JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow is headed to town.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to sign the former University of Florida star within the next few weeks, reuniting him with his college head coach, Urban Meyer. He’ll be a tight end, though, not a quarterback, which means he’ll be learning a new position six years after he last participated in an NFL practice (the 2015 preseason with the Philadelphia Eagles).
Moving to tight end was something NFL teams wanted Tebow to consider after he failed as an NFL quarterback, but Tebow was adamant about staying behind center. Nine years after he last played in an NFL regular-season game, he’s willing to make the change.
Why is Tebow returning now?
Tebow clearly wants to remain a professional athlete. Since the baseball thing with the New York Mets didn’t work out, this is his best shot -- mainly because of Meyer.
Meyer and Tebow won a pair of national championships at Florida from 2006 to 2009 and they’ve remained close, so it shouldn’t be a surprise Meyer agreed when Tebow called and asked him for a tryout earlier this year. It’s hard to imagine many other NFL coaches or general managers would be willing to give a 33-year-old who hasn't been a part of the league in six years a tryout at a position he has never played.
What are Tebow's chances of making the team?
He played tight end on a handful of snaps with the New York Jets back in 2012. He has not been asked to block linebackers or defensive ends snap after snap. He has never caught a pass in college or the NFL (his only career NFL target is below). Tebow is a very good athlete and he’s going to put in the work -- and extra work -- but he’s starting from ground zero.
Tim Tebow: TE1🥴pic.twitter.com/mXT2Q4FP9v— PFF (@PFF) May 10, 2021
There are five other tight ends on the roster who have at least played the position in college and the NFL and he would have to outperform one, and maybe two, of those experienced tight ends to make the roster.
His chances would be higher if the Jaguars were to create a role for Tebow similar to what the New Orleans Saints did with Taysom Hill. Tebow certainly could be an effective runner out of the Wildcat and the threat of a pass would naturally be there every time he took a snap. But even then, it would be for only a handful of snaps a game.
The Saints also knew they could start Hill at quarterback if Drew Brees were injured. That’s not going to be the case with Tebow.
Is signing Tebow purely to sell tickets?
No. If it were 2013 or 2014, then you could make that argument. But not now.
The Jaguars were already rolling in the ticket department, thanks to the hiring of Meyer and addition of Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. Even before the draft, the sales office had eight times the number of new deposits compared to the previous several seasons, and the team says more than 50% of those deposits are from people who had never previously bought a ticket of any kind with the Jaguars.
The demand is similar to what happened prior to the 2018 season after the Jaguars’ surprising run to the AFC Championship Game the previous season. The Jaguars had more than three times the total number of season-ticket deposits in January 2018 than the entire previous year.
There might be some people who do buy a ticket to see Tebow -- this is his hometown and a huge Florida Gators town -- but only if he makes the team.
What does he bring to the team that, say, Trey Burton wouldn’t?
That’s … unclear.
Being an example for younger players? There are already several veteran players who can do that -- guys like wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., linebacker Myles Jack, linebacker Joe Schobert, center Brandon Linder and safety Jarrod Wilson. Those guys have played a lot of football and would have more cachet with players. Plus, almost every NFL player works hard in the weight room and at practice. A lot do extra work, whether it’s after practice, in the meeting room, or by studying film at home. Those who don’t generally don’t last long in the league.
Conveying what Meyer wants in terms of culture? Running back Carlos Hyde, left guard Andrew Norwell, defensive end Lerentee McCray, and tight end Luke Farrell also played for Meyer. They know what he wants. So does assistant head coach Charlie Strong, who was the defensive coordinator on both of Meyer’s title teams at Florida, and head strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel, who spent three seasons at Ohio State with Meyer. The Jaguars don’t have to sign Tebow for that.
Being a good locker room guy? That falls under being an example for younger players. Tebow will be a great locker room presence, but so will numerous other players. And how much can he lead when he’s also trying to learn a new position? There’s only one player on the roster who was playing in the league the last time Tebow played in a regular-season game: Jones, who was a rookie with Cincinnati in 2012.
Bottom line is this seems to be Meyer doing a favor for one of his favorite former players, because there are several available free-agent tight ends who would be a better option for a team looking to find a pass-catcher, including Burton, Richard Rodgers and Tyler Eifert, who caught 36 passes for the Jaguars last season.