Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush sent out a tweet upon the news that Tim Tebow is expected to return to the NFL — as a tight end, not a quarterback — more than five years after he was last on a roster. His sentiment reflected many of the thoughts echoed across social media.
Tebow has not signed a contract yet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but multiple reports indicate that coach Urban Meyer is interested in reuniting with his former college quarterback — despite the fact that Tebow hasn’t appeared in a regular-season NFL game since 2012 and had been playing baseball for the last few years.
But the perception that Tebow is getting another opportunity before Kaepernick has been enough to set off critics eager to slam the league.
Free-agent wideout Dez Bryant tweeted “you have to be kidding me” in response to the reports, clarifying that he was happy for Tebow but suggested there was a racial element at play. “Pay ATTENTION to what goes on around the US and look deeper between the lines,” he wrote. Eagles cornerback Darius Slay also said it was “mind-blowing” that Tebow could return before Kaepernick.
Kaepernick, of course, has been out of the NFL since 2017 — the season after he became the first player to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Kaepernick and his supporters have said the quarterback has been blackballed by the league’s owners, while his critics usually say that Kaepernick either no longer has the talent to play in the NFL — or his talent would not be worth the potential media storm that his signing would warrant.
The latter can be — and has been — said about Tebow, the Florida star who made headlines in 2011 and 2012, the peak of “Tebowmania.” Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said on ESPN’s “Get Up” that he underestimated the coverage Tebow would bring when the franchise traded for him in 2012. He said it was “much more magnified” than when the team brought in Hall of Famer Brett Favre in 2008.
“It was amazing,” Tannenbaum said. “(Tebow) was very polarizing. People had strong feelings either way on him.”
Even this week, Tebow’s comeback set off a firestorm on channels like ESPN and Fox Sports. In that same “Get Up” segment, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported that not everyone in Jacksonville would be on board with signing Tebow — suggesting there was “serious disagreement” within the building. That, naturally, led to more headlines. More talk show fodder.
Tebow does have his supporters. Brandon Spikes, Tebow’s teammate at Florida, tweeted the 33-year-old would be an inspiration for any locker room. He blasted those who were “pulling that race [expletive]” and pleaded for them to stop.
Appearing on a podcast with analyst Cris Collinsworth, Meyer had nothing but glowing things to say about Tebow. Meyer, who was hired to coach and run the Jaguars, couldn’t stop raving about Tebow’s audition as a tight end. He said Tebow participated in multiple workouts — impressing coaches each time.
“He was in the best shape of his life,” Meyer said. “ … (The staff) said, ‘Wow, this guy’s ball skills, he’s a great athlete, he looks like he’s 18-years-old, not 20, whatever he is, 33.
“I said, ‘Guys you don’t understand, now this guy is, he’s the most competitive maniac you’re ever gonna talk to and let’s give it a shot.’”
To others, Tebow landing in Jacksonville would be a clear sign of favoritism. Former All-Pro running back Chris Johnson said the move is an indication the Jaguars “clearly don’t have winning on they mind,” also bringing up Kaepernick. “That cat got nine lives,” tweeted Broncos safety Kareem Jackson.
NFL agent Mike McCartney, whose clients include former Washington starter Kirk Cousins, tweeted the Tebow rumors also have had an unintended effect.
“Getting calls from guys who haven’t played in 7+ years including one who’s been out 15 years,” he tweeted, including two laughing emojis. “Thanks Urban.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at email@example.com.
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