Success can be fleeting in the NFL. When a player with the resume of four-time MVP Peyton Manning becomes available, anything can happen. Now former UF star Tim Tebow, who led the Denver Broncos on a thrilling roller-coaster ride through the 2011 season – which ended in the AFC divisional playoffs to the New England Patriots – now figures to be heading elsewhere when he suits up this fall.
According to reports filed by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter this afternoon, the Broncos and Manning are closing in on a deal that could pay Manning up to $95 million over five years. As soon as the contract is signed, the Broncos would then immediately look to deal Tebow, or possibly give him his outright release if a trade does not come to fruition.
The impending pairing of Manning and Denver completes a quick fall from grace for Tebow in the Mile High City. After helping to direct the Broncos to an AFC West title and a record of 8-8 on the year – after beginning the season 1-4 – Tebow will now look to continue his professional career in a different locale. The question at this point is, where?
Four teams seem to be natural fits for Tebow at this time. The contenders:
– Jacksonville: The Jaguars and Tebow are a natural fit. Tebow grew up in Jacksonville, and already has a rabid fanbase and following from his prolific career as a quarterback for the Gators. But there is a relatively big hang-up. Jacksonville has already invested quite a bit of capital in the quarterback position: a first-round pick in last year’s draft to select Blaine Gabbert. G.M. Gene Smith also brought in a veteran to compete with Gabbert last week when the Jags agreed to terms with former Dolphins starter Chad Henne on a two-year deal. Henne, it should be noted, has been vocal in his criticism of Tebow in the past.
Still, from a business perspective, the acquisition of Tebow makes a lot of sense for new Jags owner Shad Khan. For a franchise which has struggled to find it’s footing in northeast Florida after a superb run under Tom Coughlin from 1996-1999, the addition of No. 15 could put fannies in the seats like no one else.
– Miami: The Dolphins are in search for a quarterback, and have had to settle for looking at “less attractive” options, such as Alex Smith, who has to be smarting from the 49ers pursuit of Peyton Manning after he put together and efficient season last fall. Former Jacksonville starter David Garrard, who sat out last season following his release by the Jags and subsequent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.
Like Jacksonville, the Dolphins have struggled on the field and had plenty of trouble getting fans into the seats in recent years. After missing on Manning and former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, who agreed to terms with the Seahawks, Tebow might be the shot in the arm that South Florida needs to reconnect with their NFL franchise. Matt Moore provides a competitive arm, as well as a safety net if Tebow doesn’t work out in Miami. From the Tebow perspective, this probably isn’t an ideal situation considering the Dolphins have had plenty of trouble attracting big-name free agents in recent years (owing to a front-office which has a track record of being nothing short of terrible over the past 10 seasons). However, there is a franchise left tackle in Jake Long, and plenty of moving parts to get things moving back in the right direction. The Dolphins also appear to present Tebow his best opportunity of being an opening-day starter in the fall.
– San Francisco: In terms of Tebow’s long-term future, the 49ers may be the best spot for the lefty to land. Jim Harbaugh has quickly become known for his Midas Touch with quarterbacks. Even if San Francisco re-signs Alex Smith (which is not a certainty at this point), Tebow could compete with Colin Kapernick and Josh Johnson (both unproven players) for a back-up position and bide his time behind the former No. 1 pick.
Quickly, the 49ers have transformed themselves from a franchise which was largely inept for nearly a decade, to one of the top teams in football. Only a top-flight quarterback now appears to separate San Francisco from going on another run similar to what Bill Walsh and his eventual successors unleashed on the league for a generation after winning a Super Bowl title in 1982.
– New England: A move to Foxboro would re-unite Tebow with the man who used a first-round pick to bring him to Denver in Josh McDaniels. Pats head coach/evil emperor Bill Belichick has gone on the record expressing his admiration for Tebow’s unique skill-set in the past as well. It certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to think New England may have some interest in acquiring the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner to be an understudy to Tom Brady. It would be a move that could also benefit Tebow as well. He could certainly pick up a thing or two being around one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history on a day-to-day basis.
The only negative from the New England perspective – the Pats just used a third-round draft pick on a potential successor to Brady by selecting former Arkansas star Ryan Mallett in the 2011 Draft …
Of course, the irony in this situation is that Tebow is probably best-suited staying right where he is – in Denver – to work under the tutelage of a true master of the game in Peyton Manning. The fans would accept the situation for what it is – a chance for one of the great quarterbacks in league history to ride off into the sunset – as their savior from a season ago continues to learn his craft and get another crack at the job in two to three years or so.
However, as Tim Tebow is finding out today, life in the NFL is a business. He was supposed to be the man in Denver this fall … until a better option came along. John Elway got his man and now Tebow-mania will have to find a new destination next fall, in a city yet to be determined.