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A New Twist on an Exhausted Topic… Tim Tebow

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Being a Denver Broncos fan in Clevelandisn’t the healthiest life choice that I’ve ever made, but luckily my friends put up with my allegiance to the Orangeand Blue and even passively follow root against the Broncos. Truthfully I can’t blame them. John Elway ripped the heart out of this proud sports town, twice. Yes, that was 25 years ago, but the pain of someone presenting your still beating heart to you isn’t something that goes away quickly.

Flash-forward to today; ever since ol’ #7 hung up the cleats, the Broncos have sought out a franchise quarterback to lead them back to the Promised Land. First it was Brian Griese a serviceable option with a  propensity of falling down the stairs. Unfortunately, on the heels of Elway he really had no chance. There was also Jake Plummer, a good pro that was one win away from a Super Bowl date with the Seattle Seahawks; not to be. Then there was Jay Cutler whose rocket arm would even give Elway’s a run for its money; a prototypical gunslinger with franchise QB written all over him. However he and then-head coach Josh McDaniels clashed and Cutler was sent packing (my theory is that Cutler had too much talent for McDaniels liking. Josh wanted a guy who was overlooked so the credit went to him and not to the QB (a la Matt Cassel)) and so began the Kyle Orton era. Don’t get me wrong, Orton isn’t a bad NFL quarterback. He can make the necessary throws and get just about any team to 6-8 wins. Even though he is mostly worthless after takes that first hit, until then, with the right tools he can put up some points. However, he isn’t elite by any means and his death clock started the second ESPN flashed to Tim Tebow’s house on draft day.

Tebow was a draft wild-card; slated to go anywhere from 1st round to 4th round. No one knew exactly where he would fall. There were rumors about a team in the 1st taking a chance on him, but no one really knew who would pull the trigger until the Broncos traded back into the 1st round, at that point it was a done deal. What I did next was very un-Tebow-like… I got up from my draft party, walked over to the bar, took a shot of Whiskey and cemented our relationship: “Well, here we go… It’s me and you Timmy.” McDaniels was probably the only guy not named Belichick with the ego/balls to take Tebow that early. Tebow was his project; it was his legacy, his way to cement his name on the all-time greats of coaching. If McDaniels could take a guy that few believed would make it and turn him into a Hall of Famer, he could send his jacket measurements back to his hometown of Canton. Truthfully, I think McDaniels and Tebow would’ve done some great things together. For all of his faults, there are few better offensive minds than Josh McDaniels and he knows quarterbacks. Unfortunately his oversized ego, lack of people skills, and hard line attitude cost him the locker room and ultimately his job. From many accounts he was doing a great Bill Belichick impression without ever having earned the ability to do so. His firing threw Tebow-mania into a state of flux. Contrary to most Broncos fans, I didn’t hate the McDaniels’ era. Yes, I hated that he ran a franchise QB out of town and managed the draft like Godzilla managed Tokyo, but my theory with head coaches (and QBs) is that it’s better to shoot big and miss, then to shoot mediocre and hit. In some cases shooting for slightly above-average and hitting is fine. It would make for a solid team… a team that with a great head coach and great QB could be dynastic. Don’t believe me? Take a quick look at the multiple-Super Bowl winning Patriot teams; average/above-average players with a great coach and great QB. I don’t fault the Broncos for shooting big… but they did miss. Then they were shell-shocked, turtled, and hired a safe, but very un-Tebow-like coach in John Fox. The joy seemed gone in Tebowville. He ended last season as the starting QB and entered this preseason 3rd on a depth chart created by a guy who trotted Jake Delhomme out there year after year. What Fox didn’t expect was that Kyle Orton was going to switch “compete” mode off and turn on “hang out and collect a 9M paycheck for doing as little as possible mode.” After 5 weeks, at 1-4, the Broncos were entering full-blown Suck for Luck mode. At this point, I believe Fox saw this as well and thought “Hell, if we are going down, we might as well give the people what they want.” Only a funny thing happened… no one told Tebow the ship was sinking and Tebow’s “compete” mode doesn’t have an off-switch. He is the guy that you tell your kid’s to be… the guy that gives 100% every time he does anything… and usually succeeds. Tebow has gone 3-1 in his short term as the starter. Yes, some games were uglier than others, some were downright brutal and won without much rhyme or reason as to how, and Fox himself has the quotes of your drunken uncle on Thanksgiving, but wins are wins. No one’s first question is “who deserved to win?” it’s “who won?” So far, 75% of the time this year, the answer was the Tim Tebow-lead Broncos.

