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Tim Tebow's return: Does he have a real future with the Eagles?

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Tim Tebow's best moments have always come when the odds against him appeared longest, so maybe being the fifth man in the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback room -- after spending two full seasons out of the game entirely -- is the perfect launching point for one of his unpredictable passes.

After all, he earned the starting job with the Denver Broncos in 2011 -- having been deemed unprepared for the role in training camp -- by leading two second-half touchdown drives in a Week 5 loss to the Chargers, essentially forcing the hands of John Fox and John Elway. He was hesitant and overwhelmed for the first 55 minutes of his subsequent start, before turning into the player who inspires fans to erect billboards in his honor -- directing two touchdown drives, scoring a two-point conversion to force overtime and then celebrating on the field with his old University of Florida teammates when the Broncos ultimately beat the Miami Dolphins.

We don't really know what Chip Kelly thinks of Tebow right now, because he has alternately stated that his was "not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team" (in 2011, when Kelly was still at Oregon and talking about the type of signal-caller his offense needed) and that he has "always been a fan" (in 2015). But what we do know is that in the middle of Kelly's offseason of dizzying player shuffling, signing Tebow now -- with plenty of roster space to spare and meaningful game action still more than four months away -- presents no downside.

This is not Tebow being brought in by the Jets to back up (or spell?) starter Mark Sanchez. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Sanchez, who is also now on the QB depth chart in Philly, found out about Tebow joining the Eagles ...) That was one of the more foolhardy decisions in a long list of such calls by former Jets coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Sanchez was already fragile at that point; the speculation began immediately that Tebow -- trailed by a national media horde lavishing attention on him out of proportion with his skill level -- could supplant him. The Jets' offensive staff, meanwhile, clearly had no interest in getting Tebow into games -- nor a clue about how to do it. Tebow was used, infamously, as a punt protector, and that ended up reflecting as poorly on the Jets as it did on him.

Bill Belichick, who had always been an admirer of Tebow, gave him a chance, too. But the cold calculus of the business was reduced to the obvious in New England: Tebow was still a terrible thrower, and even the outside-the-box genius of Belichick would never stray so far beyond the bounds of rational thought that he would have taken the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.

So now, two years removed from what seemed like his last chance, Tebow arrives at what might really, truly be the only thing keeping him from fully submerging himself in his well-received broadcasting responsibilities. Tebow's desire to continue pursuing his dream is admirable, but it is telling that, in a league desperate for quarterbacks, it took two years before a coach -- who might hew less to conventional wisdom than any of his peers -- signed him, and only when there was an overflow of roster space.

Maybe Tebow is with the Eagles just to be an extra camp arm, with presumed starter Sam Bradford still recovering from a knee injury and possibly unavailable for the duration of offseason workouts and minicamps. Maybe Kelly wants to see what Tebow can consistently present on two-point conversations -- on that day back in 2011, the Dolphins appeared to be the only team that had never seen Tebow's college highlight reel -- as it now seems clear the NFL will tweak its extra-point rules this spring to encourage more two-point attempts.

Maybe quarterback guru Tom House has remade Tebow's throwing motion so completely that he could be a viable passer, although that seems the least likely scenario at this stage of Tebow's career. Matt Barkley is no sure thing to remain the Eagles' third quarterback, and that gives Tebow an opening. But he will have to be much more than just a quarterback to secure a roster spot, because passing has always been the worst thing Tebow can offer. Back in that game against the Dolphins, Broncos coaches had so little confidence in Tebow as passer that he attempted just eight throws over the first three quarters.

One of Tebow's shortcomings was his insistence that he wanted to be considered a true quarterback, a dream that his passes consistently undermine. Tebow posted five fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011, but during that season, he also tied Derek Anderson for the fewest passes completed in an NFL victory (with two, in a win over the Chiefs). Even in that memorable 2011 campaign -- the season during which he played the most, receiving credit for taking Denver to the playoffs -- Tebow's completion percentage was 46.5.

Kelly's non-conformity and belief that his system can make anything work could be Tebow's safety net, though. Having watched the Jets bungle Tebow from the start -- the massive press conference in the field house to introduce him sent a bad message from which they never recovered -- I am certain Kelly will have a better plan for him than Gang Green did. Tebow might be reduced to a personnel curiosity in most eyes, but Kelly has had the nerve to gut much of his offensive roster this offseason; signing Tebow to what amounts to an extended tryout barely registers on his scale of risk.

The peril, really, is for Tebow. Should he fail to make the Eagles' roster, he will have exhausted his chances with the two most creative minds in the game. That will send a very strong signal to the rest of the league that there is no place for him in the NFL.

Maybe, in the end, that will be the story of Tebow's career. Of course, Tebow is used to hearing things like that. He was, after all, fourth on the depth chart when he first arrived in Gainesville, with then-offensive coordinator Dan Mullen unsure of how Tebow would be used in what was, at the time, a more conventional offense.

Mullen and then-head coach Urban Meyer initially used Tebow as a changeup behind the starter. He took no more than 10 snaps per game, on plays that emphasized running and play-action passing. His very first college play was a designed scramble at the goal line.

A legend was born in that one play, tantalizing but ultimately limited. That might be Tebow's NFL epitaph. But Kelly has four months to figure out if he has room for that kind of specialist on his team.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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