Peyton Manning's departure from the Indianapolis Colts sets up a rare opportunity.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Broncos are wooing Manning, which could mean Tebow hits the market. Denver team president John Elway will likely want an early-round pick for Tebow.
That's a steal for the Jags.
But isn't this just a short-sighted gimmick to get fans into the seats?
It's much more than that. Jacksonville already has a strong fan base -- stronger than most non-Floridians realize. But the franchise doesn't have much of an identity. Most think of it as a team drowning in blackouts and move-to-Los-Angeles rumors -- or worse, the team that let Tom Coughlin go. Trading for Tebow changes the plot for at least a year and maybe much longer. The Jags immediately become watchable -- not just at home but nationwide.
And this isn't a dismissal of Blaine Gabbert as a quarterback of the future. New head coach Mike Mularkey can still develop Gabbert just like many other young quarterbacks have developed in the NFL -- including Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers.
No, this is a play for the here and now, a low-risk, high-reward move that will probably not make a 5-11 team any worse and might make the Jags considerably better.
But how's that going to happen? Tebow can't throw and can't master a complex offense. He just got lucky.
Well, he's been "lucky" for a while now. He was a lot luckier in college than Peyton Manning was. And he was a lot luckier in his first full season as an NFL starter than Manning. At what point does Tebow's luck become a trend? And when that happens, do the Jags want to be the hometown franchise that passed up not one but two chances at Tebow? As new owner Shad Khan said in a radio interview not too long ago:
"I think, when is the next time Jacksonville is going to have an athlete like Tim Tebow? Coming from being raised in Illinois, I couldn't see Red Grange playing for anybody other than the Bears or Dick Butkus playing for anybody other than the Bears. I don't want to get into 20/20 hindsight, and God help us, the draft record has not been the best with the Jaguars."
Nobody within the Jags organization has said anything about going after Tebow, but Khan is an opportunistic businessman. He's not a carnival barker, but he's unlikely to be affected by the herd mentality on Tebow -- which has been largely wrong.
The Jags are in a good position to build around Tebow. Their only superstar on offense is Maurice Jones-Drew, who could surely co-exist with a running quarterback. Jones-Drew made the Pro Bowl without the help of any Pro Bowl linemen, so it's not like the pass blocking is stellar. And raise your hand if you can name a superstar wideout on Jacksonville. Exactly -- you can't.
But how will the Jags contend for a Super Bowl without a Pro Bowl caliber passer?
Same way the Baltimore Ravens did with Trent Dilfer: Build a stellar defense and put the ball into the hands of a quarterback who doesn't turn over the ball. Look at how close the Jets got to the Super Bowl with Mark Sanchez. Look at how the sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers did in the 2006 Super Bowl with Ben Roethlisberger turning in an abomination of a performance under center. And although there were plenty of high-octane offenses in the NFC this year, they all fell apart when faced with the front four of the Giants and the 49ers. How are the Niners a Super Bowl threat with Alex Smith and there's no way on Earth the Jags can contend with Tim Tebow?
But the spread option doesn't work in the NFL!
Correction: It doesn't work with the quarterbacks who have tried it before. That doesn't mean it can't work. Of course Antwaan Randle-El, Eric Crouch and Charlie Ward aren't going to be durable quarterbacks. Those guys are all undersized. Tebow is not. Tebow's a monster. He took an SEC-style beating for four years and hardly missed any time. He got through most of an NFL season without injury. And he's not going to just run away from contact and lessen his options down the field. He's going to take a hit to make a play -- just like all the great quarterbacks do. And he can throw the ball accurately; it just doesn't look pretty.
But if they build around Tebow, and he's a bust, then it'll take forever to rebuild around Gabbert.
Not so. Build around defense. If Tebow fails, you already have a strong defense and then you add a couple of good wideouts. With Tebow or with Gabbert, you still need a great running game and you still need at least one good tight end. If Tebow is a colossal failure, we're all going to find out this season. It's not like Gabbert is going to lose all his talent in that time. And not to be callous, but if the Jags go 0-16, are they that much worse off than they are right now?
But what's the upside here? Win a few more games and sell some more jerseys?
That's the problem with Tebow hatred. We have no idea what his upside is. He turned around a lagging team and won a playoff game in his first year as a starter. How many have done that? Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn sure didn't. Yes, the Broncos had a great defense. But they had that defense before Tebow took over. People scoff at his "winner" label like it's something uttered by Charlie Sheen, but Tebow has the will of two and a half men (ha!) and clearly his teammates believe in him. Isn't half the battle won in the huddle? Isn't work ethic contagious? How many Jags want to be the slacker standing next to Tim Tebow? People just assume Tebow is already as good as he ever will be. But they assumed that a year ago, and two years ago, and after his Heisman Trophy winning season at Florida. He's gotten better. How do we know he won't keep getting better? Answer: we don't.
This isn't about marketing. It's about winning. And that's something Tim Tebow knows better than just about any third-year quarterback in the NFL. That's worth a second-round pick.
Follow Eric Adelson on Twitter @eric_adelson.
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