FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A Heisman Trophy, a riveting playoff game, an international following.
Tim Tebow won all that in his football career.
On Saturday, he lost his third NFL job in 18 months. It might be hard to find another.
The quarterback with two big problems – throwing the ball and reading defenses – was cut by the New England Patriots less than 12 weeks after they signed him and just five days before the season.
But, as Tebow sees it, this long journey is not over.
“I will remain in relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback,” he tweeted.
Coach Bill Belichick gave the player whose profile was higher than his production what may have been his last chance when he signed him June 11, the day the Patriots’ three-day minicamp began. And Tebow is grateful.
He thanked Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and owner Robert Kraft, who said last Tuesday he was “rooting” for Tebow but would let Belichick make the decision.
In his tweet, Tebow thanked the “entire Patriots organization for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a classy organization.”
The Patriots cut 12 other players and put safety Adrian Wilson on injured reserve. That left them with 51 players, two below the regular-season limit they had to reach by 6 p.m. EDT.
Belichick didn’t comment on Tebow’s release.
But NFL.com analyst and former NFL executive Gil Brandt wasn’t surprised.
“He has had a great career and I think it’s probably time for him to admit that he just wasn’t right up to NFL standards,” Brandt said. “I’m sure that whatever he does in life he’ll be a huge success.
Tebow was surely that at Florida, where he won the Heisman and two national championships while surrounded by talented teammates.
He was a success with Denver, for one season, when he went 7-1 in his first eight starts in 2011 then threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime to give the Broncos a 29-23 playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tebow knelt on one knee – an expression of faith known as Tebowing – in the end zone.
But then a career of accomplishment descended into adversity.
Tebow led the Broncos into Foxborough the next weekend and lost 45-10 while completing barely a third of his passes.
He was traded to the New York Jets the following March and languished on the bench while coach Rex Ryan ignored fans’ calls for Tebow to replace a struggling Mark Sanchez. Tebow threw just eight passes, ran only 32 times and was cut last April 29.
For six weeks no team wanted him until the Patriots signed him to a low-risk, two-year contract with no guaranteed money. One person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press that Tebow would make the veteran’s minimum salary, $630,000 in 2013, with incentives.
At least he wouldn’t be in the center ring of a media circus that surrounded him in New York, not with Belichick’s tight rein on players’ interactions with reporters.
If anyone could turn him into a good NFL quarterback, it seemed, it would be Belichick. And McDaniels was a booster of Tebow, drafting him in the first round in 2010 as Denver’s head coach. There even was speculation that Belichick might find other positions for the mobile Tebow to play, but he worked out only with the quarterbacks.
And his passes still bounced at receivers’ feet and flew over their heads.
“We see things like the pass that he threw in overtime to Thomas,” Brandt said. “I think we see that every once in a while. It really gets us excited about the guy.
“I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a quarterback, and the reasons that I say that is that I think it’s very, very hard with somebody that doesn’t have real good accuracy (and) I don’t know if he has a real good feel for the game.”
Now, barely two weeks after his 26th birthday, Tebow’s NFL career may be over.
“I can’t predict that,” said John Fox, who took over as Denver’s coach in 2011 and traded him after the season. “I wish nothing but the best for him, as I’ve said many times. He did a lot of good things for us, was great to this organization and to this coaching staff, myself included.”
The Patriots have carried just two quarterbacks in three of the past four seasons. So with Ryan Mallett entrenched as the backup to Tom Brady, Tebow’s challenge was a difficult one, even before the preseason started. Then he posted a quarterback rating of just 47.2 with two touchdown passes, two interceptions and seven sacks in three exhibition games.
Tebow’s last play with the Patriots, and perhaps in the NFL, was a 9-yard touchdown to rookie free agent Quentin Sims with six seconds left in a 28-20 win over the New York Giants on Thursday night.
With two scoring passes, it was the best of Tebow’s three games during a shaky preseason in which he completed 11 of 30 passes for 145 yards and ran 16 times for 91 yards.
“It’s not just one game (that matters),” Belichick said Friday about the player evaluation process, “although every game is important. But the body of work, the camp, the rate of improvement, the ability to do the things that players are going to be asked to do at their respective positions (also matter).”
After his last game, Tebow said he wasn’t sure it would be enough to keep him on the team.
But he didn’t plan to worry.
He would “go to sleep when I get home, wake up, come work out, watch the film,” Tebow said. “See what I did good, see what I did bad, try to learn from it and get better.”