No matter what the pundits say about Tim Tebow -- hero or goat, bargain or bust -- the real dilemma for Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos begins now. Tim Tebow has really led a life of 'the little engine that could'. He's used to being told he can't do things, all the way from high school football and up. He's used to hearing he can't.
But there was always some place to aim for that was higher than where he was. There was college when he was in high school, there was the Heisman Trophy in college and the National Championship at Florida to prove he could do it again. There's nowhere higher to aim for Tebow. Now it's about keeping a job. Now it's about sustaining a level of play that few believed he could attain.
Now there's a 45-10 loss in the NFL against an elite team that was fully healthy at the time the Broncos faced them. There's a 9-for-26 for 132 yards passing performance that can't be explained away against what was the league's worst pass defense during the regular season. That same defense held Tebow to five rushes for 13 yards. Where the Steelers couldn't make a play on third down to get off the field, the Patriots allowed Denver's offense just 7-for-18 in third down conversions. While people argue the significance of an entire 60 minutes of Tebow that resulted in the kind of performance T. J. Yates, Jimmy Clausen or even Matt Moore would be benched for, Tebow's next great challenge is upon him.
The media has crowned Tim Tebow their darling, lifting his name into the mainstream. Lucrative endorsements are going to exponentially increase, and with his popularity, more and more money will pour into his Tim Tebow Foundation. Tebow's generosity aside, now he faces the true challenge, keeping a job.
His base salary this year was just over $1.65 million, with incentive bonuses based on the number of snaps he played and whether the team made the playoffs, etc. No doubt this year he reached a good portion of those incentives, likely elevating his income to above $6 million dollars. However, for him to really solidify himself, he has to play more than 55 percent of the time two of his first three seasons. He managed that in 2011. He HAS to attain that in 2012 or the Broncos could be off the hook as much as an extra $15 to $20 million.
So the question will have to be asked, in addition to Tebow having to prove his worth repeatedly as most NFL quarterbacks do, why wouldn't Denver have every incentive to remove him from the starting job by Week Seven if his performance is even close to subpar, if for no other reason to than to fatten their pocketbooks?
Tebow's next great challenge is something he can't simply change by willing himself past it to the next level. It's failure, in the sense that his likelihood of keeping a starting job with the numbers he's put up thus far is slim to none. In the modern era of football, let's call that since 1970 to the present, only 14 quarterbacks started 20 or more games when posting 50% or less completion rate for their career. The most recognized name on that list is at the top, Doug Williams, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter who eventually led the Redskins to a shocking Super Bowl victory. Other recognizeable names include Joe Namath and Bobby Douglass, names for their era who had their share of press, but QBs that weren't mistaken as amazing. Then their are those that ring true to more of us, Todd Blackledge, Heath Shuler and of course, Ryan Leaf.
Should Tebow be benched during the 2012 season, he faces losses of the kind few of us can fathom. Not only would his income decrease from his lack of playing time, but likely endorsements would begin to fade away, and as the popularity of his name sinks off the sonar screen, it's very likely his foundation would be at risk for survival. This time it's about a whole lot more than disproving critics and pundits. It's about his livelihood.
Barring some freak injury, Tim Tebow is set to begin the 2012 season as the starter for the Denver Broncos. What lies ahead is likely to be his toughest challenge. Instead of unseating those ahead of him or disproving the doubters who said he can't, he faces a challenge of a different sort.
Staying where he is.