Does anyone else remember Tim Tebow’s career? What a great time that was to be an NFL fan. All that slashing, running, risk-taking, comeback wins, overtime thrills and the spontaneous national popularity bandwagon that got rolling downhill and couldn’t be stopped really was a sight to behold.
Oh, I’m sorry. He’s still playing?
Flippant? Yes, but seriously, can you recall any player’s career which has followed the path of Tebow’s? And he has only been in the league for two years! What’s next?
It is remarkable – even by the NFL’s sometimes-fleeting standards of fame – to consider that it was less than a year ago that Tebow was the latest football craze. His religious preaching had found a whole new platform, his google hits were off the chart, and his twitter following was of biblical proportions.
Last week, he was on stage at the ESPY awards to receive the honour for the Best Sports Moment of the year, that being the 80-yard touchdown he threw to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime against Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
It is difficult to focus on the fact that that was just six months ago, and came on the back of a regular season where Tebow had taken over the starting quarterback’s job in mid-season at a time when the Denver Broncos were going nowhere. Through a series of improbable finishes, and that fan-demonium bandwagon rolling on, he became the hottest thing in US sport.
It is, therefore, a recognition of the flimsy foundations on which fame is built that not only is Tebow no longer with the Broncos, but he probably has little chance of being a starter at his new team, the New York Jets, unless Mark Sanchez goes down injured.
It is not the fact that Tebow is a back-up struggling to get a starting job that so surprises me but the fall from grace he has had at Denver. With his style, I was sceptical from the start about the possibility of him being built to last in the NFL. He has great college-quarterback skills which often don’t develop into an NFL career. As I watched him thrill us all last season, I could not help thinking that I would be more convinced if he got even better the following year when NFL defenses would have a season’s worth of film to study and would easily figure out how to nullify him.
But what intrigues me is how quickly – and cheaply - Denver were prepared to offload him. Remember if you will the price they paid to get him in the 2010 draft. Denver handed Baltimore three picks in that draft (a second, third and fourth round choice) in order to take the 25th overall pick to take Tebow. Having given that away to get him, two years later they sent him and a seventh round pick to the Jets in exchange for fourth and sixth round picks.
In other words, the bottom line on Denver and Tebow is that they gave away three decent draft picks to select him in the first place. They then got 167 pass completions and 17 touchdowns out of a first-round selection before throwing him away for a fourth rounder. Despite all the replica shirts they sold last year, by any measurement that is a staggeringly bad piece of business.
None of this makes me think the Broncos made a bad decision in deciding to trade him. I was just surprised they wasted a first-round pick on him in the first place. But having done so and having created a monster, they have left themselves in a difficult position.
Tebow has been replaced by Peyton Manning, and if you think Tebow’s rise and fall has been from the tales of the unexpected, how about the fall and rise of Manning?
Who could have guessed two years ago that we would be heading for NFL training camps this month with Manning under pressure to perform? That’s Peyton Manning, perhaps the best quarterback of his generation. Peyton Manning, the man who will own or come close to owning many of the greatest records of all time once he is finished. Peyton Manning, the player who started 208 consecutive games and led his team to at least 10 wins in each of his last nine seasons and in 11 of his 13 NFL campaigns.
And yet here he is for the first time in his professional career potentially outside of his comfort zone, and all because of some sophomore whose quarterbacking skills cannot hold a candle to Manning’s expertise behind center.
If you support any team other than the Indianapolis Colts, then at some point in the past 14 years, it is highly likely you have watched in frustration as Manning dismantled your team’s hopes. His 208 starts have produced 141 victories. His mechanical, methodical talent has made him appear like an automaton at times but his skilful utilisation of calling and changing plays at the line of scrimmage has been a revelation in the NFL, one that has led the Colts to an awful lot of success since 1998.
Now however, he is faced with three things which make this season different to any he has had so far in the NFL.
