The Jacksonville Jaguars may get a second chance to land hometown hero Tim Tebow thanks to Peyton Manning.
Tebow, who won two national championships at the University of Florida, could be on the trading block after Manning signed with the Denver Broncos, vice president of football operations John Elway said yesterday. A second-year quarterback, Tebow helped the Broncos rebound from a 1-4 start last season and get their first playoff win since 2005.
Jacksonville might now be the ideal destination for Tebow, who grew up in the area before playing college football in nearby Gainesville, Florida. The Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have all discussed the possibility of signing Tebow internally or with the Broncos, ESPN said, citing a league source it didn’t identify.
The Jaguars have an estimated value of $725 million, the lowest in the National Football League according to Forbes magazine, and Shahid Khan, who took ownership in December for an undisclosed price, is seeking ways to boost ticket sales and interest in the team.
“Tebow has financial upside beyond football and Jacksonville is probably one of the franchises that could justify the price,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.
The Jaguars in 2010 passed on drafting Tebow, who was selected by the Broncos with the 25th pick. Jacksonville had the 10th choice and took defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.
Khan, the owner of auto-parts maker Flex-N-Gate Corp., said last month in an interview with WOLV television in Jacksonville that he “absolutely” would have drafted the 24-year-old Tebow, who had an 8-5 record as a starter last season, including a playoff win against Pittsburgh.
“The first Jaguars game I came to was in 2010 and we played Denver here,” Khan told KOLV. “There were a lot more Tebow jerseys in the stands than the teal jerseys for any player. You hate to get into 20-20 hindsight and finger pointing, but certainly if I had anything to do with it... I think probably we won’t have a chance like that again.”
Now Tebow may be available, just over two months after being voted America’s favorite active pro athlete in an ESPN fan-based poll.
“With the opportunity to have Peyton Manning’s services, we had to take advantage of that,” Elway said. “Now we have to go back and address Tim and see what is the best situation for the Broncos as well as him.”
In response to queries about Tebow’s possible availability, Khan said in a statement he “won’t comment on players who are not members of the Jaguars organization.”
The Jaguars are the favorite at online oddsmaker Bovada.lv to acquire Tebow, who spawned a fad known as “Tebowing” through his kneel-and-pray pose after victories.
Former Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Broncos might not get much more than a fifth-round draft pick if they trade Tebow, whose 46.5 completion percentage as a passer was the worst among starting quarterbacks last season.
“It’s a relatively low-risk, high-reward move,” Steve Herz, the president and founder of New York-based sports and media talent agency IF Management, said in a telephone interview. “He could fill the stadium, he could sell a ton of jerseys, TV ratings could go through the roof. It’s the most logical. I don’t see who else it even makes sense for.”
The only team in the four major U.S. professional sports to play in Jacksonville, the Jaguars went 5-11 last season with rookie Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Gabbert was the 10th player drafted in 2011 and Jacksonville also has former Dolphins starting quarterback Chad Henne, who was signed last week as a free agent.
Signing Tebow, who had one of the league’s best-selling jerseys last season, would be about more than just on-field production.
The Jaguars ranked 25th out of 32 NFL teams in attendance last season, drawing an average of 62,331 fans to eight home games at 67,246-seat EverBank Field.
Khan, a native of Pakistan whose company is based in Urbana, Illinois, has said the focus is on expanding the club’s fan base while improving a team that’s made the postseason twice in 11 years and last had a winning record in 2007.
Bringing Tebow aboard might provide the franchise the injection of excitement it needs, said Scott Becher, the executive vice president of sports and entertainment for Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising.
“This is the ultimate second chance and maybe Jacksonville gets it right this time,” Becher said by phone. “He’ll immediately impact ticket and sponsorship sales but, more importantly, he’ll excite what really is a dormant fan base.”
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