Bud approached me earlier this week with this piece from his friend, Jonathan Willis, a CFL writer and handicapper, about how Tim Tebow could actually succeed in the Canadian Football League, and so ... well, it's here now.
On Monday morning, the New York Jets cut ties with QB Tim Tebow, opening a Pandora's Box of speculation into the former Florida standout's future. Assuming Tebow remains steadfast in his refusal to switch positions to prolong his career in the NFL, his best available option is to try his luck north of the border, and follow in the footsteps of Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia, and Doug Flutie, using the Canadian Football League as a launching pad to get back to the NFL.
But can Tebow succeed in Canada? I think so.
To make it in the CFL, quarterbacks have to be either mobile or very accurate. If there's anything we know for sure, it's that Tim Tebow is not an accurate NFL quarterback. His 47.9% career completion rate is one of the lowest in the NFL in the modern era. Fortunately for Tebow, his mobility is one of his best qualities, and it would only be enhanced in a league with a field spanning 65 yards at its width. Plenty of quarterbacks have come to the CFL and succeeded with nothing more than their legs. Jarious Jackson, Darien Durant, and even the immortal Casey Printers made careers off of little more than their ability to scramble and make plays.
The windows in the CFL that quarterbacks throw into are also much larger than in the NFL. Tebow struggled to fit the ball into tight spaces in the NFL, and his prolongued delivery gave defenders a chance to break up his passes. In the CFL, that problem is greatly diminished. People not familiar with the league may think that accuracy is at a premium with only three downs to make 10 yards instead of four, but the intricacies of the Canadian game make it much easier to overcome the deficiency of a passer.
The wider field gives wide receivers more room to get open, and motion rules allow up to four players to sprint Ben Johnson-style to the line of scrimmage before the snap, putting defensive backs at a huge disadvantage to stay close to their man from a standstill. With these added luxuries, Tebow doesn't have to be as accurate as he would in the NFL. In many ways, the CFL would remind Tebow of his time in Gainesville, with receivers running wide open. This could be made particularly pronounced by Tebow's other great strength: Defenders will have to account for the threat of Tebow running, which could allow receivers to be even more wide open.
At bare minimum, Tebow would be a success in Canada based solely on his ability to execute the quarterback sneak at a high level. Because there is a one-yard neutral zone between the offensive and defensive lines in the CFL, going for it on third and 1 via the sneak is very common in Canada. Tebow clone Dan LeFevour, formerly of Central Michigan, is expected to perform this role for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats once he learns the quirks of the CFL, and there's little doubt that Tebow could have have a four- or five-year career based off of this attribute alone. Tebow would instantly be the best QB sneaker in the CFL. And in a higher-scoring league, maintaining possession and extending drives if of the utmost importance.
Will Tim Tebow get a chance in Canada? Probably not with the team currently holding his rights, the Montreal Alouettes. The Alouettes have one of the two or three best quarterbacks in CFL history with Anthony Calvillo, who just signed a two-year extension until the end of 2014. At best, Tebow would be the backup/QB sneak specialist in Montreal. Montreal's GM Jim Popp minced no words as to what Tebow's role might be this week, stating that he'd love for Tebow to come and compete for the backup job with the team; he'd previously been pessimistic on Tebow's chances of CFL success.
The most likely option, if Tebow chooses to go the Canadian route, is for the Alouettes to trade his rights to another team, as Tebow would have a strong chance to start for almost half of the CFL's eight teams. Saskatchewan is tired of the Darien Durant experience, Edmonton has never managed to fill its QB void after trading Ricky Ray, and Winnipeg will be in need of another QB, as its current starter is extremely injury-prone.
Tim Tebow has the tools to thrive in Canada, whether he knows it or not. Ricky Ray can't throw a sharp out route to save his life and he has thrived in Canada. Hank Burris was abysmal with the Chicago Bears and has been great up north since entering the league over a decade ago. Tebow can succeed in Canada in spite of his inaccuracy, and can work on refining his game if he swallows his pride and develops in the CFL. His natural athleticism can win him the starting job with one of the teams, and 400 or so pass attempts in live game action might be able to keep him from being remembered as the NFL's version of Chuck Knoblauch.
Tebow's ideal league is one that doesn't require throwing with anticipation or into tight windows, and which does value mobility and power running from the quarterback spot. That league is the CFL.