Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Straight Cash, (Or Some Draft Picks) Homie!"

John Elway has to be feeling the pressure. It's been building since training camp, and it's going to get worse with every sack Kyle Orton takes, every pass he fails to complete, every Broncos loss. Those #15 jerseys he sees in the stands every Sunday aren't going to slowly recede into the background, and the fans who wear them aren't going to become any less vocal. If anything, the jerseys and the noise are going to increase on an exponential scale. Because Denver isn't going anywhere this year. It's still a young season, and 1-2 isn't exactly a death sentence in the NFL, but in a division with the Chargers and a suddenly-formidable Raiders team (never thought I'd type that phrase), odds are the Broncos are in for a long, joyless ride. The fans know this. They can see it unfolding already. And because John Elway (and the organization) has made it clear that this ride will be taking place with a certain highly-drafted quarterback buried on the bench and beyond-buried on the depth chart, the jersey sales and the noise from the bleachers are being continually amplified.

"Tebow!!! Tebow!!! Tebow!!!"

John Elway has to be ticked off. He didn't ask for this mess. The polarizing figure who's generating all this fan backlash wasn't his choice. When Denver selected Tim Tebow with the 25th overall pick in the 2010 draft, a lot of eyebrows went up around the league. A few pundits opined that Tebow might "revolutionize the quarterback position" or something similar, but most everybody else was adamant that he wasn't even close to ready to play the position at the NFL level. Quite a few people didn't (and don't) think he'd ever be ready. He hasn't come out and explicitly said it, but there's strong evidence that John Elway probably belongs that last group. The guy has two Super Bowl rings and is a card-carrying member of the elite "best QB's of all time" club. He probably assumes (and who is anyone to gainsay him?) that he knows everything there is to know about playing that position successfully, and Tim Tebow does not fit his conception of that success.

Since the rest of the Denver front office apparently agrees with Elway, Tebow continues to ride the pine, and to play the good soldier in every interview, and every game, even if it means lining up spread wide right. He's not even holding the clipboard; that job belongs to Brady Quinn. (I'm not sure it's possible to subject any NFL quarterback, much less a two-time National Champ/Heisman winner/first-round draft pick to a more ignoble fate than "third on the depth chart behind Brady Effing Quinn.") It's entirely possible that the Denver brass are 100% correct in their assessment of Tim Tebow. The thing is, the fans aren't being allowed to find out. Orton and Quinn are known quantities, and what's known, primarily, is that neither one is going to bring the franchise to the Super Bowl. As long as Tebow remains an unknown, sitting on the bench every Sunday, he's going to be perceived as a potential savior who is being unfairly kept from doing his job by the people in the front office. Whether or not the reality is anywhere close to that doesn't matter to the fans. Until it's proven otherwise to them on the field, Tebow is Clark Kent and Elway has locked him out of the phone booth, unable to don his cape. And so the proliferation of those #15 jerseys and those "Tebow!" chants will continue. John Elway has a first-round albatross on his bench.


Tony Sparano has to be feeling the pressure. His team essentially went shopping for a replacement head coach in plain, cold-blooded sight, this off-season. When they were unable to sufficiently woo anyone they actually wanted, they glossed over the whole mess in the media and slouched back to their front office desks: "Tony, you've still got your job ... but don't get comfy." Now the Dolphins are 0-3 and Sparano's seat is decidedly of the toasty persuasion. In an AFC South that features the Patriots, the Jets, and the suddenly-unstoppable Buffalo Bills (yet another phrase I never thought I'd type), the Dolphins are pretty much a lock for yet another season of Divisional Doormat status. Miami is about as far from Denver as a human being could get and still be in the continental United States, but a few weeks ago, the fans have been chanting about a quarterback there as well. The very same quarterback whose presence under center is causing all the ruckus in the Mile High City.

"We want Orton!!! We want Orton!!!"

Tony Sparano has to be ticked off. He, also, didn't ask for this mess. Miami's preseason window shopping for his replacement essentially killed his credibility and any semblance of locker-room command. Lame duck isn't even the proper term to convey his current impotence. Lame ... emu? Ostrich? Flightless birds seem like apropos metaphors. Then the front office compounded the problem by failing to complete the much-discussed preseason trade for Orton, leaving the team and their fans with Chad Henne calling the signals. Henne is competent. Mostly. And that's about where the superlatives end. Tony Sparano has a mediocre albatross under center.


