Could Tim Tebow cut it in Canada or the Arena league?
Tim Tebow was cut by the New England Patriots and passed over by every other team this weekend. But the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues present intriguing possibilities.
Tebow was cut by the New England Patriots Saturday, and none of the NFL's other 31 teams wanted him, meaning he now has no clear future in the league. But he does have a future, and in that future, a potential return to the NFL is not impossible.
Yes, we have arrived at the point of Tebow's professional football career that many thought inevitable – the point at which he must decide whether to play in Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League. If they'll have him.
When Tebow was cut by the Jets earlier this year, at least three indoor football teams expressed an interest in signing him. They probably still would. If Tebow signed for the Orlando Predators in his native Florida, he would create more racket than a shuttle launch. He would be indoor football's David Beckham.
Meanwhile, the team in Canada that holds Tebow's rights has taken a quarterback with similarly gruesome throwing mechanics and turned him into perhaps the most successful player in league history.
In either league, Tebow would still be a project. His greatest weaknesses – passing accuracy and quick decisionmaking – would be exposed cruelly. As much as the NFL has become a passer's league, the CFL and Arena league do it more. If you cannot pass, you cannot win, and if Tebow cannot begin to find the broadside of barns with his passes, he'll soon find himself without a job again – and nowhere else to turn.
But that is just what Tebow needs if he is ever to become an NFL quarterback – a place to play competitively, away from the glare of the NFL, and to pass, pass, pass to see if he can ever get it right. Now that opportunity is the only one staring him in the face.
"It's time now to maybe just reconsider a different path to his ultimate dream," Steve Clarkson, a quarterback coach who has worked with Tebow, told USA Today Sunday.
But which path should he take?
In his interview with USA Today, Clarkson suggested that Tebow might look to the CFL. The CFL, after all, has a history of acting as a finishing school for quarterbacks looking to take that last step to the NFL, including Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, and Warren Moon.
If Tebow went in this direction, he'd have only one option – the Montreal Alouettes hold exclusive rights to Tebow in Canada. But it might be a perfect fit.
One of Tebow's greatest defenders has been Marc Trestman, who was head coach of the Alouettes before leaving this summer to become head coach of the Chicago Bears. While other scouts and coaches spent their time trying to shorten and improve Tebow's much maligned throwing motion, which looks vaguely like a wounded albatross struggling to fly, Trestman repeatedly said it was no big deal.
He spoke from experience. Check out the throwing motion of Anthony Calvillo, the starting quarterback for the Alouettes since 1998. Let's just say that NFL quarterbacks coaches are not salivating. Yet Calvillo has passed for more yards (78,494) than any other player in the history of professional football and has set a league record for passing touchdowns (449).
Alouettes general manager Jim Popp told the Toronto Sun Saturday that he's "never had a conversation with [Tebow] or his agent," but in the past has expressed a qualified interest in Tebow. "We're very curious to see what he's capable of doing," he told USA Today in April.
Unique elements of the Canadian game could play to Tebow's advantage, he said. The field is 35 yards wider than in the NFL field, creating more space for Tebow to run his favored read-option plays. Moreover, the Alouettes already use a substitute quarterback instead of Calvillo, who is 41, for short-yardage running plays, and Tebow could slot into that role seamlessly.
Timing could work in Tebow's favor, as well. Calvillo is currently recovering from a concussion that some media reports suggest could be career-threatening. With the team's second-string quarterback also injured, Tebow would surely get a good look.
Despite the widespread American view of the CFL as a second-rate league, however, it is no joke. Its championship, the Grey Cup, is 100 years old (the Super Bowl is 47), and Tebow will get no free rides. Popp made this clear in April by saying that Tebow, if he were to come to the Alouettes, would be coming to back up Calvillo.
"The misconception about the CFL is it's much easier for a quarterback. That's not necessarily true. If you can't make all the throws, you can't win consistently in the CFL, either," he said.
With Calvillo injured, the situation has changed, but Popp's underlying point hasn't. The Canadian game is different, with only three downs, one-point drop kicks, and multiple offensive players allowed to be in motion before the snap.
"It's a confusing game," he added. "There are nuances to it. It's a big learning curve, and it takes a while to adjust."
The same would be true in the Arena leagues. Then again, adjustments are precisely what Tebow needs. Kurt Warner, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who famously made the jump from the AFL's Iowa Barnstormers to the St. Louis Rams, credits Arena football with polishing the rough parts of his game.
"You hear people talk about what made me the player I was, they usually look at a couple of different things," Warner told ArenaFootball.com. "One is the quick release. The other is being able to diagnose defenses and accurately placing the football where I needed to put it.… I really think the AFL helped me develop those skills. You have less time in the pocket, the pocket is much smaller, it is a faster game and it is a shorter field. The windows are so tight you have to be accurate, you have to be able to anticipate, and you have to be able to fit it into tight windows."
The Arena league is also more of a novelty than the CFL, meaning that Tebow might be given a longer time to develop. The league marketing department might just set up camp in his breakfast nook if he were to join.
The Orlando Predators, for one, were willing to welcome the only athlete ever to be named a "Great Floridian."
"We'd love to have him," Predators owner Brett Bouchy told the Orlando Sentinel in March. "I think he would definitely improve as a quarterback in our league.... Whenever Tim is willing, we have a contract waiting for him to sign."
Ron Jaworski, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who is now a part owner of the Philadelphia Soul Arena team, also extended a hand to Tebow earlier this year. "If he decides he wants to play Arena football, we'll make a spot for him," Jaworski told philly.com in May.
He and Soul coach Clint Dolezel even went so far as to send Tebow a list of plays they had designed for him, though they got no response.
Now, however, that phone might ring.