Sports

SportSunday: an avowed hater explains why maybe, just maybe, Tim Tebow should be the starter for the Denver Broncos

I think my feelings about Tim Tebow – the man and the quarterback – are well established by now. It may therefore come as a surprise to hear me say this. But I believe the Denver Broncos should make #15 their starting quarterback for the 2011-12 season and should commit to sticking with him, no matter what happens. Here’s my reasoning.

Let’s begin with an assumption: it is the goal of an NFL franchise to win the Super Bowl. As quickly and frequently as possible. I think most of us who aren’t Mike Brown can agree on that. Given this assumption, the Doncs’ brain trust of John Elway, John Fox and Brian Xanders have a task that revolves around a lone consideration: How soon can they plausibly expect to compete for a title?

Once they decide that, then everything they do, from this moment forward, has to be about that season. If you can win this year, then you pull every string you can to give yourself the best shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis. If you’re a year away, you make decisions so as to position yourself for 2012-13. If you’re three years away, then what you do now and next season is acquire and develop young talent and you don’t let winning a battle or two this year get in the way of winning the war in 2014-15. If you aren’t going to have a realistic chance to win in the next five to ten years, then you’re the Cincinnati Bengals and Mike Brown is showing no signs of dying.

Can the Doncs win this year? Don’t be silly. They still have too many holes left by previous coaches Mike Shanahan and Skippy McDaniel. Fine. So when might they have a shot? Well, John Fox took over the dog-butt Carolina Panthers, a team that won two games in 2001, and had them in the Super Bowl two years later. Two years may be ambitious in the current situation for a lot of reasons, but there’s no reason at all, in the parity-driven modern NFL, why we shouldn’t be optimistic about 2013-14.

So let’s shoot for that, then.

Next question: do you have the QB you need to win a Super Bowl? I’m a huge proponent of the football basics: win in the trenches, run the ball, stop the run. However, if you look at the history of teams who have won NFL titles, you can’t help noticing how often they have been directed by great field generals.

Sure, you can win without a Hall of Famer behind center if you have all the other pieces in places – great defense, brutal running game, etc. If you’re doing all those things right you can win with a relatively ordinary game manager like a Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, Jim McMahon, Brad Johnson, etc. Good quarterbacks, perhaps even unfairly underrated, but not great by any reasonable criterion. In most cases, championship teams are led by elite quarterbacks, and the better your QB the better your chances in the long run.

So, do the Broncos have a guy on the roster at present who can, in the context of the big picture they’re piecing together, lead them to the promised land? Starter Kyle Orton is a guy with a lot of talent, but he has always had to play in challenging circumstances. His Bears teams didn’t provide him with many offensive weapons and his first two seasons in Denver found him trying to overcome the ineptitude of a Keystone Kops defense that was lucky to hold opposing offenses to seven points per possession and the biggest clown of a head coach the league has seen since Rich Kotite. Which is to say that we don’t really know how good Orton is. Our best guess is this:

  • He’s not a Hall of Famer, but
  • he’s still pretty good.
  • He’s a very accurate passer with plenty of arm to make difficult throws and to hit receivers downfield.
  • He’s a very smart game manager who understands what the offense is trying to do and what the defenses are trying to do to stop him. He reads the game very well.
  • He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
  • Critics say he doesn’t make mistakes because he plays a conservative, cover-his-ass game. Maybe, but in his position most guys would have done the same thing.
  • Conclusion: Kyle Orton is as good as, if not substantially better than several quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl. He may be better than we think, but we won’t know until he’s given a shot with a decent team. This year’s Broncos are potentially good enough for us to finally answer that question with some degree of confidence, especially since the team finally has an adult in the role of head coach.