It's like one of those annoying SAT logic problems. Two teams have quarterback problems. One team has a third-sting QB they don't want and a terrible second-string QB. The other team has a starting QB they don't want but they do want they first team's starting QB. Which QB should be traded?

A. Denver trades Kyle Orton to Miami for whatever they can get and starts Brady Quinn.

B. Miami trades Chad Henne to whoever will take him for whatever they can get and tanks for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

C. Denver trades Brady Quinn to whoever will take him for whatever they can get.

D. Denver trades Tim Tebow to Miami for whatever they can get and Miami trades Chad Henne (or backup Matt Moore) for whatever they can get.

The correct answer is D. Think about it. Denver doesn't intend to give Tebow a fair shake unless everybody else gets injured and they don't have any other choice. He's just going to keep sitting on that bench and while he's there, a few things are going to happen. a) Every Kyle Orton incompletion is going to insight more acrimony from the fans.* As the losses pile up, the media is going to get in on the snowballing criticism, and the heretofore mostly-academic "should they be playing Tebow?" debate is going to get some real venom behind it which is eventually going to be divisive in the locker room, the front office, the stands, and everywhere else. And b) Eventually, those "Tebow!!!" chants are going to get loud enough to start legitimately disrupting Orton's concentration and possibly harming his psyche. You can't expect anyone, even a professional NFL quarterback, to consistently trot out there and do his job well while a healthy chunk of his team's erstwhile supporters are declaring, loudly, that they'd rather be placing their faith in someone else. Not only will it mess him up, but I'd bet your teammates start buying into the negativity if it's sustained over a long enough time at a long enough volume. That situation would rattle Tom Brady, much less a journeyman like Orton.

*On the whole, of course, it's a terrible idea to make personnel and tactical decisions based on fan sentiment. But in a case like this, when that corrosive atmosphere is permeating the organization on multiple levels, it may be prudent to listen to act accordingly.

So if the Broncos aren't going to play Tebow, and his presence is only going to cause more and greater problems the longer he stays, why not trade him? And who better than the Miami Dolphins to bookend that transaction? The team that badly wanted Kyle Orton a month ago, that is literally desperate, front office, fans, and everyone in between, to have anyone other than Chad Henne under center.

Here's what this would accomplish if it's done right:

The Broncos get rid of Tebow. Initially, the fans are going to be outraged, but they'll calm down when they realize how much more cohesive Denver can be without him. Everything I just wrote about the fans torpedoing Orton's confidence would become moot after everyone understands that Tebow isn't coming back and they need to get on with the season. You need chemistry and a unity of vision to win in the NFL, especially with an under-talented roster like Denver's, and getting Tebow out of town before the disruption he's creating can escalate is the best way to maintain the status quo. (Note: I in no way meant to imply that any of this is Tebow's doing or his fault. It's the organization who drafted him so high and put these expectations in the minds of his teammates, the fans, and the media, then refused to play him. Denver's front office, and former head coach Josh McDaniels, are the culprits here. Nor am I saying Denver should play Tebow. But his mere presence is proving detrimental to the team, and if they're not going to use him, a change needs to be made.)

Aside from righting the team's mental/emotional ship, Denver can get some assets back from this. Probably not notable current players, mind you. Miami doesn't have anybody on their roster to offer in return that would be a definitive upgrade over what Denver already has except maybe Brandon Marshall who, call me crazy, probably won't go back to Denver. Ever. (Though the Broncos might consider asking for Devon Bess as part of the deal. I think he'd be a nice fit for their system.) Again, we don't know what Tebow's actual NFL worth is. However, the Broncos could probably get a mid- or lower-level draft pick, some added (if not especially inspiring) depth, and/or cash considerations back from the Dolphins in the exchange. That's not exactly a compensation that sets the sky on fire, but it'd be a steal in exchange for exporting the problem at hand. Admit you made a mistake, fix it, and move on. The Broncos weren't going anywhere this year anyway; the prudent course is to keep building around Orton and see what happens.

