The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

By Adam Silverstein
August 25, 2011

Take every story written about every backup quarterback in the history of the NFL, combine them, and you probably would not reach the level of attention Denver Broncos second-year reserve Tim Tebow has received this offseason.

While a lot of the diatribes and “insider” stories about him are driven by one thing in particular – page views – it is important to realize that the media cannot be solely held responsible for this barnstorm of criticism and relative subjectivity about one of the most polarizing players in the league. His team has to take some blame, too.

Read the rest of this column…after the break!

This all started with the Broncos and it began last season when the organization, faced with a team that was going nowhere fast, decided to fire head coach Josh McDaniels and allow Eric Studesville to take over as the interim coach. Simultaneously, the team felt it was best to sit veteran Kyle Orton for the final three games of the season and see what their first-round pick could accomplish.

Tebow went on to post a 1-2 record during his three starts. The man with the league’s hottest selling jersey for most of the year led his team to an average of 25 points per game over those contests and fueled a come-from-behind 24-23 victory at home against Houston in between the two losses. In those three games alone, Tebow combined for 651 yards through the air (including a 308-yard game), four passing touchdowns, three interceptions, 199 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

He was responsible for 42 points in those contests (never scoring fewer than two touchdowns per game), engineered a 24-point second half to defeat Houston (Denver was down 17-0 at the half) and energized the Broncos faithful who believed in him before he started but sung his praises afterwards.

Then the lockout happened and Denver was stuck with a touch decision – sit Tebow for (at least) one more year or trade Orton (ridding themselves of a $8 million contract and receiving value for a 2012 free agent) and see what they have with Tebow. If McDaniels was still in the fold, the choice undoubtedly would have been the latter. Instead, unable to find a willing trade partner (the Miami Dolphins balked at the restructured contract Orton felt he deserved), Denver and its new regime of president John Elway and head coach John Fox decided to bring Orton back.

Tebow was never promised a starting job by the Broncos and the fans were not guaranteed that he would be the one beginning the season under center. But the way the organization handled its quarterback situation led both to believe just that.

Orton was not traded after all. He returned to Denver, lit it up early on in practice and made the decision easy for the team. He is after all the more experienced player, the more polished passer and the more mechanically sound quarterback.

What the Broncos may or may not have realized was that propping up Orton immediately upon his return simultaneously resulted in Tebow being knocked down – and not just on the depth chart. A vocal group of analysts and former players already doubted the Heisman Trophy winner’s ability to succeed in the NFL, and the amount of criticism thrown at the second-year passer began to grow exponentially.

ESPN analyst Meril Hoge was the first to unabashedly fire his shots as the new round of Tebow criticism emerged. “Sitting watching tape off bronco offense from last year!,” Hoge wrote on Twitter. “Orton or Tebow? It’s embarrassing to think the broncos could win with tebow!!”

Plenty of talking heads have their criticisms of Tebow, but Hoge’s appeared to the public to be perhaps a bit personal. He continued his rant on national television, fueling the fire and opening up the doors for critics to join his party.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly was the next to attack. A friend of Elway’s who also knows executives with the team, he combined “inside info” with his own opinion in his part-story, mostly editorial piece. “The Heisman Trophy winner looks stiff under center,” he wrote. “Most quarterbacks go snap-step-step-step-throw. Tebow goes snap-step-step-step-think-ponder-think-some-more-finally-decide-throw-three-feet-behind-the-receiver.” (That’s just a portion of his scathing column that was apparently written after speaking to a higher up with the team.)

It was finally time for Tebow to play the first preseason game of 2011. Did he play great? No, but Tebow did play quite well completing 85.7 percent of his passes (6-of-7) for 91 yards with a 118.8 passer rating while also rushing twice for 15 yards. He nearly manufactured something out of a completely blown play, too. It didn’t matter.

How did the Broncos reward Tebow? By dropping him to a third-string role in week two, allowing fellow former first-round pick Brady Quinn to play with the second-teamers even though they continued to split reps in practice. Quinn did quite well in the contest, going 10-for-16 for 130 yards with a touchdown and interception. Tebow? He came in with 11 minutes to go, wound up only receiving four minutes of actual playing time and threw just two passes because Denver had the lead and wanted to run out the clock.

Critics again pounced. His demotion and lack of playing time apparently spoke to not only the team’s current plans but their long-term hopes of Tebow becoming a viable quarterback in this league. Even before the game began, rumors of either trading or cutting Tebow were sparked by a writer who floated the idea out there on a whim. He did not consider the fact that Tebow is poised to earn a $6+ million payment on Sept. 2, basically making him untradable (him being a first-round pick and fan favorite makes him relatively un-cut-able, too).

With ESPN, CBSSports, The Denver Post, Pro Football Talk (via others’ criticisms) and a variety of other media outlets all raking in page views from the Tebow hysteria, Yahoo! Sports felt it was there time to jump in with a report so absurd it prompted the Broncos to do something seemingly unthinkable to them up to this point – actually respond publicly rather than behind closed doors.

