Tim Tebow and the Eagles: The Philadelphia Experiment

Can Chip Kelly finally unlock the former Heisman winner’s pro potential? At least he’s willing to give it a shot


By Michael Weinreb

Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow hopes to suit up for the Philadelphia Eagles on Sundays. Matthew Pearce/Corbis

Let us begin, not for the first time, by making the presumption that Chip Kelly has at least a vague idea what the hell he’s doing, and let us dispense with the notion that Kelly is engaging in some kind of precarious social experiment that may wind up causing Philadelphia to implode in a mushroom cloud of its own considerable self-loathing.

There is no question that this offseason, Kelly is putting his reputation for eccentric genius on the line. There is no question that the Eagles are now the most interesting team in professional football heading into 2015, largely because Kelly has overhauled the Eagles’ roster by (among other things) trading what appeared to be a perfectly serviceable NFL quarterback for an injury-prone one, and by jettisoning a beloved All-Pro running back in favor of a different All-Pro running back (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear). But now Kelly has achieved the Pro Football Talk commenter coup de grâce, the signing of Tim Tebow to a one-year contract.

There is, of course, no way to sign Tim Tebow without arousing a spectrum of emotions. I have no doubt that Kelly is smart enough to recognize the talk-radio implications of what he’s just done; but I also wonder if these implications are what at least partially inspired him to take a chance on a quarterback with an odd skill set who hasn’t played the sport in two years. I wonder if Kelly feels a certain kinship with Tebow, because at this point in whatever remains of his career, I think people hate Tim Tebow for the same reasons they’re suspicious of Chip Kelly: They both violate the orthodoxy of professional football. They both feel, to a lot of people, like they’re somehow cheating the system.

This, I think, is what’s fascinating about Tebow, at age 27, on the verge of what might be his last chance for a pro career. His religion is no longer the primary flashpoint; his abilities are. The people who don’t like Tebow tend not to like him these days because they feel he doesn’t deserve another shot at the NFL, because they feel that he is being propped up by the media cycle at ESPN, because they feel that he’s a college quarterback with college skills who couldn’t possibly make it in the rough-and-tumble real world of professional football. They don’t like Tebow because he doesn’t fit any sort of professional template, and therefore, they feel, he doesn’t deserve any more chances.

And it’s possible that these people are right. It’s possible that Tebow will never play in a regular-season game with the Eagles; it’s possible that Kelly will tinker with him and decide, as Bill Belichick before him, that Tebow isn’t a fit for his team. But the fact that Kelly is willing to try, that he’s willing to endure the media scrutiny and the annoyances that scrutiny brings with it tells me that Kelly is willing to try pretty much anything. And this is a rare trait for a relatively young NFL coach to have; this is a league, after all, where coaches and general managers are often judged by their mistakes and therefore tend to err on the side of caution.

If nothing else, Kelly has now proven that he is not that kind of person. And perhaps this experiment in radical thinking will fail, and perhaps Kelly will get nothing out of Tebow – but what if he does? What if he really does have some plan to use Tebow within the league’s (impending) new PAT rules, or what if he plans to utilize Tebow in the running game in some heretofore unforeseen formation? What if this is the beginning of a minor offensive revolution?

Maybe that’s unlikely. Maybe the chances of that happening are less than one percent. But here’s the difference between the NFL and college football: In the NFL, the sport often regresses toward a conservative mean, toward things that have worked in the past; in college football, at least over the past 10 years, the sport has embraced an experimental vibe that encourages out-of-the-box thinking.

This is not to say the NFL needs either Tim Tebow or Chip Kelly. Even with all of its attendant problems, it would get along just fine without them. But it’s a hell of a lot more interesting just imagining that they’re out there, huddled in a room together, attempting to conspire against the system.

Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb

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4 Responses to “Tim Tebow and the Eagles: The Philadelphia Experiment”

  1. ck says:

    Well, Mr. Weinreb, you may have to eat some of those words…what do u think Buzzy? Like the “Pro Football Talk commenter coup de grace” comment..definitely hilarious!

  2. brandi says:

    The comment the NFL will get along just fine is the attitude that will come back to haunt. The ONLY thing that still remains to be seen is how much will it haunt.

    EVERY SportsBiz Analyst who has tried to defend the NF”s future has done so with a huge bubble in their calculations tagged Network Revenue. But the Network Execs said enough was enough…almost word for word…right after they signed the current deals when all anyone in NFL Media were talking about was A) How huge those deals were B) How the league was going to spend all that money and C) Lockout? or Strike”. NOBODY wanted to talk about the fact the Network Execs put the NFL on notice that they wanted to actually see something for all that money and they’d never do it again unless they did. That they stood by those words over the Thursday Night Games should have awakened some people who weren’t already awakened by Sponsors who left saying the NFL is OK but it just isn’t OK enough for all the money they think they should get.

    Football has alot of problems. Some fixable. Some will take lots of work and could kill the Game if that work leaves it looking like flag football in pads. But the money issue is the one that hits most long term. There are a couple things that just can’t be gotten past. One, there aren’t enough Games to justify the money the NFL and Major College Football want. Second, there aren’t enough Fans to justify 3rd Parties like the Networks and Sponsors to pay all the bills and the gimmicks of ESPN and DirectTV, etc. are going to run their course as more people get their TV directly off the Internet through SmartTVs, Tablets & other mobile devices, etc. and everyone wants ala carte. ESPN is in huge trouble the day the people sending them money every month are actually only people who watch ESPN. Third, there isn’t any indication there are nearly enough people willing to send the NFL money directly to consume their product.

    The NFL absolutely needs Tim Tebow because it has to fix its image problem by actually cleaning up its act not just its PR. It needs to give Moms a reason to like it. It needs to give families a reason to like it. And now it needs to give Sponsors and the Networks a reason to like it. Gone are the days where it only had to give Madden15 Players a reason to like it.

    • ck says:

      The way this country is going, consumerism will be a thing of the past if it is not fixed…especially the DEBT!

      • brandi says:

        You’ll find very little useful economic information on the business channels or headline stories in the business and finance magazines and journals.

        It takes looking at the trends around the world and the responses to them. It takes looking at what the various “major players” are looking at when they band together beyond the big announcements.

        The 20+ largest countries are all looking at a trend that points to two-thirds of the world economy being off-the-books by 2020. The multi-nationals are banding together trying to figure out how to deal with the worldwide trend of individual self-determination and small groups of individuals and other small groups working together in ad hoc collectives to meet their own household needs.

        The fast growing economies are the ones that were barely economies at all as little as five to ten years ago.

        The world’s economy is in the process of flipping over from a top-down “planned” economy to a bottom-up responsive one.

        That consumerism you think is dying is actually becoming the most dramatic change in world economics since we’ve even had modern economic theory.

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