So what does Miami gain from this transaction? Well, everything I wrote a few paragraphs ago about fans verbally eviscerating Kyle Orton to the point where he just falls apart holds true for Chad Henne as well. Maybe even more so in his case. At this juncture, just seeing a fresh face is going to work wonders. And it's not like things can get worse than, you know, Chad Henne. But more than simply overwriting the negatives, Tebow could be a legitimate boon for Miami even if he doesn't perform terribly well on the field. After all, this is the only football city in America that's become famous for its' home-field disadvantage. (1-11 in their last 12 games at Sun Life Stadium.) Tebow could change all that.

Remember, leading up tho the 2010 draft, there was a fair bit of speculation that Jacksonville would draft Tebow. They needed a QB, and what better solution (at least from a revenue/draw standpoint) than bringing a kid who's already an all-time football legend in Florida back to his hometown? Miami isn't Jacksonville, and the "poignant homecoming" angle would not be strictly applicable, but Tim Tebow back in Florida, anywhere in Florida, is going to produce some bona fide electricity. There must be tons of Gator alumni in Miami who would go absolutely bonkers if Tebow suddenly showed up wearing green and orange. The reputation of that stadium and those fans would turn on a dime. All of a sudden, Miami would be a fun place to play football for the home team. Yes, games must be won on the field, but injecting some verve and hope into a usually-despondent home crowd could be a lot more beneficial than you'd think. Think about it: in the hundreds of interviews you've read/listened to/watched with athletes and coaches, aren't they usually pretty aware of the psychological effect a dead-air negative or enthusiastically raucous crowd can have? It's not the most important thing in the world, but it does matter.

Beyond just changing the culture in Miami, Tebow might bring some tactical assets to the team if Sparano and OC Brian Daboll are gusty and savvy enough to put him to use. Remember, it was 2008 when Sparano took the helm and promptly turned a 1-15 disaster zone into an 11-5 team with its first playoff birth in 7 years. And he did it by applying a healthy dose of unconventional thinking to the offense, dusting off the Wildcat and flummoxing defensive coordinators across the land. Even the Mighty Hoodie got spanked good by Miami that year. Since he's already within a few more losses of losing his job, why not go all out? The first piece I ever wrote in this space dealt with the evolving nature (and possibly evolving usage) of the NFL quarterback. The essential thrust was that, with college game largely producing non-traditional QBs these days, those are the athletes that OCs are going to have to build their concepts around in the future, and the offensive game will probably evolve to fit their skill sets. I thought Michael Vick would be the ultimate test case for this, and that Eagles/Redskins game last season seemed to prove the point. Of course, the concerns about putting a multi-million dollar player in physical jeopardy by running him outside the pocket are always present, and the abuse Vick is taking this year suggests maybe it's not such a good idea after all.

But here's the thing: Tim Tebow is not Michael Vick. Vick may be the most superior athlete in the game, but he's also kind of lithe and willowy and not built to take repeated hits. Tebow, on the other hand, is built like a tank with decent cruising speed and an arm. He's 6'3" and 240 lbs. of power. I think he could take the abuse. Yes, his mechanics are terrible. Yes, he needs a better pocket presence. But seriously, what would Miami have to lose? Heck, aside from his cushy broadcasting gig, Urban Meyer isn't doing a whole lot these days; have him come down for a week and install some of Florida's offensive playbook from the Tebow years, see where it gets you. If things don't work out, Tebow's current contract only has him on the books for $8.4 million total through 2014, so it's not like he could financially sink the franchise. Sparano had his best Dolphins season by thinking outside the (tackle) box. He could save his job by doing the same. (And while he's at it, ditch either Henne or Matt Moore for whatever he can get.)

Of course, it's all hypothetical. Tebow is still on the bench in Denver, Henne is still in Miami, and neither team's future looks, to state things politely, particularly rosy. But if Denver wants to unify its organization and fans, and Miami wants to re-energize its organization and fans, I say Tim Tebow is the key.

The trade deadline is October 18. Think it over, fellas.

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