I've heard it often: "Give him a chance!"
That has been one of the refrains of Tim Tebow supporters during his exile — for lack of a better word — from the role of NFL starting quarterback, and probably the loudest one. Others include "He never got a fair shot!" and "He's being black-balled!"
And, if we're being honest, they're all false.
Tebow was taken with a first-round pick by a Denver Broncos franchise that had chewed up and spit out every quarterback in its post-John Elway history, and by a young coach who knew well that he was staking his future on Tebow being good. That alone is faith enough to be considered a chance, at least by some.
Of course, that coach, Josh McDaniels, never saw fit to go with Tebow in 2010, as the Broncos struggled to a 3-9 start that got him fired. Tebow went 1-2 as a starter under interim coach Eric Studesville, and though he was instrumental in the comeback that got them that lone win, he was fairly clearly the Broncos' second option at QB heading into the 2011 season under John Fox.
But Kyle Orton wasn't good enough early on to help the Broncos avoid a 1-4 start (against five teams that would finish 2011 with 8-8 records or better), and so Tebow was installed as Denver's starter after a bye week. That bye allowed the Broncos to begin tailoring their offense to Tebow's strengths — long bombs in the passing game and a running game with a liberal dose of read-option plays — and they began one of the more remarkable runs in NFL history.
Tebow helped the Broncos go 7-1 over their next eight games, with all but one of the wins coming by a touchdown or less, and all but two of the games featuring 18 or fewer points. And he got credit for being a "winner" and a "leader" by virtue of the Broncos' results, not his uneven play: Tebow had a quarterback rating of 95.4 or better in five of those games, and a rating of 68.4 or worse in the other three. (And none of the seven wins came against a team that would finish the year with a winning record, though four came against teams that finished 8-8.)
The Broncos would lose their last three games of the regular season, and got to host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs, where Tebow staged his famous "3:16 Game" against the league's No. 1 passing defense. But that was the height of Tebowmania at the NFL level, and that game — not the Broncos' 45-10 drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots in the divisional round, a game in which Tebow completed just nine of 26 passes and joined ignominious company by becoming the first NFL quarterback in almost 15 years to throw more than 20 passes and complete less than 35 percent of them in a playoff game — is what gets remembered by Tebow partisans. "He won a playoff game!" is more valuable supporting evidence, and more often trumpeted, than "His team got blown out in the next one!"
And while Tebow's career certainly had some promise at that point, he had the lowest completion percentage of any starting QB, and had led one of the league's worst offenses — one that got worse under Tebow, by going from scoring just over 20 points per game with Orton commanding it to under 20 points per game for the season. Since the Broncos made the playoffs despite scoring fewer than 20 points per game in 2011, only the 2014 Arizona Cardinals, also powered by a fantastic defense that made up for subpar offense, have repeated the feat.
So it was sensible for the Broncos to consider upgrading at quarterback in the 2012 offseason — especially given their inside track on Peyton Manning. Tebow almost certainly didn't want to stay in Denver after the Broncos successfully acquired the NFL's only four-time MVP, preferring a chance to start, and the Broncos knew he had value, so they shopped him, and — after doing something extraordinary, per Adam Schefter, by giving Tebow the chance to weigh in on where he would prefer to be shipped — traded him to the New York Jets.
After the coach who picked him in Denver failed to keep his job, the coach the Broncos picked chose Manning over Tebow — and that was arguably unfair to Tebow. But since then, Tebow's chosen his NFL path.
With the Jets, that path led nowhere. Having previously signed Mark Sanchez to a $40 million extension, the Jets were invested in a starter, and saw Tebow as a supplementary player from the outset. Tebow accepted the role, but struggled in it, and though the Jets choosing to start Greg McElroy over Tebow late in their lost 2012 season likely had more to do with the potential for blowback than any appreciable difference between the two players, it seemed that Tebow's time in the NFL was nearing an end.
Then, after being waived by the Jets, Tebow got one of the best lifelines a quarterback can get: A call from the New England Patriots, where his former coach, McDaniels, was once again Bill Belichick's offensive coordinator. The Patriots, under Belichick, had a superb track record for developing backup quarterbacks behind Tom Brady, a reputation for doing the unorthodox, and a penchant for taking Urban Meyer's Gators; surely, if any team could make something of Tebow, it would be the Patriots.
After completing just 11 of 30 passes in preseason action in 2013, Tebow's New England sojourn ended with him getting cut before the season began.