The answer to the above question, then, is maybe. And if Fox, Elway and Xanders (okay, okay, fine, Fox and Elway – Xanders is basically a towelboy with a nice office) believe that Orton is The Man through, say, 2017, then need to:

  • Lock him up with a long-term extension now.
  • Get Tim Tebow out of town immediately. Trade him if you can, cut him if you can’t, but as long as he’s on the bench in this town full of evangelism-addled idiots all his presence is going to do is foment controversy and undermine both the coaches and the starting quarterback, whoever it may be.
  • Note, I’m not saying Tebow himself would intentionally fuel this unrest. He wouldn’t. He’s going to show up, work hard, do what’s asked of him and not cause trouble because that’s who he is. But the continuing unrest will happen, regardless of what he does, because of how he is perceived by the public.

If, on the other hand, Fox and Elway don’t think Orton is the guy, then:

  • Trade him now.
  • Insert Tebow as the starter for this season and leave him there so we can, as all of his legions of supporters say every time they get a chance, see what he can do if you give him an actual opportunity in meaningful game situations. (Seriously, I hear that meme so much these days I half expect to hear it during the feckin’ weather report.)

I’m on record where Tebow is concerned. As I wrote a few days ago:

In the end, you hear so much talk about Tim Tebow’s “intangibles.” The main reason is fairly simple: he has no tangibles to talk about. He can’t read defenses. He doesn’t understand how to run a pro passing offense because he’s never run a system remotely like it. And he cannot pass accurately. Period.

My belief – and yeah, I’ll take some action on it, because I can always use a little walking-around money in my pocket – is that Tebow would be an absolute disaster as a starting QB. He’d actually have an easy enough time reading defenses because every time he comes to the line he’s going to see man coverage on his receivers and everybody else in the box waiting either for the handoff or for him to get confused when his first read isn’t there, then tuck it and run headlong into the waiting arms of the defense. Prediction: The Doncs have Cincinnati on the schedule and Oakland twice. Also, the Lions, who are expected to be a lot better, but they’re still the Lions until they prove otherwise, so who really knows? So that’s two or three wins, probably.

If I’m wrong: Hey, I’d love to be wrong. The Broncos are my team and I’d like them to go undefeated every year from now until I die. If I’m wrong, and if Tebow can play, then Denver has its QB for the future. He’s going to be unconventional as hell no matter what, so if he can stand and in deliver the ball on-time and accurately to receivers, he’s going to present a very special set of nightmares for defensive coordinators for years to come. Not unlike those posed by, say, Steve Young once he hit his prime. He’s dangerous enough in the pocket, but the gods help you if you make the mistake of chasing him out of the pocket.

In this case you don’t need Orton, not now or ever, and you can bolster your team with what you get for him in a trade. Given how desperate some franchises are for a real quarterback (*cough*Niners*cough*) you ought to be able to get a nice piece or two. Win/win. You still have Brady Quinn as a very strong backup and Adam Weber seems fine as your third-stringer.

Life is good.

If I’m right: A record of 2-12 or 3-13 is going to put you in pretty good position to draft Andrew Luck, who scouts think is a by-god, king-hell, can’t-miss franchise quarterback. While history teaches us that there is absolutely, positively no such thing – you never know until the get gets out there and proves it on the field – he looks, from this vantage point, like a solid bet. And maybe, as the draft approaches, his stock has slipped and another QB seems like an ever better prospect. Whatever. The worst-case scenario is that you’re well positioned to get your quarterback of the future, and while it may set the timetable back a year, you’ll still be raising hell and working in the right direction, which is all any fanbase can ask.

I’m not saying the Broncos should tank the season. If they do not believe that Tebow has any shot in hell ever, then no, they shouldn’t put him a position to embarrass the franchise just so the team can land Luck. But remember, the goal isn’t 2011-12, it’s 2013-14. Tebow may be a battle you risk losing now if it seems likely to win you the war.

