The news wouldn't have come as too much of a surprise had it happened earlier in the preseason, but as it stands, the Jacksonville Jaguars' move to inform longtime starting quarterback David Garrard of his release comes as a shocker, if only because of the timing. According to Fox Sports' Jay Glazer, the Jags cut Garrard on Tuesday, just days before their season opener against division-rival Tennessee. The report has since been confirmed by other sources.
"As always, we seek to play the best players," head coach Jack Del Rio said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "And as I've said before, I think it's imperative that we have the courage to do what is best for the football team. I can say that this decision was pure football [general manager] Gene [Smith] and I met at length over the last several weeks about the position. There was never any pressure to make this anything other than a pure football decision.
"David had a nice run here — we were joined at the hip from the time in 2007 when we made him the starter. But he wasn't able to get it going this preseason, and he even admitted that when we talked today. He for whatever reason just has not been able to find a rhythm, and be his old self. With that being the case, we just had to make a decision."
The short-term plan is to start Luke McCown in Garrard's place, with first-round pick Blaine Gabbert as the long-term fix. The Jags traded up to pick Gabbert, so it was obvious that Garrard's days were numbered, but everyone involved kept the inevitable hidden very well. Few expected the conclusion this late in the game.
The strangest part of the move is that Jacksonville's Week 1 starter is the man who took the fewest preseason reps of the three quarterbacks. Gabbert led the team with 70 attempts, Garrard had 38, and McCown had just 18. However, two of McCown's attempts went for touchdowns, while Garrard failed to throw a touchdown pass in three starts after missing the preseason opener. Gabbert, the rookie from Missouri, threw one score and one pick.
Garrard, who led the Jags to an 11-5 record and an improbable playoff run in 2007 in his first year as a full-time starter, was selected in the fourth round in the 2002 draft out of East Carolina. His chance to start came at the expense of Byron Leftwich, who was released just before the 2007 season in similar fashion. The Jags cut Leftwich on Sept. 1, 2007, after publicly supporting him as the starter. This preseason, Del Rio had endorsed Garrard as the main man.
"We need more efficiency offensively and certainly the trigger man plays a large role in that," Del Rio told CBS Sports on Aug. 23. "I think it all ties together. You know how I feel about it being a team game that we play and the timing of the routes with the receivers and the protection up front and the quarterback making good decisions delivering the ball. It all comes together and then you're able to do things offensively, where you're a beat off here or a beat off there and the play breaks down and when you have that timing it looks beautiful. So we're doing some things better and we've been in camp long enough.
"We have the same system, we have the same quarterback, we have the same players. We should expect to play at a higher level. I expect us to play at a higher level and now would be a good time."
According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Garrard's efficiency has dropped every season since 2007, but he was still a better-than decent starting quarterback. In 2010, Garrard threw 23 touchdowns against 15 interceptions.
Garrard was due $8.075 million in base salary this year. He shouldn't have trouble finding at least a high-profile backup job in a league where so many teams are trying to make do with subpar quarterbacks.
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