Posted November 29, 2011

Blaine Gabbert’s future will top to-do list for new Jaguars brass

Jacksonville Jaguars

Blaine Gabbert has been the worst of the four rookie QBs to get extensive playing time this year. (Jerome Miron/US Presswire)

Here’s one of the consequences — one that hasn’t come up much yet — of the rookie wage scale put in place by the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement: From a financial standpoint, it makes it easier for teams to give up on players.

For example …

Jacksonville had the No. 10 pick in both the 2010 and 2011 NFL Draft. In 2010 the Jaguars selected defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and gave him a five-year deal worth $28 million and $17.5 million guaranteed.

Last April, they took Blaine Gabbert, with the intention of making him their franchise quarterback and a cornerstone of their rebuilding project. Gabbert received a four-year, $12 million deal, fully guaranteed.

Three million dollars a year is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but in the grand scheme of a $120 million salary cap, it’s not a huge weight. Compare it to, say, Matthew Stafford’s $41.75 million guaranteed deal in Detroit or Sam Bradford’s $50 million guaranteed in St. Louis, and Gabbert looks like a major bargain.

But with the Jaguars firing head coach Jack Del Rio and being sold within a whirlwind few hours Tuesday, does that cheap price tag also make Gabbert expendable?

That’s going to be one  of the big decisions facing Jacksonville’s new brass going forward.

As it stands right now, the Jaguars hold the No. 6 pick in the 2012 draft, with Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minnesota, Carolina and Miami ahead of them. Of that group, Indianapolis and Miami seem likely to draft a quarterback, while the other three have Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder and Cam Newton in place, respectively.

The top of the draft’s first round could be loaded with QB talent, though. Andrew Luck-to-Indianapolis might be a foregone conclusion, but Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones all project as first-rounders.

That’s not even taking into account the possibility that Jacksonville could hit the free-agent market for a veteran quarterback, which would allow Gabbert to take a back seat for a bit and learn some more out of the spotlight.

The reason this is even up for discussion is that Gabbert has been mediocre at best in his rookie season. He’s thrown six touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 games (nine starts), and Jacksonville is just 2-8 in the games in which he’s played.

Jacksonville’s challenge in assessing where Gabbert is in his development will be deciphering how much of his failure is on him — and how much lies with the team and franchise as a whole.

Gabbert was supposed to sit and learn this season, with David Garrard and Luke McCown paving the way. But Jacksonville cut Garrard just before the season, then gave McCown less than two full games before deciding he wasn’t the answer at quarterback. That left an unprepared Gabbert in charge of a shaky offense on what turned out to be a bad team.

That said, Gabbert has done very little to elevate anyone’s game. He’s looked uncomfortable and rushed in the pocket all season and didn’t seem any better in his Week 12 start against Houston than he was in his Week 3 start against Carolina.

And with each loss, the frustration level mounts, especially as Gabbert’s fellow rookies Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder all have generated positive momentum.

Del Rio’s firing means the Jaguars will have a new head coach for the first time since 2002. Frankly, it probably was overdue. Jacksonville had become stagnant and boring in a division that was ripe for the taking this season. The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs or finished over .500 since 2007.

But with a new coach (not to mention a new owner) will come a different outlook and, probably, a changed approach. This all could work out in Gabbert’s favor — coming from Missouri’s spread offense into Jacksonville’s pro-style offense put him behind the eight-ball. Maybe the Jaguars’ new coach will bring with him a system that’s a better fit for Gabbert’s ability.

If not, Jacksonville will face a big-time decision come April: Do they ride it out with Gabbert, their once and possibly future quarterback? Or do they double down and either spend big bucks in free agency or another high draft choice on a new QB?

There’s a lot of work to be done before the Jaguars are a serious contender again, but it starts with figuring out what to make of Gabbert.

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  2. [...] out Blaine Gabbert’s future, says Chris Burke of SI.com. Sure, a cost of Gabbert’s agreement doesn’t make a change prohibitive. But to use a top-10 collect on a QB a year after trade adult to No. 10 to breeze one does. It’s [...]

  3. [...] gave fans something to feel good about at times, Gabbert struggled mightily. It got so bad that talk about cutting ties with the rookie began midway through his first season. But other than do-everything back Maurice Jones-Drew, [...]

  4. [...] gave fans something to feel good about at times, Gabbert struggled mightily. It got so bad that talk about cutting ties with the rookie began midway through his first season. But other than do-everything back Maurice Jones-Drew, [...]