FNQB: The Trials and Tribulations of being David Garrard
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Tonight, Friday Night QB takes an in-depth look at East Carolina product and Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard, trying to make some sort of sense out of an offseason that suggests that the eight year pro might be headed towards a do-or-die year not only for his position as NFL starting quarterback, but for his coaches and teammates on the Jaguars, and much more significantly, for Jacksonville as a viable NFL city.
If it is indeed possible to be a darkhorse playoff team playing in the AFC South, the Jacksonville Jaguars just might need to pull out all the stops to stay above the competition this year. Quarterback David Garrard returns for his fifth year as an NFL starter, and what many believe could be his last chance at succeeding as an NFL passer. The 32-year old Garrard has been a well above average quarterback over each of the last three seasons, culminating with an overdue pro-bowl berth in 2009.
Problem is, as Garrard’s health has finally begun to stabilize (16 GS in both 2008 and 09), his rate stats have declined considerably and consistently since his excellent 2007 season. Currently, Garrard is a 61% passer with a 3% TD and a 2% TD rate and a 7.0 yard/attempt passer. While the emergence of Mike Sims-Walker has brought a vertical element back to the Jacksonville offense, the Jaguars are clearly at a crossroads with Garrard. He’s the best quarterback on the Jags roster, if only because the Jags have made a significant effort to improve the team independent of the QB. They loaded up on defensive ends in the 2008 draft, then offensive tackles in the 2009 draft, then defensive tackles in the 2010 draft. This year, they added defensive field general Kirk Morrison to be the middle linebacker in a defense that already featured plenty of young OLBs already. The team is still pretty dreadful in the secondary, but that can be ignored — if the passing game can produce points.
That means that the bulls-eye is squarely on Garrard this year. Specifically, in an eight week stretch between October 18th and December 5th, Garrard will either prove that he belongs in the discussion of the top ten NFL quarterbacks, or he is unlikely to see it through to the end. Once three years removed from the signing of his 6-year, $60 million extension, Garrard will be easily expendable from a contractual standpoint, especially so if the team has new management the following year.
The expectations simply may not be fair to Garrard. He needs to perform better than he has over the last two years, when he has ranked in the top 15 and then in the 20 according to DYAR. He needs, essentially, to weasel his way into the top 12 this year, a year when Jacksonville clearly has no other QB on their roster capable of making it into the top 20. He’s got an in-prime Maurice Jones Drew as an ally, and two games against the Colts, Titans, and Texans, and one game each against the Chargers, Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants on his schedule. So in 10 games against above average opponents, Garrard has to drag a young roster to at least a 5-5 record by Thanksgiving, or move over for someone else to fail in his place.
He’s overcome worse. In 2004, Garrard was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, and played the season shortly after, you know, having 12-inches of intestine removed. He won the team’s Ed Block Courage Award in perhaps the most inadequate situation for presenting such an award.
He also could rely solely on himself to beat Crohn’s. In Jacksonville, he will need the assistance of teammates that have not risen to the challenge the last two seasons. He’s got quality second year tackles in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, and the Jags are shifting around their interior line, including a position change for their best lineman, Vince Manuwai, from left guard to right guard. The result could be much needed improved line play. Special Teams ace Kassim Osgood replaces over the hill WR Torry Holt on the roster, but the guys who will catch Garrard’s passes in 2010 are the same guys who caught them in 2010: Sims-Walker, Marcedes Lewis, Mike Thomas, Ernest Wilford, Jarrett Dillard, Nate Hughes, and Troy Williamson. If Marcedes Lewis can ever step up and solidify the middle of the field, that becomes a high potential receiving corps. Right now, it’s a weakness. Rice product Dillard is likely to get the nod at no. 2 receiver in the Jags’ spread concepts.
Still, Garrard is the part that is needed to make everything work. This could be a ten win team, but not without a significant improvement from the quarterback position. Thing is, there is mounting evidence that suggests the QB position is the one that’s easiest to change when ineffective, and the Jaguars are one of the few teams intelligently leveraging this fact into building a juggernaut roster on the cheap with a holdover at quarterback. All probability states that Garrard won’t be the team’s passer next year if he doesn’t make the playoffs this year.
Too rarely, in my opinion, are the players who are truly deserving of extended opportunities based on all available statistical evidence afforded the opportunity to reverse a downward trend in production, and especially not at Garrard’s age. That was the story of Jason Campbell in Washington, of Trent Edwards (perhaps) in Buffalo, Chad Pennington in New York, David Carr/Joey Harrington/Patrick Ramsey from 2002, and Jeff Garcia in San Francisco just to name a few. But with Alex Smith getting an extended look in SF, Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck in STL and SEA respectively, and now Garrard, it appears that teams are starting to trend in the direction of letting the incumbent quarterback fix his own issues while working on the issues with the rest of the team first. Bulger and Hasslbeck both show that there’s no guarentee that the declining player can ever get it turned around, but teams take big risks all the time. It’s good that now, a minority is showing a willingness to gamble on what they already have against making the incorrect assumption that the grass is always greener elsewhere.
The Garrard gamble might pay off. The Bengals were just back in the playoffs last year after a three year hiatus. Garrard has always managed to give something back to those who have believed in him, never ending a season below league average in production. If 2010 is the end of the road for Garrard, he’s always going to have his spot in Jags team history as the most popular non-Brunell quarterback to play for a team that has managed to have only two head coaches to this point in history, certainly, an abnormality in the NFL at this time. And if things work out and Garrard gets the Jags back to the playoffs, it will be one of the best stories in the NFL in 2010: the team that passed on hometown boy Tim Tebow could be the darkest of all horses to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year.