Noting that the “savior’s wings get clipped” as part of his article’s title, Michael Silver reported that “one highly knowledgeable member of the [Denver] organization” told him Monday: “If everything was totally equal, and this were a competition based only on performance at this camp, Tebow would probably be the fourth-string guy. Kyle is far and away the best, and Tebow’s way behind Quinn too. And I’m telling you, Adam Weber is flat-out better right now.” [Weber, a rookie free agent from Minnesota, is the team’s actual fourth-string quarterback.]

Next to chime in was CBS Sports’ Boomer Esiason, who provided perhaps the most personal attack of Tebow to date. “He can’t play. He can’t throw,” Esiason said, according to USA Today. “I’m not here to insult him. The reality is he was a great college football player, maybe the greatest college football player of his time. But he’s not an NFL quarterback right now. Just because he’s God-fearing, and a great person off the field, and was a winner with the team that had the best athletes in college football, doesn’t mean his game is going to translate to the NFL. […] What Josh McDaniels saw in him God only knows. Maybe God does know — because the rest of us don’t.”

So the Broncos, who appeared perfectly fine with the Tebow bashing and the rumors being spread about a player they nearly decided to hand the reigns of the team over to in the offseason, finally answered back. First up was Denver’s vice president of public relations Jim Saccomano, who wagged his finger at the media for irresponsible reporting of the Tebow saga.

“All media, all types and levels, desperate for headlines that will move product,” he wrote via Twitter. “Great pressure for headlines, and sometimes the tabloid mentality overtakes objectivity, at expense of some great journalists. […] A serious concern for teams is granting access to outlets that provide incentives to writers based on page clicks. That is a problem.”

Then Fox chose to address the situation during his press conference on Wednesday.

“First of all, I would like to say that nobody in this building that is in the decision-making process — coach, official, or I don’t know, maybe they heard it from the cook,” Fox said. “I’m not sure, but we hold Tim in high regard. I think he’s got a bright future in this game. He’s playing maybe the hardest position I know in the NFL there is to play, and maybe in all of sports. He’s progressing fine. He’ll get more opportunities in games as we go; those are great opportunities. Last week, he was cut a little short based on how the game went. Defensively, we didn’t get them off the field, and by the time he got in, it was a four-minute situation. Everybody in this building has high regard for Tim Tebow, and Tim’s doing just fine. There’s no update on where his ranking is at this point by any official.”

What Saccomano and Fox fail to realize is that their own executive-level staffers and coaches – should the media’s claims of having sources who are “highly knowledgeable” organization members be true – are the ones to blame for providing much of the information that many are citing in their reports. On the other hand, the opinions of Hoge, Esiason and those of their ilk are just that – opinions. They’re entitled to them no matter how right or wrong they may be in the long-run.

The media and its page view-generating desires are plenty to blame for the breadth of the onslaught against Tebow these days, but the Broncos deserve some accountability, too, especially if members of its front office are providing what the head coach deems to be incorrect information. The way they have handled the Tebow situation – from both a playing and public relations standpoint – has been highly questionable.

The team has no problem profiting from the immense amount attention he is bringing to the franchise in apparel sales, sponsorship and newsworthiness (would anyone even be talking about Denver during its 4-12 campaign in 2010 or this offseason if Tebow was not on the team?), but it goes on the defensive about “false” reports when its own higher-ups are listed as the sources?

Over the last two days, a few notable names have come out in support of Tebow.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King was dead-on with the comments he tweeted. “I guess Tim Tebow was Den’s 4th-best QB when he led Broncs to 24-second-half pts and 24-23 win over Houston,” he wrote. “There’s no 3rd QB rules anymore. If coaches can’t find a role for Tebow in their offense, Den must be more explosive than 80s Niners. Last Tebow point: Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating he start over Orton. I’m saying he should have a package of Wildcat/option plays.”

Ross Tucker, a former player who does plenty of radio and television work for some major outlets caught on to the media’s recent emphasis in publishing Tebow-related stories. “Evidently the fastest way to get attention/pub these days is to criticize Tebow,” he tweeted. “So, I hate him. He smells. He’s left-handed. :)”

Denver Post columnist Woody Paige refused to “jump aboard” the train of disbelievers. “I didn’t give up on Steve Young or John Elway, and I won’t give up on Tim Tebow, either. But so many others have — prematurely,” he wrote.

Fox said Wednesday that Tebow will see plenty of reps as the rest of the preseason winds down. Perhaps he and Quinn will legitimately alternate between the No. 2 and No. 3 roles over the next two games like many teams do with their reserve quarterbacks.

Tebow’s every move and each decision Denver makes with him will be its own story. When an analyst with a large audience makes a negative (or even positive) comment about him, it will be tweeted and published by anyone who can get their hands on the quote. This will not change, and though some may see it as over-saturation, there is nothing wrong with the media giving information-hungry sports fans as much content as they can handle about a popular player.

However, if the Broncos want to the media to do (what they consider) a better job reporting on the most polarizing back-up quarterback in league history, the organization itself needs to realize the process has to start in-house.

The coaches and general manager need to do a better job handling his talent on the field, and the team president and front office staff needs to restrict divulging their opinions (whether positive or negative) on Denver’s most popular player since Elway to those who speak either directly to the media or not under the condition of anonymity.

