By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Popular Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow lost his starting job to newly-acquired Peyton Manning on Tuesday and the National Football League team said a decision on his future has not yet been made.
"We're going through that process now," John Elway, Denver's head of football operations, said at Manning's introductory news conference when asked about Tebow's status.
Tebow became a sports and cultural phenomenon last season when he made up for his poor accuracy throwing the ball with powerful runs and charismatic leadership. He salvaged Denver's season with a six-game winning streak that helped them secure a division title and playoff berth.
But his performance was not enough to keep the Broncos from signing 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback Manning to a reported five-year $96 million contract that would give him the league's top average annual salary.
Tebow, a college-style quarterback whose public displays of religiosity polarized public opinion, became the talk of the NFL and inspired a wide following of fans.
Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who won two Super Bowls with Denver, said he spoke with Tebow on Monday evening about the possibilities, which include being traded.
"The toughest thing about this whole thing is Tim Tebow because of what I think of Tim Tebow," Elway said.
"The things that he did last year was tremendous and helped turn this organization around from a 4-12 team to a playoff team and winning the division. I've got a great deal of respect for him as a person and the things that he does.
"We just had to make a decision ... what would be the best opportunity for the Denver Broncos to be competitive for a world championship ... and Peyton Manning was that."
Elway said Tebow was disappointed, but did not say so.
"It was a typical Tim Tebow response in the fact that he was very positive. He said, 'Well, we're talking about Peyton Manning and I understand exactly what you're doing.'
"Now we'll go look at that and see what is the best thing for the Denver Broncos."
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for Tebow, who rose to fame at the University of Florida, where he won a pair of BCS national championships and the Heisman Trophy as most outstanding college football player.
The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers were other teams that have reportedly inquired about Tebow.
After being named Denver's starter last October, Tebow was the talk of the NFL. The phrase 'Tebow Time' was coined to capture the fact that five times his Broncos won games with late comebacks despite his woeful 46.5 percent completion rate.
His post-touchdown, knelt-in-prayer pose - known as "Tebowing" - inspired fans around the world. Many have posted pictures of themselves "Tebowing" on sites such as Tebowing.com.
Manning called Tebow a great player, said he has plenty of respect after watching him play last season and would welcome him as a team mate if the Broncos do not trade him.
"If Tim Tebow is here next year I am going to be the best team mate I can be to him, and he and I are going to help this team win games," said Manning.
"If other opportunities present themselves for him I am going to wish him the best. He is going to be a great player wherever he is."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)