First of all, he has to adapt to new faces, new receivers and backs, a new offensive line. They have yet to face the intense heat of the Manning pressure cooker at the line of scrimmage in live play when he steps back from center and begins to reorganise – personally – every member of his own team, sometimes physically moving them to another spot. And they have yet to experience the frustration and wrath of Manning when they fail to understand what he wants in those few seconds of madness as he redirects everyone’s assignment.
Secondly, Manning has to overcome a personal psychological barrier, and as yet, none of us – including Manning – knows for certain how he is going to find the going after the year he was forced to take out through a neck injury which baffled doctors for a long time and at one stage threatened to end his career prematurely. He appeared to be over that when he signed a new contract with the Colts less than a year ago for $90million over five years. He did not play another down for the club, as a relapse of the neck problem left him out of action at the start of the season, finally placed on injured reserve and then released in March this year. Will he still have the old zip in that arm at 36, not having thrown a ball in anger for 18 months?
And finally, he has to put the whole Tebow affair to bed just as quickly as he can in the upcoming season. That could be easier said than done, considering Denver don’t have an easy start to the season. They welcome Pittsburgh in week one, then go to Atlanta, host Houston and division rivals Oakland before a two-game road trip to New England and then San Diego. That is tough in anyone’s book and if they are 2-4 at the end of that run-up to their bye week, the thousands of Tebow shirts in the stands in Denver when they return home to play the Saints on October 28 could be a little unnerving.
If anyone can handle that type of pressure, of course, it is probably Manning. And I fully expect Denver fans are glad to have him and will give him all the time he needs to fit in and prove he is the final piece of the jigsaw which last year Tebow led to a division title and a dramatic playoff win before falling short of the Super Bowl.
But as good as Manning is, he has been brought to Denver with only one purpose in mind. He has to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl. He has to rekindle memories of past John Elway glories in the Mile High city. He has to make Denver a champion.
Otherwise, all those who lashed out their money on those Tebow replica shirts will be wondering why he isn’t still wearing their colours as well.
Talking of quarterbacks making the news this week, how about Drew Brees? Any quarterback who signs a contract like the one he has just put his name to is going to make headlines, regardless of the controversy along the way but the numbers are truly staggering.
Whenever I see a contract for five years and $100million or something in that neighbourhood, I always think ‘okay, but let’s see what the real figures are, the actual guaranteed numbers’. In the past with the likes of Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick, it has always been a case of the numbers just being for show because we all know the contract will be renegotiated or the player released long before the big-earning seasons come along.
But with Brees, $40million of that will be earned in the first year and a total of $60million of it is guaranteed, making Brees the highest-paid player in NFL history.
It is tough to think of him in those terms. After all, this is a player who was dumped by San Diego to make way for Philip Rivers. He is also not what you think of as a marquee name. He doesn’t have the grace of Joe Montana. He doesn’t have the stature of Peyton Manning. He doesn’t have the guts and bloody-minded will to win of Brett Favre.
But who cares? He has something and whatever it is, it seems to work. He doesn’t look all that pretty on the field but he gets the job done, sometimes in devastating fashion. In six seasons in New Orleans, he has thrown for 28,000 yards and 201 touchdowns. Twice he has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in a season and last year, he ripped up the record book, completing more passes for more yards and a better completion percentage than any player in history in a single season. He also had a QB rating of 110.6. For a whole season, that is off the chart.
He has previously delivered the Super Bowl New Orleans craved and last season threw 46 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions.
The Saints are going to be punished this season for all the fallout from the bounty scandal and in all likelihood they will not be competing in their own stadium as it hosts the Super Bowl on February 3.
On top of that, people can argue all they want about the merits or otherwise of the drawn-out affair that became the Drew Brees contract negotiation and over whether or not he, or more likely his agent, was determined to hold out until such time as he could claim the title of highest paid player of all time.
What cannot be argued however, is that fashionable figure or not, Brees brought to the negotiating table the sort of numbers that back up a case to make demands. He has done it all and, at 33, still has time on his side to do some more and prove that five years for $100million could be value for money after all.