For 15 years, sports fans everywhere have been talking about Tim Tebow. In two sports and across three leagues, the former Florida Gator has always been a story.
However, his time as a professional athlete appears to be coming to an end.
Tebow was attempting an NFL comeback this season after six years away from the sport. He came up short in his quest to convert to the tight end spot and found himself among the Jaguars’ first cuts of the 2021 NFL season.
It doesn’t seem likely that another NFL team will sign Tebow. Perhaps he could play baseball again — or try another sport — but it looks like Tebow’s time in the spotlight will be limited to the SEC Network.
If Tebow’s time as a pro athlete is done, it has been one wild ride. Frankly, there hasn’t been a career like that of Tebow’s, and there may never be one again.
As Tebow gets ready to ride into the sunset, here’s a look back at just some of the highlights and lowlights of his career.
MORE: How Tim Tebow fared in his first preseason game with Jaguars
2006-2009: Tim Tebow’s college football career at Florida
Tebow started his college career as a backup to Chris Leak. Despite throwing just 33 passes and running 89 times, he totaled 13 touchdowns and played a key role as a running quarterback for the Gators. He also had one of the iconic moments of his career: a jump pass against LSU that went for a touchdown.
Never forget when Tim Tebow pulled out the infamous jump pass against LSU ?
The No. 7 Gators head to Death Valley this weekend for an undefeated matchup with the No. 5 Tigers. pic.twitter.com/hStXtIQgjF
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 11, 2019
That set the stage for him to start in 2007, a season during which he became a star.
Tebow established himself as one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation. He racked up 3,286 passing yards, 32 pass TDs and six interceptions while running for 895 yards and a whopping 23 TDs. His 55 total TDs that season rank seventh in FBS history.
He won the first Heisman Trophy of his career over Darren McFadden, Colt Brennan and Chase Daniel, becoming the first sophomore to win the trophy.
Tebow regressed a bit statistically in 2008, but he still played well. However, the Gators lost an early-season game to Ole Miss, 31-30. After that game, Tebow gave his famous “Promise” speech, in which he apologized to Gator Nation for the loss and promised that a lot of good would come out of it.
Indeed, it did. Tebow and Florida went undefeated the rest of the season and were able to earn a victory in the BCS National Championship. They beat Oklahoma 24-14 with Tebow sealing the game on, you guessed it, a jump pass.
Tebow finished the year with 2,746 passing yards, 30 pass TDs, 673 rushing yards and 12 rush TDs. He finished third in the Heisman voting for 2008 behind Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy.
Despite being draft-eligible, Tebow returned to Florida to try to repeat as a national champion. He had another terrific statistical season — 2,895 passing yards, 21 pass TDs, 910 rushing yards and 14 rush TDs — and broke the SEC record for rush TDs in a career. Herschel Walker, 49, was the previous owner. Tebow’s mark of 55 still stands today.
Tebow couldn’t author a storybook ending. Florida wasn’t able to make it to the National Championship Game, as they lost to Nick Saban’s Alabama team in the SEC Championship, 32-13. He had to fight back tears during his postgame interview following the loss.
“It’s tough,” Tebow said. “It’s not how you wanna go out.”
Tebow played one more college game, beating Cincinnati 51–24 in the Sugar Bowl. He totaled 533 yards of offense during that game.
All told, Tebow had one of the greatest college football careers ever. That’s why he’s Sporting News’ No. 1 college football quarterback of all time and No. 2 overall player in college football history.
BENDER: What if Tim Tebow had gone to Notre Dame?
2010-2011: Tebow breaks out with the Broncos
Tebow’s landing spot heading into the 2010 NFL Draft was uncertain. Despite his status as one of the greatest college quarterbacks to ever play, opinion on him was divided. Some thought he could be a fine NFL starter that could redefine running at the NFL level. Others thought he’d have to change positions to be successful.
The Broncos were the team that was ultimately sold on Tebow’s potential. They traded their second, third and fourth-round picks to move up in the draft to select Tebow in the first round. Josh McDaniels planned to pair him with fellow first-round pick Demaryius Thomas and, hopefully, turn the Broncos into a playoff team.
However, Tebow needed time to develop. He didn’t play much as a rookie until the final three games of the season (at which point McDaniels had been fired). Tebow made three starts and posted a 1-2 record for the 4-12 Broncos.
Fans got their first glimpse of Tebow penchant for late-game heroics against the Texans when he led Denver to a 24-23 win after trailing 17-0 at halftime. His 6-yard touchdown run with 3:02 left in the game ended up being the decisive score and he finished the day with 308 passing yards and two total TDs.
