Tebow, who played quarterback during his previous six-year stretch in the NFL, signed last week with the Jacksonville Jaguars and will attempt to make their roster as a tight end. The former Heisman Trophy winner will turn 34 in August and hasn’t been with an NFL team since 2015, when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason.
The Jaguars’ decision to sign Tebow — a move that reunites him with first-year head coach Urban Meyer — has generated widespread interest and has been heavily scrutinized. But Burton, who was teammates with Tebow during the Eagles’ 2015 preseason, told ESPN that he is supporting the former star.
“I don’t understand the outrage,” said Burton, a free-agent tight end who’s spent seven years in the NFL. “There are 90 [roster] spots. If they want to bring someone in, why not? A lot of teams take fliers on guys from various backgrounds every year.”
Burton is uniquely qualified to speak on the position switch by Tebow, who last played a down in a regular-season NFL game in 2012.
Like Tebow, Burton signed with Meyer and the Florida Gators to play quarterback. But Meyer told Burton he was too athletic to sit on the bench, and switching positions just might work.
So Burton became a tight end at Florida and, despite going undrafted in 2014, caught on with Philadelphia, helping the Eagles secure a Super Bowl as the passer on the famed “Philly Special” touchdown.
Burton’s versatility earned him a four-year, $32 million deal with the Chicago Bears before the 2018 season. For his career, he has 159 catches for 1,532 yards and 15 touchdowns. Florida also produced Jordan Reed, another successful NFL tight end who had signed with the Gators as a quarterback.
Burton knows Tebow faces an arduous transition, largely because of the physicality and “learning how to hit every single day” with proper hand placement.
“From an athletic and mental standpoint, there’s no doubt he’ll do a great job,” Burton said. “It’s the day-to-day physical part, the technique that’s the toughest thing.
“As a quarterback, you’re in the pocket looking into coverage. At tight end, you know the coverages but you have to go full speed in a three-point stance and diagnose. You see the linebacker, the defensive end and the safety on your side of the field. … There’s a lot more to it than whether he can do it or not. It’s deeper than that.”
Tebow isn’t promised anything with the Jaguars, as his $920,000 contract includes no guarantees. His first days on the job have been low-key, with the understanding on all sides that he is just another player with an uphill battle to make a team.
Burton also isn’t worried about Tebow taking a job that could go to more qualified free-agent tight ends, recognizing that Meyer’s relationship with Tebow goes a long way — and highlights the coach’s faith in the player. Burton isn’t sure how Meyer might utilize Tebow because his offense will probably change in the NFL.
And like many Tebow fans, Burton figures the player will give himself a fighting chance, at least.
“I really hope he does well. I love what he’s about, how he plays the game,” Burton said. “There’s no doubt in the world, he’s the type of guy to try and defy the odds. You say he can’t do it, well, he’s going to give it all that he has.”