JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are, at the very least, no longer the NFL’s most irrelevant franchise.
Urban Meyer. Trevor Lawrence. Tim Tebow.
The rebuilding Jaguars now have three of college football’s biggest stars — and two of its most polarizing figures — from the past 15 years after Tebow signed a one-year contract Thursday.
The former Florida standout and 2007 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback will attempt to revive his pro career as a tight end.
The 33-year-old Tebow is returning to the NFL after five years (2016-20) in the New York Mets’ organization and he’s reuniting with Meyer, his college coach, for the first time since his senior year in 2009.
“I know it will be a challenge, but it is a challenge I embrace," Tebow said in a statement. "I am dedicated to taking the direction of our coaching staff and learning from my teammates. I appreciate everyone’s support as I embark on this new journey.”
Tebow joined his new team on the field Thursday wearing No. 85 — quarterback Gardner Minshew has No. 15 for now — and took part in a voluntary, closed workout.
Tebow is not expected to have any media availability until training camp, at the earliest, in hopes of minimizing the media circus that follows the devout Christian who has received rock star treatment at every NFL stop.
His comeback is unprecedented because of his age, his new position and the fact that he last played in a regular-season game in 2012, with the New York Jets. He's sure to create another ballyhooed storyline for a team coming off a 1-15 season that led to a coaching change and the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (Lawrence).
Several teams suggested Tebow make the position change years ago, but he declined.
He finally switched after retiring from baseball in February. He worked out for the Jaguars the following week, the first of two exploratory sessions that came to light hours before the start of the NFL draft on April 29.
Meyer raved about Tebow’s workouts, saying assistants were surprised to see the 235-pounder in such great shape. Ultimately, Tebow’s ability to pick up a new position — a number of college QBs have made the transition look seamless — will determine whether he makes the team.
Just getting a chance after such a lengthy layoff has stirred debate about preferential treatment. Others insist it’s merely the result of a decades-long relationship that now includes Meyer and Tebow being neighbors in Jacksonville.
“This Tebow deal just shows that personal relationships go further at this level than actual ability,” Carolina Panthers defensive tackle DaQuan Jones posted on Twitter last week.
Former Dallas receiver Dez Bryant, current Pittsburgh linebacker Devin Bush and Denver safety Kareem Jackson were among a number of others who criticized the move.
“So Tebow haven’t played an NFL game in damn near a decade and it’s that simple … no hate but you got to be kidding me,” Bryant tweeted.
Added Jackson: “... he got more lives than a cat.”
Tebow, who grew up in Jacksonville and remains a popular figure in his hometown, could fill a huge hole for Meyer. The Jaguars decided not to pick up a team option in veteran Tyler Eifert’s contract and traded oft-injured 2019 draft pick Josh Oliver to Baltimore in March. They signed run-blocking specialist Chris Manhertz in free agency, brought back James O’Shaughnessy and drafted Ohio State’s Luke Farrell in the fifth round.
Those were considered minor moves after Meyer vowed to completely revamp the position group. Tebow, at the very least, provides another splash for a franchise that had been mostly irrelevant the past two decades.
But how much can a guy on the wrong side of 30 who’s never played the position bring to the team? Tebow’s value could mean as much off the field as on it.
Meyer has said repeatedly that signing players who already know his methodology would be helpful in Year 1.
Jacksonville now has six guys on its roster who previously played for Meyer: Tebow, Farrell, running back Carlos Hyde, guard Andrew Norwell, defensive end Lerentee McCray and defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton.
Tebow played for Meyer between 2006 and 2009, helping the Gators win two national championships while becoming one of the most recognizable athletes in college sports.
He was a first-round draft pick by Denver in 2010, but his lengthy windup and inaccuracy led to a short NFL career. He spent time with the Broncos, the New York Jets, New England and Philadelphia. His last meaningful game came with the Jets in 2012. The Eagles cut him following training camp in 2015, with then-coach Chip Kelly saying Tebow wasn't good enough to be Philly's No. 3 QB.
Tebow won a playoff game with Denver in 2012 but never developed into a dependable NFL starter. He asked Meyer for guidance on whether to switch to tight end while bouncing from team to team, but Meyer said he “was so busy I couldn't give him the time.”
Tebow ended up leaving football altogether and signing with the Mets.
“I know playing a position in the NFL without (experience), that’s a long shot," Meyer said during the draft.
When Tebow approached Meyer about making a comeback, the coach invited him to the facility for a workout. Meyer made it clear he didn’t feel as if he owed Tebow anything, either.
“I have one job and that is to win games with the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Meyer said. “If Tim Tebow or (rookie running back) Travis Etienne can help us win, then that’s my job to get them ready to go play.”
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