There aren’t many lukewarm takes on Jacksonville’s decision to bring former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in for camp as a tight end. Most fans of the NFL are either ecstatic to see him back in an NFL uniform or they find the move laughable.
Florida Times-Union columnist Gene Frenette, however, presents a middle ground. In his latest column, he attempts to dispel three narratives about Tebow that he claims to be false. We’ll go through them one by one.
First, he claims it isn’t a publicity stunt since coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence are enough of a marketing factor already. Fair enough, but it stands to reason Frenette wrote the column before Tebow’s jersey reached the top five in sales for the entire NFL shop. Not a publicity stunt, eh?
Look, if the demand for Tebow’s jersey is there, of course the team is going to profit off it. But it also doesn’t do much to reassure fans that the signing was made for purely meritocratic reasons.
His second false narrative is the idea Tebow is taking a roster spot away from a more deserving tight end. Frenette says this isn’t the case because the roster is already at 90 players. This is true, but it is still hard to imagine any unsigned undrafted free-agent tight end would have worse odds of making the team than Tebow.
The final narrative he debunks is Tebow is brought in to ease the pressure on Lawrence, calling that idea “laughable.” No arguments here, though I’m not sure if anyone earnestly making that point. Experimenting with Tebow at a position of major need is completely independent of the development of Lawrence. The two aren’t related, at all.
Though Frenette initially addresses some of the criticism levied against Tebow, Meyer and the Jaguars, he is far from sold on the idea that Tebow is going to work in Jacksonville. He spoke with former Jags tight end Kyle Brady, who made the switch from receiver in high school, and he said that making the switch now, nine years removed from being on a 53-man roster, will be quite a challenge.
“The difficulty for Tim comes not just in the fact he hasn’t played football for as long as he has, but it wasn’t the position he’s now trying to play,” Brady said. “I don’t envision him being a hand-in-the-dirt tight end, I envision him being more of an H-back, which means he has to block a lot.
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“It can take years to develop the mastery of those skills. More power to him. He has the work ethic to come in shape and understand the concept of the plays as a former quarterback, so that’ll be an advantage. The difficulty is going to come in mastering the skills (of tight end).
“Other guys have years of muscle memory. It’s like he’s going in there as a beginning belt, whatever color that is, and sparring with black belts. That’s what someone who plays in the box does. They’re masters of hand skills and balance and making contact with someone. Athleticism is huge. Playing quarterback, you’re not working on those skills. When you’re a beginner (at a new position), no matter what the arena is, that doesn’t usually end well.”
However, Brady also says the Jaguars don’t have much to lose by bringing him on. Aside from whatever media attention follows Tebow, he said Jacksonville isn’t assuming much risk. After all, the team can release him at any time, and if he’s not good enough to make the team, the Jags will almost certainly find a rookie to replace him considering the rookie minimum salary is just $660,000, compared to the veteran minimum (Tebow’s deal) which costs $330,000 more.
“From the Jaguars’ perspective, I think it’s a risk-less proposition,” Brady said. “Sure, because of all the attention he gets, there’s still a little bit of a circus that follows him and that can be distracting to some people. The fact he plays a less visible position probably helps to a degree. But I can guarantee you Urban Meyer is going to take the approach that if you can’t contribute on game day, he’s not going to make the 53-man roster.”
Tebow still has some factors working in his favor though. For one, as Frenette points out, he has practice squad eligibility. Jacksonville could potentially keep him there for a salary of just $14,000 a week. Tebow’s also in phenomenal shape, which helps his case.
Meyer has said the coaching staff raved about him after his workouts with the team, and Brady affirmed that Tebow looked to be in playing shape when he last saw him, saying he looked like someone you would see in a tight end or linebacker room.
The decision to sign Tebow has obviously been a polarizing one. But the Jaguars have very little risk tied up in the decision, and if it pays off, they’ll solve one of their biggest remaining depth weaknesses.