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tara sullivan

Giving Tim Tebow another NFL shot makes little sense, and is even raising questions of fairness

Tim Tebow (above) was part of two national champion teams and won a Heisman Trophy playing for Urban Meyer at Florida.
Tim Tebow (above) was part of two national champion teams and won a Heisman Trophy playing for Urban Meyer at Florida.John Raoux/Associated Press

The list of NFL teams still interested in signing Tim Tebow went one-deep, created when Urban Meyer left the world of college fiefdoms and took his first pro shot in Jacksonville.

The imminent reunion of the onetime national championship/Heisman Trophy tandem from the University of Florida makes sense only to them, even if Meyer isn’t quite ready to explain the appeal of an aging quarterback-turned-tight end and former minor league baseball player who’d already become a seasoned television analyst.

The coach was cagey in a podcast with Cris Collinsworth Monday, insisting that no signing has happened. But amid the glowing praise of a man he insisted is in “incredible shape,” even at age 33, all that was missing was the word “yet.”

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In other words, the Tebow circus is back, and even if it ends up with a shorter run than his 2013 appearance at Patriots training camp, it reignites a conversation that has gripped the NFL since the Broncos made Tebow the 25th overall pick of the 2010 draft.

Rooted in one of two questions — “Where does he belong in the NFL?” and “Does he even belong in the NFL?” — the Tebow phenomenon appeared to reach its inevitable conclusion when he was released after a brief shot with the Eagles in 2015. The answers were “nowhere” and “no.”

Having last played an NFL down in 2012 with the Jets, Tebow clearly didn’t have a place in football anymore. If Bill Belichick, one of the best coaches we’ve ever seen at adjusting to a player’s skill set rather than trying to force the player into his schemes, couldn’t figure out how to use him, the rest of the league didn’t have a chance.

Tim Tebow had a brief stopover with the Patriots in 2013.
Tim Tebow had a brief stopover with the Patriots in 2013.John Tlumacki

Belichick is also the rare NFL coach who can somewhat control distractions, his long résumé of winning and discipline earning him the respect from players who don’t want to lose his, leading them to be as bland and uncontroversial as possible. Who else could get Tebow to, first, ask permission to do a $1 million commercial endorsement, second, get him to turn it down rather than make headlines for doing it, and third, cut him from the roster days later?

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With the football book pretty much closed after the New England foray, Tebow eventually moved on to pursue a delayed baseball dream, topping out in 2019 at Triple A with the Mets.

Now Meyer has opened it again.

Not surprisingly, reactions have been strong and swift, and as polarizing as ever, ranging from the incredulous to the angry, from rejoicing to resigned. That Tebow will get another chance rankles those still waiting for Colin Kaepernick to play again, or in even more timely examples, for current free agents such as Dez Bryant or Richard Sherman to find jobs. That Tebow is being signed at a position he’s never played, one that requires the physicality and athleticism to block and catch, for a roster spot that is inherently limited and highly coveted, is mystifying.

As Bryant himself said in a series of tweets, that is not a shot at Tebow. Whatever drives him — be it ego, self-confidence, or sincere love of the game — if he can grab another opportunity to play, go for it. But to ignore the fact that his opportunity is one almost no other person in his position would get is lunacy.

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“So Tebow haven’t played an NFL game in damn near a decade and it’s that simple,” Bryant wrote. “No hate but you got to be kidding me.”

When the tweet took off, he later explained, “This is not a slight at Tebow. I’m happy for Tebow and want to see everyone succeed.” He wrote of the special importance of Black players helping each other, with the conclusion, “It’s more than getting together and running routes and casually linking up its about truly connecting to build and create. Controlling what we can control and building our community.”

In this case, it’s clear that Tebow’s relationship with Meyer is the foundation for opportunity. It’s a brand of nepotism found in many businesses, football included. Meyer and Tebow are literal neighbors in Jacksonville, and with Meyer trying to lead an NFL team for the first time, it makes some sense that he’d turn to one of the best locker room leaders he’s ever had to help him.

Tim Tebow's last football activity was in 2015 with the Eagles.
Tim Tebow's last football activity was in 2015 with the Eagles.Bill Kostroun

But that ancient history means nothing to today’s NFL players, which is why it’s no surprise that ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington is already exposing the rumbling rift in the Jaguars front office and locker room, where doubts about Tebow’s presence loom.

Meyer is used to running things his way. That’s how college football works, with the head coach atop his own little empire and rabid, local, passionate fan bases rarely, if ever, willing to risk his wrath for fear of undermining a successful program. The pros don’t work that way, and if discord is already leaking, the appearance of one washed-up cheerleader like Tebow isn’t going to smooth that over, no matter how much Meyer thinks it will. He should have learned that lesson when he hired strength coach Chris Doyle.

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In the pros, players follow great players, and Tebow hasn’t been great since college. Maybe his traveling circus will clear the room for Trevor Lawrence, allowing the franchise QB and No. 1 overall pick some relative peace and quiet as he starts his NFL journey. But trading one distraction for another is still a distraction. And this one doesn’t make much sense.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.