The value of "upside"
How much value does learning what a player might or might not become hold? This question becomes increasingly relevant when discussing Blaine Gabbert, the most crucial draft pick of general manager Gene Smith's career.
The Jaguars have six games left to play this year, and will finish no better than 7-9. The best record the team has had in Smith's tenure as GM is 8-8. Many of his draft picks and free agent signings have failed to pan out, and very, very few of the players he has acquired could be called "cornerstone" players. In short: this is most likely Gene Smith's last season in Jacksonville.
Through 14 games of his rookie year and ten games of his second season, Blaine Gabbert has appeared to be, at best, a below-average NFL quarterback. Through those 24 games he has amassed a grand total of 3876 passing yards, a number surpassed by fellow rookie Cam Newton in 16 games last year. He's looked skittish in the pocket, checked down too quickly, and been ignorant of the pass rush. Through 24 games, Gabbert has been a bust.
The dictionary definition of "promise; potential" is the definition of "upside" that applies to sports. The question of the quarterback decision lies in the presence of upside. For a team with no shot at the playoffs and very little chance of even posting a respectable record, determining whether or not a player's upside has any chance of coming to fruition is worth a lot more than a relatively meaningless win or two in the standings.
Blaine Gabbert still has upside. There is still a part of Blaine Gabbert's game we've seen flashes of that has not yet reached "full consistency" (thanks, Vic). The plays he makes sometimes that could become more frequent with more repetitions and more consistent receiver play. For all intents and purposes, Chad Henne's upside is gone; he is what he is. Gabbert is still a mystery, and that mystery holds greater value than the standings column.
Six games remain in this season. Six games isn't half a season, but it's more than a third of one. It's enough time to make new adjustments and work out kinks. Six games is one game more than Gabbert had to work with Dirk Koetter last year, during which time he made significant strides in his play. Six games is significant.
The argument I've heard from some is that starting Henne "gives the front office a better chance to evaluate other players". Who is more important to evaluate than the quarterback? For that matter, which other offensive players are depending on the quarterback for evaluation? Cecil Shorts has still made plays with Gabbert under center. Rashad Jennings ran like his feet were in molasses no matter who was taking the snaps. Evaluating the quarterback position should trump all other potential evaluations. Plus, it's not like the same front office is likely to be evaluating these players for next season anyway.
Maybe Alfie is right and Mike Mularkey is attempting to distance himself from Gene Smith by making the switch to Chad Henne at quarterback. Maybe the locker room has revolted, and the only choices are Henne or mutiny. Maybe it's something else. In any case, I think it's the wrong move.
The problem with "working for your job" is that you're more likely to make decisions that increase the likelihood of keeping your job than decisions that benefit the company. It becomes even more complex when a third party is introduced into the mix. The fate of the Jaguars franchise is more likely to be helped by the potential improvement of Blaine Gabbert than by the adequate quarterbacking of Chad Henne, but that logic doesn't work for everyone.
In the case of Gene Smith, it's more beneficial that Blaine Gabbert get the rest of the season to progress. In the case of Mike Mularkey, it's more beneficial to win football games. In the case of the Jaguars, it's more beneficial that any potential upside be clarified, even at the expense of the win column.
Is it a guarantee that Blaine Gabbert makes any more progress than he has thus far if given the opportunity to start the final six games? Absolutely not! But is there a chance? You bet there is. For a losing team, upside is the most valuable commodity they have, and by starting Chad Henne at quarterback, Mike Mularkey is setting it aside in the name of trying to keep his job. Value is value. The Jaguars should start Blaine Gabbert, and even if he crashes and burns, the franchise will be better off than if Chad Henne is given the job.
Start Gabbert, Mike...upside >>>.