We can argue about whether Tebow had a "fair" chance of success in Denver, but that argument only works if his opportunities in 2010 and 2011 aren't assessed as "fair," which stretches the truth at best. And there's no doubt the Broncos made a rational decision to ship him out; under Manning, Denver has tied for the league's best record in each of the last three years, and made a Super Bowl. (The Broncos have also averaged more than 30 points per game in all three years, and set an NFL record for points in a season in 2013, averaging almost twice as many points per game as the 2011 Broncos did.)
We can also, perhaps, argue that Tebow didn't succeed in New York in part because he never got a "fair" shot to be the Jets' starting quarterback. But, well, Tebow himself "chose" the Jets when his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars remained in the mix of potential trade partners, and he had to have known about their commitment to Sanchez.
And there's no question that Tebow, as a free agent, had his fair chance to sign with any team that wanted him in 2013; he chose what many observers believed to be the best team for him, and still flamed out.
So, yes, Tim Tebow has had his chances to be an NFL quarterback. He's had opportunities. He's had choices. Unlike the vast, vast majority of NFL players, he's had loyal cheerleaders in the media and a legion of fans to keep his name percolating.
Giving him a chance is nothing new.
Yet while the chance to play for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia may be his last one, period, it also feels like Tebow's best chance of truly catching on.
Kelly is an unconventional quarterback guru: He's not primarily known for teaching and developing passers, specifically, but he's had success with a very wide range of quarterbacks in his system, including Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, and Marcus Mariota at Oregon, and Nick Foles, Michael Vick, and, yes, even Mark Sanchez in Philadelphia. (Sanchez's quarterback rating as an Eagle last year was his best in a season.)
About the only quarterback Kelly has had truly fail is Matt Barkley, who is now rumored to be expendable with the acquisition of Tebow as a potential third-stringer. If Philly (read: Kelly) wants extra warm bodies to use in hyper-speed, rep-heavy offseason camps, while presumptive starter Sam Bradford continues to recover from a torn ACL, it could certainly do worse than a guy who won a Heisman Trophy running the read option.
In fact, we can use some of the logic that buttressed arguments suggesting Kelly would target Mariota in the 2015 NFL Draft to argue for Tebow. Clearly, he's more mobile than Bradford, Sanchez, and Barkley, and he's a more experienced, bigger version of Tulsa product G.J. Kinne; if Kelly wants to have a quarterback who can credibly run the ball in a read-option offense, Tebow fits the bill. He's definitely not the thrower that Mariota is, even if his supposedly revamped throwing motion is newly hitch-free, and he's not as fast or as young as Mariota, but Tebow can definitely provide a different look at quarterback than the players the Eagles had on the roster.
And it would surprise few who have followed Kelly's career — and his thirst for maximizing efficiency in every possible way — if Tebow being brought in amounted to Kelly trying to get another edge on the NFL in the form of extra efficiency on two-point conversions. Kelly's Eagles led the league with eight two-point attempts in 2013, but failed on all eight tries. They subsequently went for two zero times in 2014 ... and lost three games by five or fewer points.
If the league's not-official-yet-but-it's-gonna-be new rule pushing one-point tries after touchdowns back to the 15-yard line comes with a rule change moving two-point attempts closer to the goal line, as is possible, it obviously produces a greater incentive for teams to take the higher-risk play. And who but Tebow, who memorably sent a 2011 game with the Miami Dolphins to overtime by scoring on a two-point attempt, would work best as a quarterback substituted specifically for that role?
It doesn't make a lot of sense for Kelly to devote a roster spot to a specialist for two-pointers alone. But, well, Chip Kelly does what he wants, and picking up a short-yardage quarterback would not be his oddest move of even just this offseason.
That, too, is part of why this move gives Tebow a chance to succeed: He's not bringing the circus to town, just joining the one already in progress. Kelly's left the NFL breathless for one reason after another over his short time in Philly — and, again, he's been there for just two years! Kelly's the most polarizing coach in the NFL despite the fact that there's an alternately beloved and reviled guy who just won his fourth Super Bowl in the NFL.
For him, signing Tebow is ultimately just another roster move, much as it was for Belichick and the Patriots, and the "risk" of being pressured into playing Tebow, something that probably impacts the cost-benefit analysis of signing him for a couple dozen NFL teams, is nil.
With the Eagles, Tebow could fill roles that need to be filled, work toward potentially being a starter, and do so without being the distraction that he might have been elsewhere. It's a fantastic spot for a quarterback who hasn't played in an NFL game in almost three years to land — especially given that he spent last year on ESPN on Saturdays rather than on sidelines on Sundays.
This may be Tebow's last chance to stick in the NFL. At least it's his best one.