Is it time for McDaniels to play Tim Tebow?

The Broncos traded three picks for the opportunity to draft Tim Tebow this past April. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

Can quarterback Tim Tebow be Broncos coach Josh McDaniels' savior?

We may never know.

McDaniels’ issues in Denver far exceed whether he and Tebow will get a chance to succeed (or fail) together. The decision to draft Tebow in the first round -- Denver traded three picks to take Tebow at No. 25 during last April's draft -- was supposed determine McDaniels’ future down the road. But the discussion of McDaniels' future is topical now. He's on the hot seat in Denver because of a 5-16 record in Denver’s past 21 games, several questionable personnel decisions and the recent videotape scandal. The decision to draft Tebow is one of many questionable calls he has made since replacing Mike Shanahan in January 2009.

It's now safe to wonder if McDaniels will ever work with Tebow when the quarterback is ready to be the starter in Denver. This seemed very unlikely when McDaniels drafted Tebow seven months ago; McDaniels said he felt a strong connection with Tebow in predraft meetings with the former Florida star in which the two engaged in intense chalkboard sessions.

Still, if the 3-8 Broncos stumble badly in the final five games of the season, McDaniels’ stay in Denver could come to an abrupt end. In rare public comments Monday, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen first said McDaniels is safe for 2011 and then said this season has been disappointing and everything will be evaluated after the season. The Broncos’ brass wants to find a reason (other than not wanting to have to pay McDaniels, Shanahan and a new coach in 2011) to keep McDaniels. But if this season continues to fall apart, a change may be on the horizon.

With that in mind, should McDaniels pull out the Tebow card now in a dramatic move to save his job? There has been a push by some fans and sportswriters in Denver the past few weeks for the Broncos to start the Tebow era now because this season is lost. The thinking is to get a start on the future and salvage something from a forgettable season. That would mean yanking starting quarterback Kyle Orton, who is having a Pro Bowl season.

The only playing time Tebow has seen this season is in special packages. He has three rushing touchdowns on 12 carries and his only NFL pass went for a touchdown. So far, McDaniels seems reluctant to use Tebow in anything but a specialized role.

“I don’t know. I’m not willing to go there,” McDaniels said recently when asked if he would replace Orton with Tebow with Denver out of the race. “That is not the case right now, so we will think about that when that happens, but it is not on our minds right now.”

McDaniels has had opportunities to play Tebow in the base offense in blowouts. Denver lost at home by 45 to Oakland in Week 7 and the Broncos cruised by Kansas City in Week 10. Still, Orton played through both games.

“We are not averse to doing it, we just haven’t had many opportunities to do that this year,” McDaniels said.

One school of thought is that McDaniels believes Tebow isn’t ready to be the full-time quarterback -- even in meaningless situations -- and he doesn’t want to shatter his confidence. The Broncos aren’t disappointed in Tebow, but he’s still a work in progress.

The primary reason to keep Tebow on the bench is Orton. He has been the team’s best player.

Orton is leading the NFL with 3,370 passing yards and he and receiver Brandon Lloyd, who is leading the NFL with 1,122 receiving yards, have built great chemistry between them. Orton is not the reason Denver is struggling. It would be unfair to Orton to sit him for a chunk of the season no matter the reason.

In addition, Denver gave Orton a one-year extension through 2011 this past summer. Prior to the extension, the general thought was Tebow would start in 2011 and Orton would walk as a free agent. But after a terrific training camp, Denver rewarded Orton. There’s no question he will be the starting quarterback in Denver next season, even if there is a new coach. This team can win with Orton before Tebow is ready to take over.

Tebow is going to have to wait until 2012 to be the starter, so playing him now won’t mean much, anyway. This is still Orton’s team. It may not be McDaniels’ team for long, but that won’t change one way or the other if Tebow gets extended playing time in the next five games.

The McDaniels-Tebow connection may never fully materialize, but now is not the time to start it.