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Well, the most sought-after free agent in NFL history has decided where he’ll play next– and it’s a team nobody was talking about as a candidate a couple of months ago. Peyton Manning has decided to sign with the Denver Broncos, who will reportedly pay the 36-year old quarterback, who has had four neck surgeries since the last time he stepped onto a football field, $95 million over 5 years. That’s a staggering amount to pay a guy who couldn’t play at all last year due to injury. However, if he’s healthy, he’s as good as any quarterback who has ever played the game. The question must be asked, though: will Peyton Manning at 36, after a year away from the game, play like the Peyton Manning we’re all accustomed to seeing? If he turns out to be something less than that, or if he gets injured, the Broncos will have a lot of explaining to do to their fans. That’s because Manning reportedly told the Broncos that if he were to come to Denver he would not be comfortable with having Tim Tebow on the roster, so Denver is now expected to trade the quarterback who turned around their 2011 season and became an American sporting icon in the process. Who could have forseen this development a couple of months ago?
The attention of the media will now be turned towards Tebow and where he’ll play next. It’s a tricky situation, because he has such a large national following that it’ll be tough for any team to acquire him and not automatically anoint him the starting quarterback. If he’s not the starter the fan base is likely to get anxious, especially when they remember what he did last year when he took over for Kyle Orton. The team was 1-4 when they finally gave Tebow a chance, and he ended up leading them to a division title and a playoff victory over the defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Tebow delivered the best performance of his career (and the best performance by any QB this past postseason) in that game, when he threw for 316 yards on only 10 completions against the #1 ranked defense in the NFL. He became the only NFL quarterback since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger to complete 5 passes of 30+ yards and 3 passes of 50+ yards in the same game. So, he has proven himself in the playoffs, which is more than a lot of teams can say about their quarterback. Yet, because of his unorthodox, run-first style and the fact that signing him will bring a media circus that some teams don’t want, Denver is not expected to get any more than a mid-round pick for him. Which brings us to the next question: where will he go?
In my opinion, Miami and Jacksonville make the most sense. They both have questions at the quarterback position, they both have apathetic fan bases, and they both play in the state where Tebow grew up and is revered. Let’s start with Miami: The Dolphins haven’t had anyone to get excited about at the quarterback position since Dan Marino retired, and that’s been quite a while now. Owner Stephen Ross has been trying to make a splash since he bought the team a couple of years ago, but he’s struck out repeatedly, first with coach Jim Harbaugh, then with Peyton Manning, then with Matt Flynn. Bringing in Tebow would instantly give the Dolphins the national relevance that Ross craves, and it’s not like they’re loaded at quarterback, with journeyman Matt Moore and the newly acquired David Garrard sitting atop the depth chart. Tebow has more upside than either one of those guys. However, Joe Philbin was just hired as coach, and many have speculated that his “West Coast” offense will not be a good fit for Tebow. Still, Ross may look at the bigger picture and decide that he just can’t pass this opportunity up. I could see Tebow going to Miami, but it’s not the most logical choice, that would be Jacksonville.
The Jaguars are a franchise that has struggled to sell tickets for the last decade. They actually cover up about 10,000 seats with tarps, which should be an embarrasment to the team and the city. Tim Tebow was born and raised in Jacksonville and most of his family still lives there. The University of Florida, where Tebow starred in college, is only about an hour’s drive from Jacksonville. Tebow is an absolute legend in Northeast Florida, if you don’t believe me just listen to The Social Gambler Radio Hour one day. John Arnette hosts the show from a studio in St. Augustine, which is about 30 miles south of Jacksonville. I’ve listened several times and have heard plenty of Tebow talk, both from the callers and from John himself. The Tim Tebow Factor in Jacksonville cannot be overstated, he could quite literally save the franchise from relocation. You see, they have a new owner, an Illinois businessman named Shahid Khan. Khan has no ties to the Jacksonville area, and even though he’s said that he has no plans to move the team only a fool would believe that he won’t do what’s best for his business interests. Khan has already said that he wants to remove the tarps and turn the Jaguars into a “regional brand”, and there’s no better way to do that than by bringing in Tebow. Also, from a football perspective, the Jags have nothing to lose. That’s because they were 5-11 last year and had the worst offense in the league. By “worst”, I mean worst: they finished the year ranked 32nd out of 32 teams in both total offense and passing offense. In Tebow’s one season as a starter in Denver he accomplished more than either of the QBs currently on the Jags’ roster, Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, have in their careers. It seems like an absolute no-brainer for the Jags to trade for Tebow. True, their general manager (Gene Smith) is the same guy who passed on Tebow in the draft two years ago and drafted Gabbert last year, but the ownership has since changed. Khan very well may overrule Smith and make the sensible business decision. Besides, it’s not like Smith has done a stellar job over the last few years.
Will it be Miami, Jacksonville, or some other team? Many have speculated that New England could be a likely landing spot for Tebow; the man who drafted him, Josh McDaniels, is now New England’s offensive coordinator and Bill Belichick reportedly likes Tebow. Tom Brady is now 35 years old, so the possibility exists that they could acquire Tebow and develop him as Brady’s successor. Wherever he goes, you can be sure that it will be a big story next year, particularly if he has some success. Peyton Manning, meanwhile, will be under a similar microscope in Denver. This story will continue to develop, and I, for one, am very interested to see where it goes from here. I know it’s only March, but September can’t get here soon enough…