Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: Cutting Tebow was logical option
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tim Tebow just kept smiling Thursday night, no matter who approached him, how many cameras were in his face, or what the question asked of him. It seemed, at times, almost permanently affixed - a picture of the seemingly genuine positivity that represented his best chance of sticking with the Patriots this season.
Tebow wasn't going to make it as a quarterback in New England. Not with Tom Brady ahead of him. Heck, not with Ryan Mallett ahead of him. If he made it based on football reasons it was going to be because he could help the Patriots prepare for read-option QBs in practice, though that would've occupied one of the precious 53 spots on the active roster.
His best hope was that Bill Belichick would decide his unique ability as a spiritual, emotional, hard-working leader brought enough value to the locker room that he was worth keeping him around. That worked at the University of Florida, where he was a two-time national champion. And at Denver, where he led the Broncos to a division title and a playoff win.
But in between those instances, and again last season with the Jets, it became apparent that in order for Tebow to wield his influence and help transform his team into winners, he must be empowered. He must be important on the field, too. And that was never going to happen in New England.
So Saturday, Belichick made the only logical choice. Forced to release a dozen players in order to pare his roster down to 53, the coach cut Tebow loose - a decision that turns all those No. 5 jerseys into collectors' items, and potentially tosses the quarterback's NFL career onto the scrap heap along with them.
If that does indeed prove to be the case, it'll mean that Tebow's last NFL touchdown pass was the overtime bomb he threw to Demaryius Thomas when the Broncos beat the Steelers in the wild-card round after the 2011 season. And Tebow himself must now acknowledge that it's a possibility.
He said he thought he was improving after he threw a pair of touchdown passes in Thursday's exhibitions - but when asked what he would bring to the team if the Patriots kept him, he didn't bother to site his ability as a football player. He spoke of himself as a person.
Or, a case could be made, as a cheerleader.
Someone that will just work hard, Tebow answered, loves the game of football, will always hopefully, Lord willing, have a great attitude, a great work ethic, and someone that tries to be an encourager in here.
Perhaps there will be a team out there that looking for those qualities and will give Tebow a chance. It's unlikely, given that he lingered on the free-agent market for a while after the Jets released him last spring, but perhaps he showed something during this preseason that intrigues someone somewhere.
We know now that it won't be Foxborough. And it was probably never going to be. It made sense that because of his prior relationships with Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and because a third quarterback is a necessity in training camp, but for a Pats team that prefers to keep only two QBs, and throws a lot, Tebow's purpose in the regular season was never apparent nor explained.
So perhaps his personable positivity and that smile ever-present, right through his final moments as a Patriot got some thinking otherwise. But, really, Saturday's news was inevitable all along.
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After Aaron Hernandez's arrest for murder put a stain on the franchise, some theorized that the Pats might make roster decisions with public perception in mind, and perhaps prioritize character and community over football.
They didn't. Tebow is evidence to a certain degree, but more obvious was the release of punter Zoltan Mesko. In order to save more than $900,000 against the salary cap, and avoid having to pay the incumbent a raise next season, the Patriots kept rookie Ryan Allen over Mesko, winner of the team's top community service award just a year ago, and a fixture at the team's service events since the day he arrived.
It wasn't enough to keep him, even if the competition on the field revealed little in the way of discernible differences between he and Allen, but Mesko was by all accounts among the nicest guys on the Patriots roster. And that was reflected in the gracious goodbye he left on his Facebook page Saturday.
"First and foremost, I want to thank the New England Patriots for everything they have done for me,'' he wrote. "I have nothing but love in my heart as I depart this great organization. Mr. Kraft, the coaches, the strength staff, the trainers, the media personnel, the marketing department, the rest of the amazing staff members at Gillette, and especially my teammates - THANK YOU for all that you have given and have done for me.
"I want to say that I see the silver lining in things now more than ever, and am a true believer that things DO happen for a reason. This goes out to anyone that will ever come across a mere bump in the road; be thankful, be positive, because there's a deeper purpose of WHY things happen that we may not yet, or may never come to understand. Just believe. I will miss New England, and more than anything, I'll be missing the smiles on those kids whom I visited and acted like a goofball in front of. It was ALL worth it. God bless.''
In Tebowian fashion, he finished the post with a smiley-face emoticon.
Based on the Patriots' other cuts, the team expects tight end Rob Gronkowski to be ready for his return before Week 6, having cleared a roster spot for him and expect them to pick through other teams' cuts to add a defensive lineman or two. They cleaned house at that position Saturday, releasing ex-second round pick Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis and Marcus Forston. Expect them to look for help on the interior, specifically.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.