Gene Frenette: Ex-Jaguars tight end Kyle Brady explains why Tim Tebow faces uphill challenge to make 53-man roster

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
Tim Tebow (L), seen here in 2008 as a Florida quarterback celebrating a victory over Georgia with coach Urban Meyer, will have to prove he can help the Jaguars win if he's going to make it as an NFL tight end. Former Jaguars' tight end Kyle Brady explains why he faces long odds.

It’s probably too much to ask NFL fans and the media to not treat the long-anticipated signing of Tim Tebow by the Jaguars on Thursday as either a monumental development or a gigantic waste of time.

Just accept it for what it is: Urban Meyer tinkering with his 90-man roster and seeing if the teacher’s pet can contribute to the Jaguars in any way after a nine-year exile from playing in a meaningful football game.

Maybe this experiment lasts just a few weeks into training camp before the Jaguars conclude the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida under Meyer isn’t cut out to play tight end, or likely any kind of hybrid role. Or maybe Tebow, who turns 34 in August, has enough competitive spirit and ability to provide some kind of offensive wrinkle that will help the Jaguars win games.

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Can you imagine the buzz in Jacksonville and nationally if Tebow actually caught a pass from Trevor Lawrence in a real game? For a touchdown? Probably fantasy, but don't think for a second that some people haven't at least thought about the far-fetched possibility.

Now let's quickly dismiss three false narratives about Tebow signing a one-year contract: It's not a publicity stunt because the Jaguars have enough marketing juice with Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence; he's not taking a spot away from a more deserving tight end since the roster already has 90 players; and most laughable, the notion that Jaguars and Meyer are doing this to ease the pressure on Lawrence, who has only spent his entire football life managing pressure quite well.

So here’s what everybody should do for now: relax, let it play out and understand this is essentially an experiment — also a favor being extended to a popular Gator who has built up a lifetime of goodwill for his philanthropic endeavors — that will probably attract more attention than it deserves.

There are few more polarizing figures in football than Tebow, as evident by the rush to judgment and chatter from national media outlets since this developing story began percolating three weeks ago. Really, how often do you see “hot takes” on any NFL team potentially signing a player trying to make it as a bottom-of-the-roster tight end?

Tebow's time away, position change a big hurdle to overcome

The reality is Tebow faces long odds at making the 53-man roster. Nobody understands that uphill climb better than former Jaguars’ tight end Kyle Brady, who spent virtually every productive moment of his football life cultivating his craft at that position.

Brady spent eight of his 13 NFL seasons in Jacksonville (1999-2006) before playing his last year with the Super Bowl runner-up New England Patriots. He was a phenomenal blocker who had some good moments as a pass-catcher, including career highs of 64 receptions for 729 yards in 2000 at age 28, and was also a consensus All-America in high school and at Penn State.

Since age 15, after converting to tight end from receiver at Cedar Cliff (Pa.) High, Brady worked exclusively for more than two decades at that one position. He can speak with some authority on the challenge ahead for an ex-quarterback trying to make it as a tight end at his football finish line.

“The difficulty for Tim comes not just in the fact he hasn’t played football for as long as he has, but it wasn’t the position he’s now trying to play,” said Brady, a Jacksonville real estate attorney and investor. “I don’t envision him being a hand-in-the-dirt tight end, I envision him being more of an H-back, which means he has to block a lot.

“It can take years to develop the mastery of those skills. More power to him. He has the work ethic to come in shape and understand the concept of the plays as a former quarterback, so that’ll be an advantage. The difficulty is going to come in mastering the skills [of tight end].

“Other guys have years of muscle memory. It’s like he’s going in there as a beginning belt, whatever color that is, and sparring with black belts. That’s what someone who plays in the box does. They’re masters of hand skills and balance and making contact with someone. Athleticism is huge. Playing quarterback, you’re not working on those skills. When you’re a beginner [at a new position], no matter what the arena is, that doesn’t usually end well.”

Why not enjoy the Tim Tebow ride?

No doubt, everything will have to line up perfectly for Tebow to be suiting up for the Jaguars in the regular season. He will have to provide a skill set that likely exceeds another tight end or borderline player because his age works against him.

It’s not a huge issue, but money could also be a factor if keeping Tebow is a coin-flip situation. The minimum salary for a player with his NFL experience is $920,000, compared to $660,000 for a rookie.

“From the Jaguars’ perspective, I think it’s a risk-less proposition,” said Brady. “Sure, because of all the attention he gets, there’s still a little bit of a circus that follows him and that can be distracting to some people. The fact he plays a less visible position probably helps to a degree. But I can guarantee you Urban Meyer is going to take the approach that if you can’t contribute on game day, he’s not going to make the 53-man roster.”

What could work in Tebow’s favor is under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, he does have practice-squad eligibility. NFL teams are allowed to keep two veterans – defined as two or more years vested time – on the practice squad (at $14,000-a-week salary), which would buy No. 85 valuable time to learn and gain more experience in case the Jaguars or another team choose to elevate him to the 53-man roster.

Brady last ran into Tebow a few years ago at The Church of Eleven22, a non-denominational church off San Pablo Road, and jokingly told him that if he decided to change positions, he’d be happy to give him some pointers.

“Physically, I mean, he looks like somebody you would see in a tight end or linebacker room,” said Brady.

It’s no longer a joke. Tim Tebow is now in the Jaguars’ tight end room. Whether it turns out to be a short-lived experiment or one of the NFL’s greatest comeback stories, it will be fascinating to watch.

So why not enjoy the ride? For however long it lasts.

gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540