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Tebow’s Freeze Out

2013 May 9
by Brian Goff

Why is Tim Tebow out in the cold? Why are general managers and coaches willing to roll the dice with a QB who has never played an NFL down or a struggling QB versus one who holds a winning record and notched a stylish, memorable playoff victory over the vaunted Pittsburgh defense?

Part of Tebow’s fate falls to timing.   In past posts,  I’ve referenced economist Zvi Griliches iconic article “Hybrid Corn: An Exploration in the Economics of Technological Change”. He demonstrated the acreage planted with hybrid seed took over across states, slowly, at first few adopters, then gaining steam, and finally won over even the die-hards resulting in an “S-shaped” curve depicting the growth in its use. This picture describes the diffusion of most any “technological change” whether a new corn seed, a new tractor implement, black players on Major League teams, or the use of “run-option” quarterbacks in the NFL. In the early stages of use, it’s difficult to distinguish between crazy ideas and brilliant ideas. Almost any new idea will draw vocal detractors, sometimes among people of respect and insight. Numerous NFL insiders, including those as insightful as Bill Belichick and Steve Mariucci, have denigrated the idea of the “option” and QBs suited for it as an integral part of NFL offensive strategy. Even a year or two ago, and in spite of Tebow’s success in Denver, the critique appeared weighty — enough so that the Broncos sought out another QB (albeit, a Hall of Famer) and traded Tebow. With the Colin Kaepernick’s trip to the Super Bowl with the 49ers along with others such as Robert Griffin III, it’s looking less crazy and more brilliant, less temporary fad and more permanent strategy.

I don’t mean to imply that the run-option QBs will ever come to dominate completely. One key difference between sports and agriculture is that one particular technology doesn’t necessarily swamp all others. NFL rules favor passing. Successful teams for many years have employed skilled passers with ever-increasingly complex passing schemes. The trouble is that not everyone can draft Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. The ground in Iowa and the ground in Kentucky may both be receptive to hybrid corn seed, but the same passing scheme that works in New England or Denver isn’t going to work nearly as well in some other place because a key input, the QB, does not have the skills of Brady or Manning. Insightful coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Mike Shanahan decided better to adjust the system to the talent rather than hope that a struggling young QB like Blaine Gabbert (Jacksonville) evolves into a Brady or Manning.

Alright, so Tebow came on the scene just a bit too early, why aren’t teams like Jacksonville scrambling for him now? His less than consistent passing skills hurt him. He can thread the needle on one throw and look silly on the next. Ironically, the GM who turned him out in Denver, John Elway, displayed those same traits for the first half of his career. Nonetheless, Tebow’s passing isn’t as polished as Kaepernick or Griffin. On the flip side, he has shown that he can win games, even against good defenses. A major part of the success of Kaepernick and Griffin is what they do to defensive strategy. At the end of last season, Griffin played a very mediocre passing game against the Cowboys, but because of his running threat (even with a bad knee), his running threat opened the way for his running back, Alfred Morris to have a great night with the Redskins scoring 28 points. The interaction effects between running and passing abilities of QBs with the other offensive players influences both yards gained per passing play along with yards gained by other runners. Tebow’s enormous celebrity almost certainly works against him now. Any GM and coach who bring him on board invite a national media spotlight far beyond what a newly drafted QB will bring. Don’t be fooled — coaches and GMs, in spite of voicing indifference about media and fan attention, care about scrutiny. The care a lot — ok, maybe Bill Belichick doesn’t, but that’s why he is willing to make decisions other coaches will not on matters such as not punting on fourth down. The “Christian” element of Tebow’s celebrity also surfaces as a possible obstacle to him. While I don’t doubt that some coaches, players, and, particularly, media figures roll their eyes at him, there are many NFL players who openly, if with less attention, display their faith. My guess is that his unlucky timing, inconsistent passing, and undesired media attention resolve the conundrum much better.

5 Responses
  1. stan permalink
    May 9, 2013

    Hmmm. Maybe because the vaunted Steeler defense was hampered by serious injuries, Tebow played poorly in Denver, he has poor fundamentals, poor offensive results, and NFL clubs are smarter than silly sportswriters. They don’t assume correlation is causation regarding the starting QB?

  2. FredHeadBill permalink
    May 9, 2013

    I’m huge Tebow fan. And really didn’t watch any NFL games except Superbowls till Denver Drafted Tebow. Then I started purchasing NFL Sunday Ticket, and as I thought Tebow made sports headlines just like he had here in Florida. You could say Denver before Tebow starting was a failure. When he started you could see the excitement just like when he played with Florida, it was if the whole team had transformed when became QB. Even though Manning is a superior passer his leadership skills do not match Tim Tebow’s and I have all confidence that if he remained in Denver; the Broncos would have won another playoff game this year. Even though Elway promised Tebow a starting position but traded him to the disaster called the Jets.
    The Jaguars owner says he wanted Tebow but he was not willing to trade and pay for Tebow and their seats are still covered with tarps.
    “But in Jacksonville, having No. 15 on the roster would provide a major windfall. The team’s home stadium – EverBank Field – has a capacity of nearly 76,000. But every Sunday, more than 9,700 of those seats are covered with a tarp; they aren’t included in the sellable pool of tickets in order to help the Jaguars avoid television blackouts due to unsold ducats. With Tebow on the roster, those seats – not to mention the additional 8,000 that can be added for Super Bowls and college bowl games – would instantly sell. At an average cost of $455 per season ticket, that’s $4,413,500 into the team’s pocket in season ticket sales right out of the gate.”
    Would love to see Tebow playing Jacksonville, I’m guessing it would be hard to move the team to L.A. if the stadium is full.
    Anyway thought your article was fair, and well written.

  3. Alex permalink
    May 10, 2013

    Love the blog. Quick comment on this Tebow post though. I think you’re romanticising his season in Denver. Much like the pitcher with 6.00+ era that happens to have a team putting up big runs and ends up with 15+ wins. You can’t credit the pitcher for a great season.

    In 2011 Tebow was 34th in completion percentage, 28th in passer rating, Broncos offense was 23rd in yards, 25th in points with 4 overtime wins including Pittsburg playoff game.

    By any objective measure the Broncos were bad offensively and lucky in 2011. By comparison RG3 was 4th in completion percentage and Kapernik would be 12th if he played more games.

    So, inconsistent passing is an understatement–at a postion where passing is the key job description. If any team thought there was a strong chance he could be good, they’d sign him / play him. Look at Vick as a counter example (also uses his feet). It’s all about performance.

  4. Kavin permalink
    May 12, 2013

    Unlike RG3 or Kaepernick, Tebow is not going to scare any defence with his accuracy. He’s a great run-option QB, but NFL defences are too quick for him to overcome with his faulty mechanics. It’s not that he came to early, his skill-set is simply missing a reliable threat to pass that the other examples possess.

  5. Martin Kennedy permalink
    May 17, 2013

    Best line: In the early stages of use, it’s difficult to distinguish between crazy ideas and brilliant ideas.
    Second best line: Don’t be fooled — coaches and GMs, in spite of voicing indifference about media and fan attention, care about scrutiny.
    In agreement, Tebow’s celebrity began to work against him.

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