No one man has messed with the mind of American football fandom quite like Chip Kelly this off-season. Since the Super Bowl, everyone has been wondering what the heck this guy is doing. Kelly, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, won a power struggle to control the team’s personnel decisions; he’s treated the job like a crazed chemistry experiment. And now Tim Tebow is in the mix.
Is Kelly trying to blow up the lab? Tebow, who hasn’t played in a regular season NFL game since 2012, is a strange infatuation. For a player with little obvious NFL talent, he draws outsized attention. Tebowing was a thing way back in 2011, when the ex-Heisman Trophy winner led the Denver Broncos to a surprise playoff berth. Denver boss John Elway seemed to act like that run happened in spite of, rather than because of, Tebow’s ability: Elway grabbed Peyton Manning on the free agent market the first chance he got. Tebow had a maddening season with the New York Jets — he barely got on the field — and after a training camp with the New England Patriots in 2013, he was out of the NFL. He spent this past season as a college football analyst for the SEC Network. He flourished in that role.
Normally, if a team signs a TV announcer as the fourth-string quarterback, that news doesn’t overshadow events like, say, the NBA Playoffs, where the some world’s most talented athletes are actually engaged in high-stakes competition. But just look and the characters involved, and consider the state of our sporting obsessions. The NFL’s power has stretched across the calendar; the draft, on April 30, has nearly become a Super Bowl onto itself. So has off-season free agency. Watching the organized violence isn’t enough. We need to stress about what uniforms the participants will wear.
So here comes Kelly, who’s traded two away one of the team’s quarterbacks (Nick Foles) and its star running back (LeSean McCoy), both of whom have reached Pro Bowls. He also watched wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, another Pro Bowler, sign with Kansas City. He signed Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher this season, and traded for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, a former Heisman winner who’s been inconsistent. And now he’s bringing on Tebow, whose open broadcasting of his Christian beliefs permanently placed him on the front lines of the culture wars. That, and his throwing motion, which gave him a permanent seat at dive bar debates: can anyone win with such an ugly release?
Prepare for stories on how Tebow’s mechanics have been overhauled, how Kelly’s system can utilize Tebow’s dual-threat skills. But remember: this April signing does not mean that Tebow will make the team come September. Still, you’ve got to hand it to Chip Kelly. To make America even more neurotic about football: that’s no easy feat.