Then came 2011, and with it came many, many more comebacks.
Tebow posted a league-high five fourth-quarter comebacks with the Broncos. His first came against the Dolphins and in front of Meyer. Denver trailed 15-0 in the fourth quarter, but Tebow managed to tie the game with two short pass TDs and a two-point conversion run. In overtime, Matt Prater hit the game-winner.
Then, Tebowmania really took the league by storm. From Weeks 10-13, Tebow led the Broncos to four consecutive fourth-quarter comeback wins. His best, late-game play in those contests was a game-winning 20-yard TD run against the Jets with under a minute left on the clock.
Tebow certainly got help from players like Demaryius Thomas, Matt Prater and the Broncos defense, during that stretch. However, Tebow got a lot of deserved credit for his clutch performance as well. His completion percentage of 46.5 was the worst among qualified NFL quarterbacks, but he helped lead Denver to the playoffs, nonetheless.
Once the Broncos got there, few thought they stood a chance in the Wild Card game against the Steelers. After all, Denver had eked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record by virtue of owning the tiebreakers over the Chiefs and Chargers. The Steelers were tied for the AFC’s second-best record at 12-4.
Tebow played arguably his best career game, racking up 316 passing yards, 50 rushing yards and three total TDs. He helped the Broncos get to overtime and on the first play, he connected with Thomas on a 20-yard throw. After forcing a missed tackle, Thomas took the ball the rest of the way to earn the upset win.
Tebow and Thomas’ heroics in the Wild Card round left Broncos fans hoping that the magic could continue against the Patriots. However, Bill Belichick’s Patriots came ready to stop the dual threat of Tebow. He ran for just 13 yards on five carries and completed just 9 of 26 passes for 136 yards. He was sacked five times and lost a fumble.
That game ended up being an inauspicious ending to his time in Denver.
IYER: Ranking NFL’s starting quarterbacks from 1-32
2012: Tebow fizzles with the Jets
On March 20, 2012, the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in free agency. He agreed to a five-year deal worth $96 million after his departure from the Colts. That left no room for Tebow on the roster, so the Broncos traded him.
A day later on March 21, 2012, they found a taker. The Jets swapped fourth and sixth-round picks for Tebow and a seventh-rounder from the Broncos. Jets coach Rex Ryan had visions that Tebow would be a perfect Wildcat QB for New York’s offense and that he would pair well with Mark Sanchez.
“He runs inside like a fullback, he can run the option, he can throw the ball, and run on the perimeter,” Ryan said of Tebow, per Boston.com. “Trust me, I don’t think defensive backs want to tackle him.
“It’s really a unique skill set that we were really fortunate to get when you just look at it from a quarterback perspective. Just that system, that Wildcat, he’s the perfect guy for it.”
However, things didn’t work out as planned. Tebow simply wasn’t the dynamic run threat that Ryan thought he’d be getting. Tebow played 73 offensive snaps and totaled just 102 yards on 32 carries, good for 3.2 yards per carry. He attempted only eight passes, completing six of them for 39 yards. He largely played the Wildcat, which didn’t work very well.
Tebow tried to contribute in other ways. He played 59 special teams snaps. Ryan also drew up a play where Tebow served as a receiver. However, his lone NFL target was not a pretty one, as you can see below.
As, the Jets sputtered, they turned away from Sanchez as the starter. However, they skipped right over Tebow on the depth chart and made Greg McElroy their starting quarterback.
“That’s what I feel in my gut,” Ryan said of starting McIlroy, per USA Today. “I liked what I saw from Greg against Arizona. And I like what I see on the practice field. I truly believe it’s best for our team right now. That’s how I feel about it.”
New York’s trust in Tebow eroded. As a result, he was cut on April 29, 2013, after just one year with the Jets. And the biggest highlight from his time there? It was probably him running shirtless in the rain at Jets practice.
2013-2015: Tebow the NFL journeyman
Tebow spent a couple of months in 2013 wondering if he’d get another shot to play quarterback. Then, on June 10, the Patriots came calling and offered him an opportunity to reunite with McDaniels.
The Patriots carried just three quarterbacks on their roster during the 2013 offseason. They released Mike Kafka to sign Tebow and planned to have Tebow compete with Ryan Mallett for the backup job behind Tom Brady.
Mallett ended up winning the job easily. Tebow completed just 11 of 30 passes for 145 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions across three games of action. That included a performance that saw him go 1 of 7 for negative-1 yards with an interception. His 37 percent completion rate ranked last among the 82 QBs to throw at least 30 passes during the 2013 preseason, per ESPN Stats and Info. He was cut as a result of his poor performance.