I say all this because I was prefaced with an interesting question today by my buddy Dubba. It was a quick, two-sentence email ended in the following manner:

“Would you trade Tim Tebow for Mark Sanchez straight up?”

For those of you who don’t know me and can’t deduce it from past writings, I think Mark Sanchez is a bad quarterback. Taking it a step further I’d slot him much closer to “terrible” on the sliding scale than “below-average.” Numbers (73 career passer rating) and the eye-test back up my statements much more than the media who year after year try to place him in the Aaron Rodgers/Tom Brady category. He has a great defense behind him and weapons upon weapons on offense… but still, he’s just not good. The problem with Sanchez is that not only is he not good, but the media is playing a cruel joke on the Jets by perpetuating the falsehood that he is. So, armed with this knowledge, it’s obvious that I answered “No” I would not. Just looking at the two in practice that might seem crazy, but hear me out…

Whether you agree with my evaluation of Mark Sanchez or not, the principle is the same. I mentioned earlier that when it comes to QBs and coaches I advocate on shooting big. Here’s why: Only one team per year can win the Super Bowl. That means that only one quarterback per year can win the Super Bowl (ok, technically not true if the team employs some sort of equal two-QB system…but you know the adage: “If you say you have two QBs, you really have none.”) What does this have to do with Sanchez? Everything. Barring an injury or something unforeseen, the Jets will have are stuck with Sanchez for at least 3 more years, but probably more like 4 or 5. After that, unless they are smart and start grooming someone now, they will be forced into a new QB search. All told, they have at least 5-7 years before they have a possible true franchise quarterback. Could Sanchez win a Super Bowl? It depends how great the defense plays. Trent Dilfer by all accounts, even his own, wouldn’t say he is a Super Bowl level QB, but he won a Super Bowl behind a world-class defense. So yes, there is a difference between Super Bowl level QB and winning a Super Bowl (but for the record, I’d rather have Dilfer than Sanchez).

Wait… I thought we were talking about Tebow? We are. The reason that I wouldn’t trade Tim Tebow for Mark Sanchez is this. You know what you are getting with Sanchez, an average-at-best quarterback. If I were building a team, I would not strive to have the most important position on the field be in the hands of someone, who on their best day is maybe a notch above mediocre. Could Tim Tebow be a colossal bust and never amount to anything in the NFL? Absolutely, I’m not dismissing that possibility, but the point is either Tebow proves that this winning isn’t a fluke and possibly evolves into a Super Bowl level QB or he crashes and burns rapidly and obviously. This means that there is closure and you can move on in an attempt to find a franchise quarterback. Again, to re-state the question, No way would I trade an unknown quantity or a potential fresh start for someone for whom I know what I’m going to get… and it’s not going to be good.

I really can’t figure out why teams limit themselves at the quarterback position. Using my hometown team as an example, they drafted Colt McCoy in the 3rd round of the same draft that Tim Tebow went in the 1st. Do I think they should’ve drafted Tebow? No, especially not that high, but I definitely also think they shouldn’t have drafted someone with such limited upside. Again, let me explain. You wouldn’t be alone if you would rather have Colt McCoy than Tim Tebow, but my problem with that boils to this: for all of Tebow’s perceived (and real) mechanical flaws, he has arm strength for days. McCoy on the other hand may be a great citizen and a bright guy, but drafting a weak-armed QB with the thought of making him your starter isn’t a very prudent decision. You really can’t teach arm strength, and while it’s not the most determining factor of what makes a QB great (otherwise Jeff George would be a hall of famer) a great arm should be the starting point for any quarterback search. The Browns aren’t alone though; the league is littered with subpar quarterbacks. I understand that great ones don’t grow on trees and you don’t truly know until you give them a try, but teams spend far too much time giving multi-season opportunities to quarterbacks that despite all of their efforts will never be great.

