Let me begin by saying that this move could have been the best thing for the organization for many reasons. The first reason is that the quarterback controversy between Byron Leftwich and David Garrard is finally over. There has been an ongoing debate amongst media and fans alike over who should be the quarterback for longer than three seasons, and the fan base has been divided. Ticket sales have slowed down, and some point to the quarterback controversy as a reason. I’m not of that belief, but this move could have been financially motivated.
The next reason that this move could be just what the doctor ordered is the Jaguars personnel. The Jaguars don’t have a great set of wide receivers that can get open quickly. This causes the quarterback to have the hold on to the ball longer, which gives the pocket more time to break down. Although Byron Leftwich is as brave as any quarterback in the league, he can’t move around well in the pocket and buy extra time. This causes him to take additional hits, and subsequently miss time. Leftwich has missed 15 of the teams’ last 21 regular season games. David Garrard is strong as a bull and extremely mobile. Garrard can make plays with his feet when protection breaks down.
Reason number three also has to do with the Jaguars surrounding cast. Neither Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, nor Ernest Wilford are deep threats. Byron Leftwich is a long ball thrower. The receivers don’t fit his skill set, whereas David Garrard is more of a short to intermediate passer.
The final reason that this is the right move is that Byron Leftwich can finally move on. Leftwich has been nothing but a class act since being drafted by Jacksonville back in 2003, and his talents were never truly appreciated. Leftwich was the guy who replaced St. Mark (Brunell), who was a local legend that took the team to two AFC title game appearances (losing them both). Brunell was a white, left-handed mobile quarterback, at least in the beginning of his career, and Leftwich is a black, right-handed, non-mobile quarterback. Leftwich was never fully accepted by many in the fan base in Jacksonville, and now he can go to a team that will embrace his strong, accurate arm. Perhaps he can find a team with some deep ball receivers so that he can restart his career.
So we’ve taken a gander at what the half-full cup looks like, and we agree that it’s a good thing that the Jaguars quarterback controversy is finally finished, at least for now, and we’re also in agreement that David Garrard’s skill set fits the surrounding Jaguars offensive talent better than Leftwich’s. We also agree that Leftwich needs a fresh start and this could be the best thing for his career. Now lets look at the reasons why this move ultimately wasn’t a good one.
The first, and most important reason why we don’t like this move is the timing in which it went down. The Jaguars look like a team whose left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Way back in January, the Jaguars hired former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter to be their offensive coordinator. Dirk Koetter’s main offensive philosophy is a vertical attack, set up by play action and a strong running game. Although the Jaguars have a great rushing attack, new starting quarterback David Garrard is very inaccurate at throwing the deep ball. Koetter’s offense is based around a quarterback with Leftwich’s skill set.
Yet another reason why the timing is horrible in this particular move is that the Jaguars missed out on acquiring any kind of legitimate contingency plan for if Garrard doesn’t work out. David Carr was available in free agency and his skill set seems to fit what the Jaguars receivers do well. Another option would have been trading for former Falcon, now Houston Texans quarterback, Matt Schaub. Schaub was widely considered the best backup quarterback in football, and the Jaguars could’ve moved on with him.
The biggest blunder in the timing of this was what was missed in April’s NFL draft. If the Jaguars had made this decision earlier, they could have drafted Brady Quinn in the first round, who they passed on twice. With Garrard as the caretaker, the team would have had an ample amount of time to groom Quinn, who could be a legitimate franchise quarterback.
By the Jaguars waiting until nine days before the season opener to make this move, they have basically lost any leverage they may have had to actually acquire some trade compensation for their former first-round (seventh overall) pick. Now teams can just simply wait 24 hours, and Leftwich will be a free agent after he’s released tomorrow.
Another reason that this move was ill-timed is the experience of David Garrard. Garrard has played well in spots over the last two seasons, but he’s also imploded. The last real game action Garrard had was last season’s finale in Kansas City, a game in which he was officially benched early in the third quarter due to ineffectiveness. Although Garrard has looked great in preseason action this season, he has been playing against backups, and backups to backups. If the Jaguars made this move earlier, Garrard would have had some snaps against opponents first stringers, and perhaps the team would have a better idea of how much progress he’s actually made from last season.
Overall, it’s been an offseason of contradictions for the Jaguars, and head coach Jack Del Rio. Back in February, Del Rio reaffirmed Byron Leftwich as the teams starting quarterback. They hired an offensive coordinator who has a philosophy that is in line with Leftwich’s skills, and then used Leftwich to help recruit free agent wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. After signing right tackle Tony Pashos to sure up the right side of the offensive line, the head coach professed that it was all in an effort to put Leftwich in an environment in which he can succeed. The team passed on Brady Quinn in the first round of the draft, probably because they were unprepared that he would fall to them, which further implicated that Leftwich was “their guy.” Then, they start Leftwich in each of the teams’ first three preseason games, and claimed that there was no quarterback competition. They went as far as praising Leftwich’s play after the teams’ scrimmage and after the first preseason game, then downplaying the struggles that Leftwich had in games two and three. Finally, Del Rio exiles Leftwich after three preseason games with no game-planning. Earlier in the year, coach Del Rio preached “consistency” for the 2007 season. Jack, where’s the consistency?
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.