ENGLEWOOD Nobodys questioning Tim Tebows character or work ethic, just his readiness.
The Denver Broncos have concluded hes not set to start in the NFL, but that doesnt mean theyre ready to cut ties with him.
The latest twist in Denvers summer soap opera is rampant speculation the Broncos will try to trade or even waive the second-year pro from Florida whose popularity still trumps his polish.
That makes little football or financial sense.
Hes the only quarterback on the roster whos under contract after this season. Earlier this month he received a $6.275 million bonus, and his salaries through 2014 are very palatable.
So, the Broncos can continue to have patience and see if this project that former coach Josh McDaniels thrust upon them might eventually pan out.
Some of Tebows supporters are starting to see the Broncos as the bad guys in all this.
Because the Broncos dont share his rabid fans unbridled enthusiasm and blind faith in the quarterbacks ability to win right away, the feeling among his staunchest supporters is that the Broncos must have a problem with Tebows personality, not his play.
Why else would they refuse to anoint Tebow, one of the most accomplished and beloved players in the history of college football, as the starter over Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, two quarterbacks with losing career records who dont share Tebows winning pedigree?
Because Orton is better, by any meaningful measure, right now.
And it looks like Quinn is, too.
The standard response to criticism of Tebows game or praise of Ortons or Quinns is to declare that Tebow is a hard worker and a great guy, and those attributes should trump all this talk about messy mechanics and flawed footwork.
Tebow has had a bad training camp.
He never came close to challenging Orton for the starting job and appears to even have slipped behind Quinn on the depth chart although he has two preseason games left to win the backup job.
Even Adam Weber, an undrafted rookie from Minnesota, shows more smoothness in his throws sometimes than the former national champion and Heisman Trophy winner; like Wednesday, when he dropped a 40-yard touchdown toss into the arms of DAndre Goodwin in double coverage during full-team drills.
There was even a Yahoo! Sports report this week suggesting some people in the organization believe that Tim Tebow is the fourth-best quarterback on the roster.
Maybe they heard it from the cook, Im not sure, coach John Fox cracked after practice Wednesday. We hold Tim in high regard. I think hes got a bright future in this game. Hes playing maybe the hardest position I know in the NFL there is to play and maybe in all of sport. Hes progressing fine.
Tebow only had two passes in the second preseason game last week.
Hell get more opportunities in games as we go, Fox said.
Everybody in this building has high regard for Tim Tebow, and hes doing just fine. Theres no update on where his ranking is at this point by any official.
Like I said, it could have been the chef, Fox said.
At any rate, Tebows the most likely of all the quarterbacks to be dining at Dove Valley next year because hes the only one of the bunch whos under contract after this season.
Orton is due $8.82 million this year, then hell be a free agent, as will Quinn, wholl make $700,000 in 2011, the final season of a five-year rookie deal he signed in Cleveland.
Weber likely will make practice squad money, and Tebow is signed through 2014.
Moreover, when the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect Aug. 4, more than $6 million in bonus money went into Tebows bank account.
With a salary this season of $1.618 million, you might call him an $8 million third-string quarterback. But Tebows base salaries for the next few seasons are very palatable $1.942 million in 2012, $2.266 million in 2013 and $2.590 million in 2014.
The Broncos are willing to give this experiment some time.
When John Elway was hired as the Broncos front office football chief in January, he speculated that Tebow would be hurt more than anyone on the roster by a long lockout, and he was right.
Tebow was buff when he showed up at training camp expecting to be the starter, but he hadnt spent the offseason working with the coaching staff. So, when the Miami Dolphins made no offer for Orton, Tebow was ill-prepared to beat him out for the starting job in Denver.
His mechanics and motion still need work, he needs to learn more patience in the pocket and must start to see the middle of the field better. He has to progress through his reads and break his habit of tucking the ball and taking off. Repeating his release point on passes and keeping his palms together when the ball is snapped are also on his to-do list.
With Tebows transition from combination college quarterback to pocket passer in the pros hitting some bumps, his legion of fans have taken to talk radio and Twitter to proclaim the Broncos should just hand him the job already and then watch him pile up the wins. Or trade him.
In the NFL, jobs are earned, not earmarked. Fox would lose his locker room if he handed a starting job to anyone who wasnt performing the best at his position.
Remember, even McDaniels, his biggest supporter in the NFL, didnt turn to Tebow when his own job was on the line late last year.
It wasnt until Orton got hurt and McDaniels got fired that Tebow got his chance.
He ran with it, just not far enough to keep it.
If it were up to the fans decked out in No. 15 jerseys, Orton would be the one patrolling the sidelines on Sundays like he did for the final three games last year, when Tebow went 1-2 with five touchdown passes and six touchdown runs.
Thank God the people dont make the decisions, Orton said.
Fox does, and when he named Orton his starter this week, he declined to name a No. 2.
And he doesnt have to anymore, either, because all three quarterbacks can be active on game days and can play. So, maybe Quinn will be No. 2, but Tebow will make more cameos.
I believe I can help the team in a lot of different ways, Tebow said. So, whatever they ask me to do, theyll have my whole heart.
Right now what theyre asking him to do is keep working hard to iron out the kinks.