Last week I wrote about the potential for the Jacksonville Jaguars to be in a tough spot with their coaching staff and luckily it worked out. Dirk Koetter, while in the final three, lost out the Denver Broncos head coaching gig to John Fox and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was handed a 1-year contract extension to ward off the interest garnered from San Diego and Dallas. The one other curious situation to me is a big one and one I harp on often, the quarterback conundrum. It's a very delicate situation and one that has many factors weighing on it.
Let me explain.
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was charged with "Playoffs or Bust" by owner Wayne Weaver this upcoming season. After finishing 8-8 with another deflating final game skid out of the playoffs, Jack Del Rio escaped being fired again after the season. Now, Del Rio has to go into the 2011 season and make the playoffs with an exceedingly harder schedule than in 2010. While we know looking at schedules a year early often has a chance to backfire, just looking at it right now the Jaguars face six 2010 playoff teams, as well as the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Diego Chargers that ripped through the Jaguars like a buzz-saw. In the 2010 season, the Jaguars defeated only a single team with a winning record, the Indianapolis Colts on a 59-yard field goal.
Del Rio and Wayne Weaver charged their quarterback, David Garrard, to improve his play and off the field work. By all accounts he did the latter, but the former still left some to be desired. While Garrard had on of his best seasons of his career, his numbers were still down everywhere but touchdown passes. Garrard set the Jaguars franchise passing touchdown record and set a career high with 23 touchdowns, but his completions, attempts, and yards all dropped significantly from his 2009 numbers and his interceptions increased a good amount. Del Rio and Weaver gave Garrard his lip service during their post-season press conferences, but truthfully we should expect no different.
Jack Del Rio is coaching for his job in 2011 and the question I keep having come up in my mind is, "Can Del Rio roll with David Garrard again?"
While I'm sure most will classify this as just me hating on David Garrard, just hear me out. Del Rio knows what he has in David Garrard. If he sticks with David Garrard as his starting quarterback in 2011, he knows what to expect. He'll get a quarterback who will have really good games and really bad games. He'll have a quarterback who will make you say "Wow!" as many times as you'll want to strangle him. He'll have a quarterback who's .500 in his career as a starter. He's going with a quarterback who's never quarterbacked a team to more than 9 wins in a single season and has just one winning record on his belt, but he'll likely get your team to around the .500 mark.
That's Jack Del Rio's known.
Jack Del Rio also has the mind bending task of winning now while general manager Gene Smith builds for the future. There is no doubt in my mind right now that the Jaguars will draft their potential quarterback of the future in the first two rounds of April's draft. This is where the fun begins. More and more quarterbacks are playing and playing well in their rookie seasons. The league has become a more pass friendly league and quarterbacks are at a premium like they've never been before. If the Jaguars take "their guy" in April in the first two rounds, does Jack Del Rio roll the dice and go with a rookie quarterback?
Mind you, this decision will come after a plethora of qualifiers. Do the Jaguars ask David Garrard to take a paycut in 2011? If they do, does David Garrard take it or tell the team no? Does the rookie play to at least Garrard's level in OTA's (if there is any) and training camp? Who will the other veteran quarterbacks on the roster be?
One thing we have to remember when looking at this, while Gene Smith has ultimate control over the Jaguars final roster, he can't leave his head coach out to dry. Not when Wayne Weaver expects the team to make some waves, Gene Smith is going to have to mesh building for the future and throwing Jack Del Rio a bone. Jack Del Rio also is in a fight for his job. While David Garrard gives us the "known" best chance to win, we also know the likely result with David Garrard after watching him start at least 10 games since the 2006 season. It's produced a single winning season and one playoff appearance. It will likely be in Jack Del Rio's best interest to try to separate himself from his albatross this season and have a true open competition for the starting quarterback job.
While many will say rolling with a rookie quarterback is a sure death knell, it also has the potential for job preservation. If the rookie comes in and plays well, but the team still struggles and misses the playoffs Del Rio can hope that the progress as a rookie buys him his final season. You also have to consider the fact that if Gene Smith drafts who he believes is the guy, and that guy cannot beat out or at least play even keel with David Garrard in training camp... is he really the guy?
Jack Del Rio rolled the dice at the quarterback position to save his job once before, don't be surprised if he does it one more time. Is Jack Del Rio willing to let his job be in the hands of David Garrard?
That's the ultimate question.