Otherwise they only have themselves to blame.


  1. GatorCooken says:

    Fantastic article Adam, spot-on analysis

  2. SC Gator says:

    An excellent piece Adam.

    Unfortunately for Tim he’s now been saddled with John Fox. Even the biggest apologist for him will admit that his decision making when it comes to his QB’s has been suspect at best. Most fans here in Charlotte would have run him out of town if the organization had renewed his contract, mostly because of how he handled his QB situation.
    What the Broncos saw in him God only knows. Maybe God does know — because the rest of us don’t.

  3. JW says:

    In the end analysts like Hoge might be proven right, but I wonder if because Hoge has been so critical of Tebow, and has received so much recognition for his harsh criticism of Tebow, that at this point he is actually rooting for him to fail.

    • chigator says:

      There is no way Tebow wins unless he becomes a HOF QB, unlikely. I think, as terrible as it sounds, that Tebow being released at some point or abandoned by Denver is the best scenario. This way he instantly becomes an underdog, probably losing no fans along the way. Eventually, someone will do a Steve Young and revive his career with coaches who want him to do well and will put in a system designed for him. Plus, Tebow gets back this iconic ‘underestimated’ status, something that he thrives on and was stripped from him by being drafted in the first round.

      The sad reality is that Denver won’t take any chances on Tebow, which means he will never be the starter. The league is full of mechanically sound QBs who just can’t will their teams to win (Brady Quinn in Cleveland). The funny thing is that John Fox’s old team, the Panthers, are going the opposite route. They are going to give Newton a chance with designed plays for his legs and shape the offense around him.

      I love Tebow but the front office isn’t gutsy enough to give him a legitimate shot. It will have to be somewhere else.

      • I agree except for the “HOF QB” part. I think if he’s a long-term starter who finds success in the league he can still win. Don’t forget, the critics are not saying he can’t win a Super Bowl…they’re saying he can’t even play the position.

  4. John S says:

    Very nice article Adam, thank you.

    It is remarkable that in an off-season where potentially the league’s best player (Peyton Manning) may be injured and unable to start, and the league’s best rusher is in an ugly holdout situation (Chris Johnson), everyone is talking about the back up QB in a rebuilding franchise.

  5. sjkoepp says:

    Very good read. Thanks for compiling all of this, Adam.

  6. Joe says:

    Extremely well written article AS!

  7. Daniel M. says:

    That piece was sliiiiick.

  8. donnagator says:

    Best piece I have read on Tebow this year. And I have read a lot of them.

  9. Mr2Bits says:

    This is the type of coverage and storytelling that set you apart from the rest and cement you in journalism excellence. I know everyone around here loves themselves some Tebow but the light you put on the unknown is bar none.

  10. Tom says:

    The true test of Tebow’s situation will be when someone offers Denver a pick or a player at a position of need in exchange for Tim. (I’m assuming that hasn’t happened yet.) Will they have the balls to send him packing and risk that he becomes a star somewhere else? I wish the Dolphins would make a serious offer.

  11. Malikg says:

    Great work, especially in compiling all said and unsaid, Adam. As a long-time Broncos fan, I don’t really have much of an issue with how John Elway and John Fox have handled the situation, though. My Broncos were 32nd (out of 32) in the league last year in defense, and the team had the 2nd pick in the draft, meaning there are quite simply bigger fish to fry than stamping out media fires for a backup quarterback, no matter how good he may be in the future, and how many jerseys he sells in the present.

    I also feel that there’s the sense that Fox and Elway know that they have to balance the needs of the entire locker room and team as a whole versus just Timmy, and as such they have some incentive to simply let him fight his own battles and just step in when needed. Now that practices are closed to the media, I fully expect the Broncos to implement and practice more “Tebow-packages” (as lewd as that reads when I type it out).

    The team is also in a weird position. I wouldn’t term it quite as a no-win scenario, but it’s certainly tricky. You have 2 veteran quarterbacks who both are most likely not in the long-term plans for the team, with a Hall of Fame QB in Elway overseeing them. Add to that mix that both Quinn and Orton are both playing the final year of their contracts and that as of now, Tebow will be the only guy under contract, and it’s even weirder. AND just for the cherry on top of the crap sundae, Tebow’s lack of an offseason and a new staff means that you really don’t even know what you DO have in him.

    In the end, for the most part the controversy is both media and fan-fueled, especially at this point… IN THE PRESEASON. I’m just continually bemused that so much talk is about the 2nd or 3rd string QB on a team that was absolutely AWFUL this past year. But hey, that’s why Tebow gets the big jersey sales. That, combined with being a 1st round pick of a fired coach puts you in the spotlight (or crucible). He’s still an athletic prospect with a great work ethic who I think has a good shot to develop into a good NFL quarterback.

    I do have to acknowledge that it’s at least possible that his emergence will end up not being with my Broncos.

  12. Brooke says:

    Great column, Adam.

  13. Charles says:

    A really thoughtful and well-written piece. Thanks, Adam.

  14. 305 Gator says:

    Thanks for the article! great read!

  15. Ralph Seegobin says:

    Fantastic article, Adam!

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