It’s true that the Patriots have only kept two quarterbacks on the roster in three of the past four seasons. And the two-year-old rule that eliminated the third quarterback designation, and allows teams to keep 46 players active on game day, certainly discourages teams from keeping a third quarterback.
But here’s a news flash for anyone who thinks Tim Tebow is battling for a roster spot with the Patriots and may not make the team come September:
Tebow isn’t going anywhere.
The Patriots would never say it, of course, but when they signed him in June he all but had a roster spot locked up barring some sort of catastrophe (of course, given the events of this summer, you can’t rule out anything with the Patriots).
Keeping three quarterbacks used to be the norm until 2009, when Bill Belichick started going with just one backup for Tom Brady (although they kept three as recently as 2011).
The Patriots can cut Tebow before the regular season with no penalty, of course — his two-year, minimum salary deal doesn’t have any guaranteed money — and he might end up being inactive most weeks, perhaps all 16 games.
But all logic points to Tebow staying a Patriot for at least 2013 season. Here’s why:
He’s not a “camp arm.”
Every team has three quarterbacks in camp, and some teams have four, even if they only plan on keeping two for the regular season. That’s because teams need “camp arms” — guys who can work with the scout team receivers, take a majority of the snaps in the preseason games, and keep the starter’s arm fresh during five grueling weeks of camp. If the Patriots were interested only in having a “camp arm” as their third quarterback, they couldn’t have made a worse choice than Tebow, whose biggest weakness is his pocket passing.
Tebow struggles in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills, missing badly on throws and rarely getting the timing of the offense down right.
It’s much harder to evaluate wide receivers when Tebow is throwing the ball.
He’s a scrambler and an improviser — a darn good one — but when it comes to slinging the ball from the pocket, Tebow is not NFL caliber. At least not yet.
Mike Kafka, the No. 3 quarterback cut when Tebow was signed, would have made much more sense if the Patriots were only interested in a “camp arm.”
Plus, the Patriots know what Tebow brings to the table — offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels drafted him and spent a year with him in Denver, after all — and they know better than anyone that Tebow is a long-term project.
Why bother signing him if you’re only going to give him a month to prove himself? Instead, he likely will get an entire year.
“It’s hard to gauge things at this point,” McDaniels said Monday about evaluating a player like Tebow. “But I’m sure he’ll listen and take the coaching the way he always has and try to work to get better every day.”
Let’s be clear — the Patriots plan on developing him at quarterback. He has only spent time in the quarterback meeting room, and 99 percent of his time has been spent working on his skills at the position.
But there’s no question he brings more to the table than a traditional backup.
Yes, he can line up at fullback or tight end in a pinch, and his presence on the roster will give opposing defensive coordinators something to think about in terms of the trick plays Belichick might be concocting. Monday night, he worked as the punt protector three times, and he can be a secret weapon on fake punts.
Additionally, Tebow’s mobility could be useful during the season when helping the Patriots prepare to defend the read-option, which is all the rage now in the NFL. The Patriots only face two read-option quarterbacks this year — Ryan Tannehill and Cam Newton — but who knows come playoff time?
And they’re going to have to trade Ryan Mallett before too long — his contract runs out after 2014, and he almost certainly would leave via free agency instead of re-upping in New England to spend another three years behind Brady, signed through 2017 (and now talking like he wants to play well past 40).
Tebow now gets the first shot to prove that he can be a capable No. 2 behind Brady, which would allow the Patriots to trade Mallett next offseason.
The Patriots need more guys like him in the locker room.
Lord knows they need more high-character guys these days. Aaron Hernandez hasn’t been the only bad seed to come through the locker room the last few years, of course.
When it comes to representing the organization, no one does it better than Tebow. He spends 30-45 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures after most practices, long after the other players have escaped to the locker room.
The next time Tebow is caught up in a genuine off-field controversy will be the first. He has a knack for always saying and doing the right thing, and capping it off with an All-American, “God bless.”
Tebow is also insanely competitive and refuses to be outworked.
His exploits in the University of Florida weight room, in which he often took on the linebackers and linemen, were legendary. On days he doesn’t sign autographs, he spends 20-30 minutes after practice working on his throws with the coaches.
“He’s got a great work ethic,” Belichick said. “Great.”
The Patriots need more people like Tebow in the locker room — a guy who will shut his mouth, work hard, and uphold the “Patriot Way” in the community.
“Whenever you can get a competitive, first-grade person to join your team, you never know what happens,” owner Robert Kraft said in June.
“I don’t think there’s any coach who wouldn’t like to have a team full of people like he is.
“You can’t get enough people like that on your team.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin