For a floundering franchise that ranked 25th in home attendance last year – and has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons – the Jacksonville Jaguars sure were tardy to the Tebow Trade Party. One wonders how excited the Jags even were to attend, because once the lights went up, there were no party favors left to be had: the Jets had picked ’em clean. After a captivating sophomore season, during which he delivered an AFC West title and a riveting playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tim Tebow seemed poised to solidify his hold on the Broncos’ starting QB position. Instead, the arrival of Peyton Manning in the Mile High City only expedited Tebow’s ticket out of town. The Broncos’ sudden harvest of QB riches, that in turn necessitated moving The Messiah, offered an unexpected bounty to a team enterprising enough to recruit Tebow to lead its flock. That team was not the Jaguars.
Since its inception in 1995, Jacksonville’s NFL tenure has been a roller coaster ride: Tom Coughlin did the unthinkable by guiding the Jags to the AFC Championship Game in only their second year of existence, compiling a sparkling 49-31 record over his first five seasons at the helm. Dark days soon followed, and after three consecutive losing campaigns Colonel Coughlin was summarily stripped of his rank. Jack Del Rio succeeded him – if you consider one playoff win in nine years a success. Outgoing team owner Wayne Weaver surely tired of Del Rio’s empty promises, so Weaver fired the former NFL linebacker as a housewarming gift to new steward Shahid Khan – who inherits the Jags’ checkered history along with an ocean of tarp-covered seats.
Khan’s first order of business is restoring hope to a jaded fanbase. After some speculation that the Jags would be a relocation candidate once the NFL flies its flag in Los Angeles again, the billionaire’s purchase of the franchise came with the understanding that he’d keep the team in Florida. Khan elected to retain general manager Gene Smith, whose evaluation could best be termed incomplete after three years. As this new regime’s first head coaching hire, the Jags settled on Mike Mularkey, former head man in Buffalo and late of the Atlanta Falcons coaches’ booth. With Jacksonville’s holy trinity (owner|GM|head coach) in place, the question remaining is who will pilot the ship, and Blaine Gabbert didn’t exactly earn his wings during a pathetic rookie season.
All of the above seemed to set the stage for the prodigal son’s return to the Florida coast, but it wasn’t in the cards. Despite Mularkey’s insistence that he wanted Tebow, the Jags either weren’t willing or savvy enough to outbid the New York Jets for his services. The Jets offered to contribute half of the $5 million balloon payment owed Tebow for the coming season, and 4th and 6th round picks, for the QB and a 7th rounder from the Broncos. Jacksonville reportedly offered to pay “more than half” of the $5 million, along with a 4th rounder – but no sweetener. The Jags’ stated reasoning was their steadfast belief that you build teams through the draft – though ironically their draft record has been spotty, and none of their recent high draft picks have delivered a fraction of the value Tebow did in two short years in Denver (namely a playoff win).
Throughout his time in Buffalo and stints as offensive coordinator of the Steelers, Dolphins and Falcons, Mularkey’s coaching style has displayed hints of innovation, but he prefers to establish a power running game as the engine of offensive production. With the Jags, he has the makings of a solid offense in running back Maurice Jones-Drew, newly-acquired wide receiver Laurent Robinson and talented tight end Marcedes Lewis. The lynchpin still is Gabbert, and by whiffing on Tebow the Jags appear to have gone all-in on pocket rags – Mularkey’s track record developing quarterbacks notwithstanding. I shudder to think Jacksonville’s preference for Gabbert is predicated on the image of the prototypical quarterback, because how many rocket-armed male models have petered out at the position? The graveyard of never-weres is littered with them.
So I suppose Jaguar fans (the brave few who actually attend home games) will be left to wonder how Tim Tebow would look in teal and black. That means untold season ticket and jersey sales down the drain, not to mention the monumental goodwill squandered. A shame too, because I fear they’ll likewise be left to wonder what a winner looks like. Football fans at-large were also robbed – of an epic “mustache-off” between Khan and head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams (who were rumored to covet Tebow) for Timmy’s honor. So we’re all losers.