Has Tim Tebow’s Christian Faith Hurt His NFL Career?

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Tim Tebow signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Cue the jokey headlines about whether he can “resurrect” his NFL career.

A standout college quarterback, he hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season NFL game since 2012. In 2013, he was signed by the New England Patriots but cut at the conclusion of preseason.

Tebow is a lightning rod for two reasons. On the field, he has a winning record as a starting quarterback despite pedestrian statistics (he’s only completed 47.9 percent of the passes he’s attempted) and a terrible throwing motion. Off the field, he is an outspoken evangelical Christian and thoroughly decent guy.

The conventional wisdom is that Tebow would probably be playing somewhere if he wasn’t on the wrong side of the culture war: pro-life, abstains from premarital sex, prays on the field, wears John 3:16 on his eye black, sings Rich Mullins’ “Awesome God” on the sidelines. He has probably never even been to a gay wedding.

Even with Tebow’s limits as a passer, there are worse quarterbacks playing professional football. You would think he could at least land a backup job or a third-string spot.

Tebow threw as many touchdown passes in his best season as Brady Quinn in his entire career, yet Quinn has played more recently. Ryan Lindley was in the league for three seasons before he threw a touchdown pass and was allowed to start a playoff game with a 2-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Charlie Whitehurst has managed to stay in the league for 10 seasons, going 2-9 in his rare appearances as a starter. He’s called “Clipboard Jesus,” not due to religious belief, but because of his long hair and perennial backup status. Curtis Painter stayed in the NFL one season longer than Tebow despite losing all eight games he started and throwing more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns.

In that one miraculous season in 2011, Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a six-game winning streak, an AFC West division title and a single, improbable playoff victory. That is a better resume than any of the passers listed above even if he never plays again.

So on the face of it, the argument that Tebow is getting the Memories Pizza treatment is true. But lots of Christians have been successful in the NFL. In this case, I think the problem lies more with elements of his fervent fan base combined with an over-the-top, headlines-obsessed sports media than with his detractors, however.

That’s not to discount the football reasons Tebow has had trouble hanging on in the NFL. Tebow’s best season came when the Denver Broncos decided to completely revamp their offense to fit what their college-style quarterback could do well. It worked for a while, but few coaches think that approach can work indefinitely, much less deliver the kind of sustained playoff success necessary to win a Super Bowl.

The fact that Tebow’s Broncos were dismantled by Tom Brady’s Patriots in their second playoff game is pretty good evidence that skeptical coaches are probably right.

You also need to have a good defense to win with an offense based on Tebow running around and completing the occasional bomb while failing to connect on at least half his passes. Most, though certainly not all, of Tebow’s wins have come in low-scoring games. The formula: keep it close and maybe Tebow will make a big play at the end.

That makes teams reluctant to bring him in to be the starter. So why not backup or third-string quarterback? Well, if Tebow is your backup, you have to totally change your offense if the starter gets hurt, for all the reasons listed above. Most coaches would rather not do that.

Here’s where overzealous fans and their media enablers have decisively hurt Tebow: they erect billboards demanding he start, chant his name the first time the starting quarterback stumbles, flood the comments sections on local sports news website, all under ESPN’s glare.

A team might employ Tebow as a backup, maybe patiently develop him into a pocket passer. But not many want that kind of drama, and few have starting quarterbacks who won’t wilt under that kind of pressure. That’s why until Tebow’s Philly reunion with Mark Sanchez, the Patriots were the last team to even try — not even Tebow fans could imagine he was going to unseat Brady.

The league loves the jersey sales, ESPN loves the ratings, but the teams don’t like the dynamic it creates.

By all means, let’s pray for Tebow as he gets another chance to fulfill his NFL dreams. But then let’s shut up and let the players play.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.