Trade shows Eagles coach Chip Kelly has plan for Tim Tebow

PHILADELPHIA -- It isn’t easy to compete with a phenomenon.

Matt Barkley learned that firsthand this summer. When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Tim Tebow to compete with Barkley for their third quarterback job, the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

On one side was Barkley, a 2013 fourth-round pick who had thrown a total of 50 passes in his two-year career with the Eagles. Barkley was a good college quarterback at USC, and he developed a good feel for coach Chip Kelly’s offense.

On the other side was Tebow, a legitimate phenomenon off the field as well as on it. The Heisman Trophy winner and former first-round draft pick had been out of the NFL for two seasons, but he still has a loyal contingent of fans who follow his every move.

But there’s more to it than that. Kelly was intrigued by what Tebow might do in his offense. He showed that by running read-option plays in preseason games with Tebow and not with the other quarterbacks. And he showed it by having Tebow line up to attempt a pair of two-point conversions in the Eagles’ game against Green Bay.

Neither attempt was successful, but that served as an example of the phenomenon. With Tebow, coaches imagine new ways to take advantage of his considerable skills.

That has been both a help and a hindrance during Tebow’s career. It is what got him the opportunities he had with the Denver Broncos and New York Jets. But it also led to his eventual departure from those teams.

In Denver, Tebow won a playoff game after his second season, only to be replaced by Peyton Manning within months. In New York, Tebow was used as a novelty act, running a special set of plays in relief of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The difference with Kelly is that he didn’t take any major risks in acquiring Tebow. He simply signed him to a one-year contract and allowed him to compete for the No. 3 quarterback job. Kelly traded for Sam Bradford to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback.

Kelly has said many times that he structures his offense around what his quarterback does best. So instead of trying to fit Tebow into a package of novelty plays, Kelly will do what he always does: devise an offensive approach that takes advantage of Tebow’s skills without straying too far from Kelly’s core principles.

That combination looked pretty promising Thursday night. Tebow evaded the Jets’ pass rush and turned likely sacks into positive plays -- a 17-yard gain here, a 9-yard touchdown pass there. He fired a 45-yard pass to Freddie Martino, then found the wide receiver in the end zone after a play broke down.

With the Eagles, Tebow has a chance to reach his ceiling without the pressure to do so right away. Barkley had likely reached his. He was a smart, solid quarterback able to come in and run the offense if the starter got hurt.

Tebow could be that, but he could also be much more. Bradford will start for the Eagles. Sanchez will be the No. 2 QB. Meanwhile, Tebow can continue to hone the throwing motion he developed with coach Tom House while getting more comfortable in Kelly’s offense.

Maybe he’ll remain the No. 3 quarterback. If so, Kelly gave up nothing by replacing Barkley with Tebow.

But if it all comes together for Tebow in Kelly’s offense, maybe Kelly has something special on his hands. Maybe he’ll have a real phenomenon.