Tebow spent the 2014 season out of football before being granted what appeared to be one last chance to make an NFL roster. On April 20, 2015, the Eagles signed Tebow to join a quarterback room that contained Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. He was in competition with Barkley for the No. 3 quarterback job.
He actually made a good case to be on the team. He started with a solid outing, going 6 of 12 for 69 yards and a rushing touchdown.
He finished strong as well, going 11 of 17 passing for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his final preseason game for the Eagles.
However, the Eagles didn’t see enough from him to keep him around. They released him and Matt Barkley and brought Thaddeus Lewis on as the team’s third-string quarterback.
As Chip Kelly explained, Philadelphia just didn’t think he was ready to be an NFL quarterback.
“Tim’s really progressed but we didn’t feel like he was good enough to be the [No. 3 quarterback] right now,” Kelly said, per Pro Football Talk. “He just needs to get out there and get more reps.”
Tebow, then 28, didn’t see any more reps as a quarterback. He failed to land another job during the 2015 season and 2016 preseason and decided to give something else a try. So, he went to play baseball professionally.
2016-2021: Tebow signs with Mets to chase MLB career
In August of 2016, Tebow announced that he intended to play baseball professionally. He was a former all-state player, but he hadn’t played a full season in 11 years. Nonetheless, Tebow went through with a tryout on August 30; 28 of MLB’s 30 teams showed up to watch him.
Sure enough, Tebow was signed. On Sept. 8, 2016, Tebow inked a minor league contract with the Mets and prepared to prove his worth to the organization.
It started well. In Tebow’s first appearance for the Mets’ instructional league affiliate on Sept. 28, he blasted a home run on the first pitch he saw.
That’s something Tebow would continue to do during his career. In his first at-bat for the Mets’ Single-A affiliate Columbia Fireflies — which came in 2017 — he launched one to the opposite field.
When he was called up to Double-A in April of 2018, he hit a homer in his first at-bat yet again.
Considering that Tebow hit just 18 career homers in the minor leagues, it’s impressive how timely they were. His MiLB career as a whole was pretty good for someone who never played college ball and had an 11-year hiatus from the sport.
However, Tebow never made it above Triple-A. In 2019, his lone season playing at that level, he posted a slash line of .163/.240/.255 with 98 strikeouts. He did receive a couple of invites to Mets spring training, but he retired ahead of the 2021 MiLB season having posted a career slash line of .223/.299/.338 across three seasons of minor league baseball.
2021: Tebow’s comeback bid with the Jaguars
After retiring from baseball, Tebow was, surprisingly, granted one more opportunity to play in the NFL. His college coach at Florida, Urban Meyer, became the head coach of the Jaguars and brought Tebow on board to compete for a roster spot.
It wasn’t as a quarterback. It was at tight end.
Tebow tried to make the transition. Early during Jaguars camp, it seemed like Meyer was pleased with his progression.
“Oh, Tim has done a decent job. We all know this is a new position for him,” Meyer said of Tebow during June OTAs. “He’s a great teammate. In the locker room, I can see everybody getting along, we have good chemistry on our team. But he’s picked it up decently.”
However, as the preseason drew closer and closer, Meyer became a bit more critical of Tebow’s abilities at the tight end position. Specifically, he discussed the trouble Tebow was having as a receiver.
“He has good hands. In his drill work, he’s great, but when you get in a competitive moment, just (because of his) lack of experience he wants to body the ball,” Meyer said, per CBS Sports. “When you get to a point where two people are going after it, you have to go get the ball. He is fighting through that a little bit, but he has the skill set to catch the ball.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t on display during Tebow’s lone preseason appearance for the Jaguars. He was targeted just once and couldn’t catch the ball.
Even worse was his blocking ability. On consecutive plays in the third quarter, Tebow whiffed on blocks in the running game. The first one went viral, as he spun off the defender after making contact and then fell to the ground.
The second one was even worse. He allowed the defender to fly past him which resulted in Dare Ogunbowale being tackled for a loss.
Tebow’s 16 snaps against the Browns were ugly, and Meyer could no longer justify keeping him. The Tebow experiment ended with the 34-year-old being among the Jaguars’ first roster cuts as they trimmed their roster to 85.
Despite his release, Tebow was thankful for the opportunity and expressed his gratitude for the organization.
Thank you to the @Jaguars organization and everyone who has supported me in this journey.
And we know that…God works all things together for good. Romans 8:28
— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) August 17, 2021
Tebow’s release will almost certainly bring his NFL career to an end, and it may well be his final chance to play a sport professionally. From college football to the NFL to minor league baseball, it sure was a wild ride.
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