When the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up in the 2011 NFL Draft to draft quarterback Blaine Gabbert out of Missouri, the excitement in Jacksonville was palpable. When he made his first start against the Carolina Panthers in Week 3 of the 2011 NFL season, there was an air of hope for the franchise. After eleven NFL starts however, the questions about Blaine Gabbert as a successful quarterback have began to rumble. Gabbert is currently completing 49.5 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,566 yards, 8 touchdown passes, and 7 interceptions.
The questions about Gabbert do not necessarily stem from his statistics, but his play. Gabbert has gotten progressively more skittish in the pocket as the season has gone on. He's been labeled as "scared" and "soft" by more and more fans and some analysts. It's hard to disagree with that assessment. As the season has gone on, it's almost as if Gabbert is getting worse. There is a debate amongst scouts and coaches if timidness in the pocket can be taught, or if it's just an innate ability. How do you teach courage?
Yes, the Jaguars team Gabbert is quarterbacking is a virtually impossible situation given the state of the team's wide receivers and offensive line. The problem with passing all of the fault there however, is the fact that even when someone is open and Gabbert does have protection, he completely misses the receiver far too often. He just simply hasn't flashed his ability in anything more than a single drive or two in each game through the course of eleven games. Coupled with the lack of "flashes", when Gabbert makes a mistake and throws an interception, it's almost as if he shuts it down for the game. This is without even getting into the multitude of mechanical issues Gabbert will need to drill repeatedly in the offseason.
The uncertainty with Gabbert will put the Jaguars and newly re-signed general manager Gene Smith in an interesting situation. With virtually being locked in at the fourth overall selection in the draft, the team will be in position to potentially select one of the top three quarterbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft. The cream of the crop, Stanford's Andrew Luck, will likely be the first overall pick. The teams in front of Jacksonville have their quarterbacks of the future, so it's very likely that USC's Matt Barkley and Baylor's Robert Griffin III will be available. Can the Jaguars afford to not pick one of them?
The natural reaction is to say "No, taking back to back quarterbacks in the Top 10 is irrational!" While that's typically the conventional wisdom, under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the pay for rookies is reduced drastically. As the 10th overall pick, Blaine Gabbert signed a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal is fully guaranteed, including a $7.228 million signing bonus. This means there is roughly $5 million left owed to Blaine Gabbert, which would put his salary as mid-level back up quarterback range. The financial restrictions that historically tied a team to a first round quarterback no longer exist.
Does Jaguars general manager Gene Smith feel confident enough in his new three-year contract to select another quarterback in the Top 10, or does he stick to his guns and try to build around Gabbert? It's a dilemma the Jaguars have faced before, when in the 2004 NFL Draft the team passed on Ben Roethlisberger because they had drafted Byron Leftwich the season prior. The difference in that case however, is that Leftwich actually showed quite a bit of promise in his rookie season, steadily getting better and Leftwich signed a contract that was worth over $30 million in 2003.
It's not necessarily that the Jaguars should give up on Blaine Gabbert after 14 games, but he's yet to really show much of anything that tells you he will amount to being a good quarterback in the league, especially if you cannot coach the skittishness out of him. So the question will become after the next four games if Gabbert doesn't significantly improve: Should the Jaguars look at a quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft?