Tim Tebow joined the New England Patriots on the practice field and so far has kept a low profile, with coach Bill Belichick declining to say what position or role Tebow might have with a team that’s made the Super Bowl five times in the past 12 years.
The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback’s signing was announced by the Patriots in an e-mailed statement, the same day as the start of the team’s mandatory minicamp. Financial details weren’t disclosed.
“Anything we do is what we feel is in the best interest of the team,” Belichick said during a news conference where 23 out of 27 questions were about Tebow. “Tim is a talented player, who’s smart and works hard, so we’ll see how it goes.”
The 25-year-old spawned a phenomenon known as Tebowmania by leading the Denver Broncos to the NFL playoffs during his second professional season in 2011, even with questions about his passing skills and reliance on running.
The intense media scrutiny followed Tebow in 2012 to New York, where his arrival sparked a quarterback controversy. He had limited playing time with the Jets last season before being cut this April after Geno Smith was drafted.
While Tebow remains one of the sport’s most highly publicized players, Belichick won’t let his arrival be a distraction for the franchise, former Patriots center Damien Woody said. Belichick is entering his 14th season with the Patriots and his 187 career coaching wins are the ninth most in league history.
“Coach Belichick is going to squash that from day one,” Woody said on ESPN, where he works as an NFL analyst. “When I heard this, it was Tebowmania versus the Patriot Way. And the Patriot Way is going to win out every time.”
The first 14 questions posed to Belichick at his news conference were about Tebow. Belichick said he’s focused on improving the football team, not with the fanfare or celebrity of an individual player, and wouldn’t address questions about whether Tebow can play quarterback in the NFL, saying several times that he’s a talented player who’s smart and works hard.
“I think we’ve already talked enough about him,” Belichick said after the 23rd question about Tebow was asked at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachuetts. “We’ll see how he does and just go from there.”
With New England’s release of Mike Kafka yesterday, Tebow may join backup Ryan Mallett behind Tom Brady, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player who’s won three Super Bowl titles with the Patriots. It’s not known when the Patriots might have Tebow meet with the media. When New England signed former All-Pro receiver Randy Moss in April of 2007, he did one conference call and then wasn’t made available to the media again until after the opening week of the regular season.
“We’re not going to have to worry about Tim Tebow having press conferences that we saw with the Jets,” Woody said. “We know who the starting quarterback is and we know who the head coach is. It’s one voice, one message. Anything you hear from that Patriots locker room from the players is basically regurgitated from what coach Belichick said in the meetings.”
Tebow will be reunited in New England with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels, who was head coach of the Broncos for the first 13 games of 2010 -- Tebow’s first season in Denver. McDaniels was fired by the Broncos in December 2010.
Jets coach Rex Ryan showed little faith in Tebow, who attempted eight passes for six completions, 39 yards and no scores during his only season in New York. He was the No. 2 quarterback to Mark Sanchez and was passed over for Greg McElroy when Sanchez was benched late in the season. After McElroy was injured, Ryan re-inserted Sanchez in the starting spot for the team’s final game rather than give Tebow a chance.
“I’m happy for the young man to get another opportunity in the league,” Ryan said today during a news conference at the Jets’ training facility. “If they want to replace Brady with him, that’s fine.”
Tebow had been voted America’s favorite active pro athlete in an ESPN fan-based poll after rushing for 660 yards in 2011 for Denver, where he ignited a fad known as Tebowing based on his kneel-and-pray pose after victories.
The Broncos traded Tebow to the Jets in March 2012, one day after signing four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning.
The Jets said at the time they planned to use Tebow in their wildcat offense, a package featuring runs and passes by the quarterback. Instead, he spent most of the 2012 season on the sideline holding a clipboard. Even though Tebow saw limited playing time, controversy remained about the Jets’ quarterback job, as Sanchez had a 6-9 record as a starter and threw 18 interceptions for the second straight season.
“The reason why it festered was quarterback play,” Woody said. “When you have that kind of play at the quarterback position, it leads to the type of atmosphere that was created with the Jets. The Patriots have Tom Brady, a Hall of Famer. This is a totally different animal. You’re not worried about that type of atmosphere creeping into New England.”
The Patriots are scheduled to host the Jets during the second week of the regular season on Sept. 12.