6 replies »

  1. Yeah, but…

    Fox will:

    1. Always go with the veteran guy. Even when he shouldn’t. So, as much sense as you might make, it’s a moot point.

    2. Always try to win THIS WEEK’S GAME. He will get that team to give all they have this week and that’s it. If the team is good enough, that’ll get you to a Super Bowl. But if they suck, it’s a long slide down.

    3. Never listen to “the fans.” Take that for all the good and bad that might come with it.

    I know from whence I speak. So, honestly…good luck to your Broncos. Because if conditions become right, you’ve got a chance. But if they are trending wrong, it’s a long way back up once you hit bottom.

  2. Yeah. The nice thing is that the slide he had in Carolina was aided and abetted by a cheap-ass ownership group that didn’t help him at all. That won’t be the case here.

  3. Some numbers for the Tebow haters to digest:

    1) Tebow accounted for an average of 283.3 total yards in his first three starts. I have heard that it’s the most that any player in league history accounted for in their first three starts at quarterback but have not had the time or ability to check and see if that is a fact.

    2) He had a higher passer rating last season than the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford.

    3) He averaged 8.0 Yards per Pass Attempt. With enough attempts he would have placed fifth in the league–just ahead of Tom Brady.

    4) Those are just pure passing numbers–in his three starts he ran the ball for more than 66 yards per game–over a 1,000-yard pace.

    5) He passed and ran for a combined 8 touchdowns in the three starts and had two wide open touchdown passes dropped in the end zone–give him one of them and that’s 9 Td’s in 3 games, a 48-total TD pace.

    6) In his three starts with what was, by that point in the season maybe the worst supporting cast in the entire league (they went 3-10 under Kyle Orton and were decimated by injuries), the Broncos averaged 25 points per game–which would have ranked them 7th in the NFL. They averaged only 20 with Orton, and in Tebow’s three starts none of their points came from defense or special teams scores, and every scoring drive started in their own territory. Yes, they played one game against the league’s worst defense (Houston). But they also played one against the NFL’s best defense (San Diego) and one middle-of-the-road defense (Oakland). I’d call that a perfect representative sample.

    For a guy who only had three starts ESPN sure has a lot of highlight plays to roll in whenever they are discussing his future.

    His style of play can work in the hard-hitting NFL. When Urban Meyer took over at Florida the “experts” said a spread option attack couldn’t work in the SEC because the defensive linemen and linebackers hit too hard and the quarterbacks wouldn’t be able to take the pounding. Two national titles and a Heisman Trophy later (and it should have been two Heismans–he got more 1st place votes than Bradford during their junior year but the Big 12 apologists left Tebow off their ballots completely) it’s obvious that he can handle the hits–and I’m betting Cam Newton can too.

    Yes, he has difficulty with something as simple as the exchange from under center. Yes, he sometimes looks awkward. Yes, he is slower than most in making decisions and his delivery is elongated. But he had those issues long before he came into the NFL and his pre-professional career is the best of any quarterback in history. Can’t people allow for the possibility that there are things he does incredibly well that offset his shortcomings? Verne Lundquist says Tebow is the most competitive athlete he has ever encountered–more so that Nicklaus, Woods, Jordan, Ali, Sampras, etc. That has to account for something more than just “make him an H-Back”. I understand that the history of the NFL is littered with quarterbacks who had great college careers who fizzled at the next level. But Tebow is not Gino Torretta, Akili Smith or even Danny Wuerffel. His high school and college careers were substantially better than that of any of those guys. If folks prefer human statues with big arms as NFL quarterbacks I offer up Ryan Leaf, Andrew Walter and JaMarcus Russell to you as future stars, and we’ll just forget about the careers of Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young.

  4. Barry

    Got a thousand bucks you want to wager that Tim Tebow puts up Fran or Steve numbers?

    Otherwise

    • If you want to give me some money, you don’t have to hide behind a bet like this one. Just send me the check.

      Before you do, though, you might want to take a look at some data. Fran and Steve were always better passers than Tebow dreams of being and they were also both fast enough to outrun most defensive linemen.