NEPD Contributor: Dan Hope
The New England Patriots’ decision to sign Tim Tebow is drawing plenty of criticism, but it shouldn’t be.
Signing Tebow makes sense. It comes with virtually no risk, and the Patriots get a third-string quarterback with proven success as an NFL starter and unusual versatility.
The worst-case scenario? If Tebow fails to make the roster, the Patriots will have no financial liability to him, and life will go on without him.
Tebowmania re-emerged in the NFL on Monday, when ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Tebow would sign with the Patriots. The move became official Tuesday, when Tebow participated in the first day of the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp.
The criticism is understandable. The Patriots did not need Tebow. They already have one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks in Tom Brady and a talented young backup quarterback in Ryan Mallett.
Meanwhile, Tebow brought little more than overwhelming media attention to the New York Jets last season. He stole headlines throughout the year even though he threw just eight total passes for the season. Furthermore, he is a historically-inaccurate passer (47.9 career completion percentage) with an unconventional throwing motion.
That said, Tebow enters a much better situation with the Patriots than he had with the Jets. The factors that set him up for disaster in the Big Apple will not be present in New England.
The Jets may have never intended to start Tebow, but they brought Tebow into a quarterback situation that was already unstable and became increasingly less stable. As incumbent starter Mark Sanchez struggled through a career-worst season (54.3 completion percentage, 13-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio), a firestorm of media and fans developed, questioning why Tebow never got an opportunity to start.
Tebow enters a fully-stable quarterback situation in New England. With Brady and Mallett already entrenched in the depth chart, Tebow’s place on the quarterback depth chart—third-string—makes him unlikely to take any meaningful snaps as the Patriots’ signal-caller in 2013. Adding Tebow will create no quarterback controversy unless Brady suffers an injury, in which case having Tebow on the roster would give the Patriots the depth they need anyways.
The media circus that unfolded with the Jets won’t happen with the Patriots, either. The Jets fed fuel to the firestorm by hosting an introductory press conference for Tebow’s acquisition. They also have one of the NFL’s most talkative coaches in Rex Ryan.
The red carpet wasn’t pulled out for Tebow’s arrival in Foxborough. Bill Belichick was his vintage self when he met with the media Tuesday. He deflected every Tebow question set up for a juicy answer, and after approximately three-and-a-half minutes of nothing but Tebow questions, he put a stop on answering Tebow questions altogether.
You can watch the video of Belichick’s press conference below, courtesy of Big Lead Sports:
Throngs of media from throughout the nation arrived in Foxborough on Tuesday to cover Tebow’s arrival, but the Patriots didn’t cave in and allow a circus to happen. Instead, Tebow gave only a 35-second statement and took no questions, which was undoubtedly the result of a team mandate to deflect media attention.
As long as the Patriots can continue to successfully limit unwanted media attention, Tebow’s signing comes with no drawbacks and no risk. Tebow’s contract with the Patriots is a two-year deal at the league minimum with no guaranteed money, according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer. That contract makes him a cheap third-string quarterback option if he makes the roster, but will leave the Patriots no financial liability if he doesn’t make the roster.
A (Preseason) Roster Upgrade
Tim Tebow may not be a great NFL passer, but the Patriots aren’t bringing him in to start like he did in Denver in 2011. Even so, Tebow has a proven track record of success at least as it translates to victories, with 9-7 career record as a starter that includes one playoff victory.
Tebow has a proven ability to put together clutch late-game drives. His nine victories include six fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives, according to Pro Football Reference. He has a season of starting experience under his belt, and is also a dual-threat quarterback who can make plays with his legs in addition to his arm (though he is not spectacular at either).
Criticize Tebow’s game as a quarterback all you want, but he has an impressive pedigree for a third-string quarterback. He is a roster upgrade over Mike Kafka, who was released by the Patriots Monday presumably to be replaced by Tebow.
Tebow is unlikely to challenge Mallett for the No. 2 quarterback job, but his experience could come in handy for the Patriots. To have depth in position should an injury occur to Brady, it certainly does not hurt to have another quarterback with playoff starting experience on the roster.
Much of the disgust Tebow receives from analysts comes from the unconventionality of his success. If you take a look at his simple passing statistics or break down his throwing mechanics, he looks like a quarterback who doesn’t belong in the NFL. That doesn’t take away the fact that he’s had success, and even after a massive speed bump in New York in 2012, there is no reason he can’t have further success.
Tebow also brings some unique skills to the position that Kafka does not. He may only be on the roster for the preseason, as the Patriots could decide to keep just two quarterbacks as they did last year. His versatility, however, could make him worth a roster spot when the Patriots may otherwise not keep a third-string quarterback.
Belichick’s love of versatile players is well-noted, so it should come as no surprise that Tebow’s game would be endearing to Belichick. Tebow may not be a great pure pocket passer, but he does have rare versatility for the quarterback position.
Tebow has good size, listed at 6’3” and 236 pounds, and is a powerful, physical runner with the ball in his hands. As a result, Tebow could factor into the offense in an H-back role as a runner, pass-catcher out of the backfield and blocker.
Putting Tebow on the field could also create trick-play opportunities for the Patriots.
It is highly unlikely the Patriots would actually spell Brady’s snaps by using Tebow in Wildcat formations. It is very plausible, however, that the Patriots could find unique ways to get the ball into, and possibly back out of Tebow’s hands with a pass. The Patriots have a creative offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, who worked with Tebow for the majority of the 2010 season as Denver Broncos head coach. McDaniels’ Broncos selected Tebow in Round 1 of the 2010 NFL draft, but McDaniels was fired 12 games into the 2010 season.
Tebow also has experience playing on special teams, which is an unusual role for a quarterback, but one that fits Tebow. Tebow worked as an up back in punt protection last season occasionally for the Jets last season, and this is one more way he could get on the field for the Patriots.
A Good Move That Won’t Necessarily Help, But Also Won’t Hurt
Patriots fans should not get overly excited about the addition of Tebow. The Patriots only kept two quarterbacks on their roster last season, and Tebow is likely to be the odd man out if the Patriots only keep two again. Even if Tebow does make the 53-man roster as the third-string quarterback, his snaps are likely to come sparingly.
Painting this move as a mistake by the Patriots, however, doesn’t make sense of what the move is. Essentially, signing Tebow is the same as signing any fledgling free-agent quarterback to a short-term, non-guaranteed contract to compete for a roster spot and provide depth. Aside from the media attention that comes with signing the Heisman Trophy winner and former Denver Broncos starter, this is a minor roster move that should ultimately have little effect on the team’s play on the field.
Even as he minced words Tuesday, Belichick gave a fair assessment of Tebow, describing the quarterback as “a talented player who is smart and works hard.” Tebow has starting experience, unusual versatility for a quarterback and impresses with toughness and clutch play.
Tebow may be the most high-profile third-string quarterback the Patriots have ever had, but that is mostly a good thing. He has a more diverse skill set and more proven ability to lead an NFL offense than a typical third-string quarterback.