentlessly positive attitude. He has obvious leadership qualities and, as Broncos fans, 2011 opponents and "Saturday Night Live" aficionados alike can attest, an uncanny knack for getting the stars to align in his favor. (Or, perhaps, his deep Christian faith really does translate into things like Marion Barber inexplicably running out of bounds in high altitude. After the weirdness I witnessed that season, I'm not ruling anything out.)
Clearly, even after shredding what was then the NFL's top-ranked defense for 316 passing yards in that Jan. 2012 playoff triumph, Tebow still has some serious refinement to do in order to bring his game to NFL-starter standards. That was evident in his final game with the Broncos, a lopsided playoff defeat to the New England Patriots.
What I can't understand is why no NFL team has enough faith in Tebow's upside to see if he's capable of pulling it off.
Since that defeat to the Patriots, the guy has been treated as dismissively as Kent Dorfman in the opening scene of "Animal House".
Broncos executive vice president John Elway couldn't wait to rid himself and his franchise of the Tebow phenomenon, using the pursuit of Peyton Manning as a means of solving that problem while, in his words, bringing "hope" to the locker room.
Jets coach Rex Ryan never seemed comfortable with Tebow, talking him up as a change-of-pace for struggling starter Sanchez and instilling him as the up-back on the punt team but essentially showing very little enthusiasm for giving him the ball.
"I don't understand what the Jets did," the AFC coach says. "You have to have a plan for him, but they had no idea what they were doing. I do think they were shocked how bad he looked in practice and in the preseason … how bad his accuracy was. But why make the trade for the guy if you're not clear on how to use his abilities?"
Isn't there a coach out there who can help Tebow get the most out of his abilities? Logic would suggest that someone with his level of commitment would be a strong candidate for improvement.
It may have already happened: After Tebow was released by the Jets, one of the franchise's former quarterbacks, Vinny Testaverde, expressed his disappointment to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini. Testaverde, who had just spent a week working with Tebow in Florida, said he and another ex-NFL quarterback, Chris Weinke, made a key footwork adjustment that produced noticeable results.
"Chris and I looked at Tim careful and we were both amazed," Testaverde told Cimini. "Everybody has been focusing on his throwing motion, trying to fix that, but nobody had picked up his footwork. His footwork was all screwed up …
"We got his footwork fixed. His throwing motion is now a non-issue. He throws with what we call 'effortless power.' He doesn't have that elongated motion anymore and his head isn't moving two-and-a-half feet when he throws it."
Referring to the Jets' coaches, Testaverde added, "I think they would have been impressed if they had compared this year to last year."
Instead, Tebow is metaphorically throwing into the wind, and it's a cold, heartless squall.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who'd expressed interest in trading for the local hero before the Jets made the deal with Denver last year, said "no thanks" more quickly than Phil Jackson turned down the Brooklyn Nets' coaching job. Instead, newly hired general manager Dave Caldwell decided to stick with the embattled Blaine (Don't Call Me "Blame") Gabbert.
First-year Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, who told me in advance of the 2010 draft that "in the right environment… Tim Tebow can develop into being an elite quarterback in the NFL," apparently doesn't believe that Halas Hall qualifies — or couldn't convince general manager Phil Emery otherwise.
And while there's plenty of media chatter that Tebow could land with the Patriots (whose offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, was the man behind the Broncos' decision to draft Tebow in the first round), my organizational sources tell me that's very unlikely to happen, with one going so far as to say that Coach Bill Belichick "hates" Tebow as a player. As for the prospect of employing Tebow as a change-of-pace quarterback — and asking Tom Brady to come off the field in those situations — the source says, "No chance. Plus they wouldn't like the circus that comes with it."
Ah, yes — there's that word again. And, of course, it's highly regrettable that the excitement Tebow provokes has negatively impacted his ability to earn another opportunity to, you know, provoke more excitement.
The circus isn't Tebow's fault, though some former teammates have speculated as to the possible passive-aggressive nature of his actions, such as refusing to disavow a billboard clamoring for him to replace then-Broncos starter Kyle Orton.
And while many of Tebow's fervent supporters may, in fact, be well-meaning, folks like Florida attorney John Morgan — who recently created a video imploring the Jaguars to sign the quarterback — are actually doing him a disservice.
Can you hear the Tebowphiles, chanting in the background? All we are saying … is give Tim a chance.
And is it possible — scarily — that I'm singing along?
Right now, pro-football powerbrokers don't seem to be listening, and that's their prerogative. No man, even one as revered in some quarters as Tebow, has a divine right to wear an NFL uniform. This is a highly competitive sport, performed at its highest level, and players with strong credentials and promising starts to their careers get bounced out of the league with regularity.
This time, however, there's a glaring difference. In virtually every other case, the once-prominent player who washes out does so after flailing on the field, and/or getting into trouble off the field.
Since playing in a pair of playoff games 16 months ago, Tebow, whose only off-the-field baggage comes in the form of his cult-like following and the media frenzy it provokes, hasn't been afforded the opportunity to show that he sucks.
It's certainly possible that he's simply not up to NFL standards, and never will be, but wouldn't it be nice to get some conclusive proof before this story comes to a meek and unfulfilling close?
If you're a franchise like the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers or Carolina Panthers — teams with young, athletic quarterbacks who should absolutely feel secure in their starting roles — wouldn't you think about bringing in Tebow as a similarly mobile backup?
Something tells me that the people running these teams — like those in charge of 29 others — have already considered and rejected the possibility. That's not fair, but that seems to be the way it is.
And sadly, the persecution complex shared by so many of Tebow's fervent supporters seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
NFL.com video on Florida attorney discussing Tim Tebow commercial:
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