Tim Tebow, the polarizing quarterback everyone has come to know and love (or hate), found a new home this week in New England, when the Patriots signed him to a two-year, nonguaranteed contract, igniting yet another cycle of Tebowmania.
But the pandemonium will be a lot different this time for a player whose stardom derives not from his stats, but from fads such as "Tebowing" and enormous media hoopla.
New York Jets training camp last year began with screaming fans and "We Want Tebow" posters, but culminated in a disappointing season marked by diminished playing time. This year, people will no longer wonder when Tebow will play. He clearly won't be stealing any time from future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady. However, what Tebow will get with the Patriots is much more valuable than playing time: knowledge.
For the first time in Tebow's four-year career, the much-maligned signal-caller will get an opportunity to learn from one of the league's best quarterbacks of all time. Tebow finally will get a chance to learn how to be the quarterback he thinks he is. He may not start, but he will learn what he never learned in college or during his stints with the Jets and Denver Broncos.
Take a look at similar NFL "projects": Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, even Brady. Each sat behind veteran quarterbacks for at least a year, and each became a very good NFL player. Granted, this concept doesn't work for every backup quarterback, but pairing Tebow with a two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback (Brady) and a future Hall of Fame head coach (Bill Belichick) is a really good start.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout and college quarterback, notes that learning and sitting are the best ways to develop. He adds:
"The best thing for Tebow's career would be a low-profile season that allows him to sit, learn and develop. The Patriots are the perfect organization to help Tebow accomplish these three objectives."
Much has been made of how Tebow is a student of the game, how he loves football and will do anything to succeed at the quarterback position. And with no other NFL team willing to sign him, Tebow has no choice but to learn from the best and hope his apprenticeship will eventually translate into a starter's gig later in his career.
He also gets to work with coaches who know his style of play. Josh McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, drafted Tebow in 2010 when he coached the Broncos; and Belichick is friends with Urban Meyer, who coached Tebow to two national championships at the University of Florida.
And what do the Patriots get out of this deal? Why sign a player who many feel simply isn't good enough to be an NFL quarterback? Belichick didn't say much this week, but a four-year-old interview might offer some clues. Belichick told Sports Illustrated in 2009, while Tebow was still in college, that he thought the player was "special," as in uniquely suited to run a style of offense that favors athletic quarterbacks who can run the ball. He added:
"There aren't many players who can run and throw. ... [I]t's going to be very interesting to see what happens when he comes into this league. Do you just run your regular offense and let him scramble when he scrambles? Do you put in a few plays just for him? Or do you really build an entire new offense around him?"
Therein lies the reason to sign Tebow.
Tebow excelled in college by running an offense where he had the option to throw the ball, hand it off to a running back or run it himself. At Florida, Tebow won two national championships and the Heisman Trophy. Even in the NFL, he had fleeting success with the Broncos, making it all the way to the AFC Championship in 2011.
This style of offense is becoming the flavor of the day in the NFL. The Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks employed similar systems last season, giving the quarterback the option to pass or run, and thrived. And because Brady is your typical quarterback who rarely runs the ball, it makes sense for the Patriots to hop on this bandwagon with almost no risk.
It's safe to assume Belichick and the Patriots won't be revamping their entire offense this year
to suit Tebow. He might not play a single down this year. But maybe the Patriots, always a forward-thinking organization, have made another move for the future of their team. And the resuscitation of Tebow's career.
Tyler Greenawalt is an NPR Digital News intern who covered some of the New York Jets' training camp last summer.