You can almost picture the cue cards in the aids hands or a rolling prompter on the screen set in front of Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith. One month after selecting his quarterback of the future -- and the most important draft decision Smith had ever made -- Smith is still publicly backing incumbent starter David Garrard despite the price paid for Gabbert's services.
And that price was a steep one. To simply jump six picks in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, from No. 16 to No. 10 overall, the Jags gave up their first and second round selections in this year's draft. The run on quarterbacks was underway and Smith knew he had a short window to get his guy. Just like a QB has to fire a ball at the perfect window, Smith did his best Gabbert impersonation to grab his player ahead of the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12.
But perception is everything and the view from Garrard's chair could not have been pretty on that day. After all, he's the $8 million starter who enjoyed a fine season last year. He had a 90.8 QB rating and led the team to an 8-6 record in 14 starts. He had his highest career completion percentage at 64.5 and threw for another high in touchdowns at 23.
In other words, a few months after one of Garrard's best seasons, Gabbert is taken at a high price. No matter what words are used, it's clear the franchise believes the investment had to be made now for the sake of the future at quarterback, of which Garrard is clearly not a part. Simply put, the signs all point one direction and one direction only. But Smith refuses to concede that fact.
In a recent story at the Jags official site, Smith explained the quarterback situation a bit more:
"David is our starter," Smith said. "I know Luke and Blaine will come in to compete certainly for playing time, but coming out of last year with his starts history in the NFL David is our quarterback whenever football starts back up."
Blaine is even the second back-up mentioned and if you think the order of Smith's words weren't carefully chosen, then you would be mistaken. Instead, Smith immediately created a distance between Garrard and Gabbert, showing signs that Garrard is, indeed, the guy for 2011 (whatever is left of it when the dust settles on the lockout).
It's this sort of quote that polishes the edges off of the tension without alleviating it. It's lighting a fire without burning someone. it's the sort of maneuver that cements the position for years to come in Jacksonville without the drama that can typically come with such posturing, and sets the stage for competition to truly create some positive pressure for the most important position on the field.
After the year that Garrard enjoyed in 2010, my guess is that he'll enjoy another year similar to it in the AFC South. The Colts are human, the Texans keep trying and the Titans are lost. This division is actually up for grabs and Garrard may realize that even if his future isn't with Jacksonville, he can still enjoy a long career in the NFL with another team given his performance leading the Jags. And that can't be a bad thing for Gabbert to learn from along the way.
Perhaps that shows that Smith knew what he was doing all along when aiming at the window in the first place.