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Tim Tebow leaves, yet questions remain

The Patriots released third-string quarterback Tim Tebow on Saturday.

Dominick Reuter/Reuters/File

The Patriots released third-string quarterback Tim Tebow on Saturday.

The Patriots cut Tim Tebow Saturday following a dismal performance in three exhibition games. The news itself was not surprising — he completed only 37 percent of his passes, threw two bad interceptions, and didn’t even get off the bench in one game.

Just having a hard time figuring out why, exactly, they signed Tebow in the first place.

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What was the point of bringing in a limited passer such as Tebow to serve as the third quarterback if the plan wasn’t to keep and develop him? Why install those new option run plays for Tebow and work on them in the preseason if he’s not going to be around this fall? Did the third-string receivers, such as Quentin Sims and Jonathan Haggerty, get a fair evaluation by having Tebow throwing them the ball with his poor timing and accuracy? Couldn’t Ryan Mallett have used a few more reps in the exhibition games? Wouldn’t the offense have been better off with a more traditional No. 3 quarterback, even if it was just a camp arm like the previous No. 3, Mike Kafka?

It looks like the Patriots will carry two quarterbacks for the second year in a row. Mallett had his moments in the preseason but overall was inconsistent in completing just 55.3 percent of passes for three touchdowns and an interception. The team obviously has some confidence in Mallett, but of course, if Tom Brady goes down, the season is likely toast, no matter if Mallett, Tebow, or an alien is the backup. Might as well use that roster spot on a special teams contributor rather than a No. 3 quarterback, I guess, even though I think Tebow provides some value as a change-of-pace guy.

Certainly, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow for the Broncos in the first round in 2010, had to know what they were getting when they signed Tebow in June — a great athlete, tremendous teammate, and terrible pocket passer. Tebow was exactly that in his two months as a Patriot. He ran the taxi squad, playing with undrafted rookies and journeyman veterans. He was a big deal to fans and media, but he was a minor member of the team, and he didn’t make much progress as a passer, despite what Belichick said publicly throughout camp.

Of course, it’s naive to think Tebow could have shown significant improvement in five weeks of training camp, which makes his signing all the more baffling. Despite getting year-round training from nearly a dozen quarterback coaches — at the college and pro levels, plus private coaches Tebow has hired since turning pro — he’s essentially the same player he was when he won the Heisman Trophy at Florida. He’s a bulldozer of a runner, and he can make some throws, but he’ll never be a competent pocket passer.

Tebow did fill a role this summer — certainly, the team liked having Tebow sign autographs for 30 minutes after training camp practices, and selling his jersey in the pro shop (do fans get to exchange those jerseys, too?). Tebow was signed before Aaron Hernandez was arrested, and unexpectedly served as a nice, positive diversion during camp.

But apparently his intangibles weren’t enough to overcome his shaky quarterbacking, even with owner Robert Kraft rooting for him to make the team.

It’s possible that the Patriots keep Tebow on retainer and call him in a pinch if, heaven forbid, Brady goes down. Tebow no doubt will keep training and stay in shape, and it’s easy to imagine he’ll be available — unless the QB-starved Bills give Tebow a call this week for a little inside intelligence before they face the Patriots in Week 1.

The media circus that surrounded Tebow last year with the Jets turned off most teams. The Patriots were the only team willing to give Tebow another shot this summer, signing him for a minimum salary with zero guaranteed money, and his getting cut now sends a major red flag to any team still considering him. It says a lot that Belichick and McDaniels, perhaps the last two people in Tebow’s corner, don’t even want him.

Just two years ago, Tebow led the Broncos on a magical 7-4 run to end the regular season, then threw for 316 yards in a playoff win over Pittsburgh. Now he might be done with the NFL for good, his final play a 9-yard touchdown pass to Sims in garbage time of the Patriots’ fourth exhibition game.

The belief here is that Tebow still can play in the NFL — and be successful — if a team were ever willing to commit its offense to him. But it’s a lot to ask, and there’s no rule in life that says everyone deserves a fair shot.

Don’t feel sorry for Tebow, though. He’s already made a ton of money from his rookie signing bonus and bevy of off-field endorsements, such as Jockey, Nike, and TiVo. And he’s got a bright future, whether it’s running his foundation and helping run his family’s missionary camp in the Philippines, or going on the public speaking circuit, or coaching football (he’d look great on the Florida sideline), or maybe even diving into politics, if he wants it.

Belichick, who visited the Florida campus several times during Tebow’s college days, lavished high praise on him in a 2009 Sports Illustrated article before Tebow’s senior season.

“There aren’t many players who can run and throw. Tebow, obviously, is a special one,” Belichick said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens when he comes into this league.”

Belichick got his look, and obviously didn’t like what he saw. And now it’s very possible that Tebow Time, as fun as it was, officially has run out.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin
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