How would I search for a quarterback? With 6 simple criteria that by the time they are exiting college can’t be changed all that much:

  • Great Arm – to borrow the baseball 20-80 scouting scale, 60+ only.
  • Intelligent – combination of standardized testing and conversations about football, but also about a variety of topics.
  • Loves the Game & History – I can’t stand listening to player interviews where they literally have never heard of guys like Johnny Unitas or Dick Butkus.
  • Mobile– Doesn’t have to be Mike Vick, but should be able to at least move.
  • Work Ethic/Competitiveness – The franchise leader had better work the hardest.
  • Has “It” – Yes, that unquantifiable “It.” You know it when you see it.

Pretty cut and dry. If you don’t meet these criteria, you don’t get a look. Most coaches by nature think they can fix everyone and many can do a lot for players, but by the time they are 21 years old you can’t teach them to have the drive to outwork everyone. You also can’t instill a passion for learning or to turn a peashooter for an arm into a bazooka. If talent evaluators posted those criteria in their office and didn’t let anything sway their decision, they would be on the track for success. The other important factor that I left off was pocket presence. I definitely think it is one of the most important determinants of success, but that is something that can be taught and improved with drills. I’m also not saying that quarterbacks without all of those skills can’t be successful; I’m just saying that the hit rate would be a lot higher if evaluators at least gave themselves a realistic chance to succeed rather than starting in a hole and trying to dig their way out. Also, I would propose an 8-game trial period for any new QB. If they don’t at least show flashes of brilliance/improvement within that period it’s time to move on to someone else.

Dubba’s question did spark my imagination though and out of that came the following lists of QBs that I’d rather have over Tim Tebow and QBs that I’d rather not have. This list takes into account age and other factors. Again, I’m not saying that those on the “no-list” are worse than Tebow, but I am saying that in some cases I’d rather have the opportunity to start fresh than to be stuck with someone with a limited skill set.

Would Rather Have (in no particular order):

Aaron Rodgers – Really went out on a limb here. Only worry is concussions.

Tom Brady – Getting up there in age, but one of the better QBs of this generation.

Peyton Manning – Also getting up there, but when healthy, the best QB in the league.

Drew Brees – Stud

Ben Roethlisberger – Still under-rated due to off-the-field issues.

Eli Manning – Super Bowl winning QB playing the best football of his life.

Tony Romo – Better career passer rating than both Peyton and Brady… really.

Matt Stafford – I’m a sucker for a rocket arm and have lovedStaffordsince college.

Jay Cutler – See above… still can’t believe McDaniels ran him out of town.

Andy Dalton – Doesn’t have great arm-strength, but can make all the throws.

Philip Rivers – As much as I dislike him because of the rivaly, he is pretty darn good.

Joe Flacco – Terrific arm-strength and starting to show his competitiveness even more.

Matt Schaub – Under-rated in everything but fantasy football… bad luck on the injury.

Matt Ryan – Right on the edge of average-good arm strength cusp.

Sam Bradford – Arm isn’t elite, not bad, but talent lies in deadly accuracy.

Josh Freeman – Great arm. Sophomore slumping, but has shown enough to earn his spot.

Andrew Luck – To be fair, I’d rather have Luck than a lot of the QBs on this list.

 

Would Rather Not Have (in no particular order… aside from the first):

Mark Sanchez – For the reasons laid out above.

CarsonPalmer – Age, question his desire, and disappears late in games.

Colt McCoy – Watching him throw on a windy day is not a pretty sight.

Tavaris Jackson – Why would anyone?

Matt Hasselbeck – Based on age/arm strength.

Ryan Fitzpatrick – Just doesn’t have “It.”

Any QB onMiami’s roster – ‘Nuff said

Curtis Painter – Not really a starting QB.

Matt Cassel – Not terrible, not great, not much of an arm either.

Mike Vick – Ungodly talented, rocket arm, but getting up there in age and takes a beating

Rex Grossman –Almost Trent Dilfer #2, but Bears defense couldn’t stop Peyton.

Kyle Orton – Mentioned above, a good QB who needs help around him.

Jason Campbell – No.

Christian Ponder – Will get at least 2-3 years, but weak arm and limited upside.

 

Special consideration:

Alex Smith: Truth be told, any QB with Jim Harbaugh would be on my rather have list.

 

Too early to tell:

Kevin Kolb – With proper footwork he flashes a good arm, need to see him more.

CamNewton– Not sure of his work ethic, but definitely has “It.”

Jake Locker – College is much different then the NFL. Another guy with “It.”

BlaineGabbert – Had him on the “no” list, but wanted to be fair to him.

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