David Garrard: Adding Insult to Injury

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Adding Insult to Injury

David Garrard: A good man, treated really badly.

 The end of David Garrard’s nine-year run with the Jacksonville Jaguars was executed in a manner wholly consistent with the team, and the city it represents. A man who gave all he had on behalf of his team and his city was sent packing more in the manner of a deposed Muslim dictator than the local hero he was. If there was any way to have handled it any worse, it may considered miraculous that such conditions were not also met; one can only guess that its slapdash nature left insufficient time.

Recapitulation: David Garrard was drafted by the Jaguars in 2002. He became the starting quarterback when Byron Leftwich was let go in 2007. The clamor to draft Tim Tebow last year signaled the end was near. His teammates denied him a position as team captain on Monday—Labor Day—after his last full practice in a Jaguar jersey, but he was still introduced to a luncheon of community leaders as their starting QB on Tuesday. He was gone within two hours, surprising pretty much everyone.

The stated reasons? “He just couldn’t get it together,” said Coach Jack Del Rio, who made sure to bury his star on his way out. He came into camp sluggish, clearly off a step after years playing behind an offensive line that saw little real investment until it was too late to save Garrard. The team waited to see whether he could regain his old form, but when that failed to happen, they made an apparently last-minute decision to save some $9 million in salary cap room—money that will likely be thrown away on another Cleo Lemon-type free agent bust. By the time most fans were aware that their franchise had been decapitated, Garrard was probably already home, shoes off.

The issue here is not whether Garrard should have been the starting QB. That is a decision for the coaches. This is about business, and about a football team that exists in significant part because of the tax dollars and consumer spending of a city that, like most others, is fighting hard to resist the recessionary rip current swirling through our country. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face to every fan who bought into the “rebuilding” hype that has defined the Del Rio era. The accountability demanded of individual players, or the ticket-buying public, isn’t even humbly requested by team management of itself.

But to eliminate him now is to excise a major component of the team’s drawing power and marketing appeal the last few years. He wasn’t the captain, but if you ask the city’s children who the team’s leader is, they’ll usually say Garrard. How much money was just wasted on fresh #9 jerseys in the past month, while the coaches were planning his ouster? How many fans paid full price for outmoded swag? How many stores have to eat a bunch of worthless stock they were planning to bank on? How many pieces of Jaguar merchandise became curiosity pieces before the season’s first snap?

At the moment Garrard’s exit was announced, the team still needed to sell 7,200 tickets to avoid a blackout. Nevermind that the NFL blackout rule is garbage and should be eliminated; dumping a guy like him this close to the opener implies chaos behind-the-scenes and raises, once again, the biggest question about the team itself: the full extent of its commitment to winning. On this point the political implications dovetail with practical football concerns. It may have been time to switch starters, but removing Garrard entirely means they have no options if the new guys falter or get hurt. (The irony is that Garrard was once the best backup QB in football.) If they start the season slowly, it will have a chilling effect on ticket sales, which itself will generate more heat.

The logistics of Garrard’s final day as a Jaguar contrasts sharply with that of his former teammate Fred Taylor. Freddy T signed a one-day contract before announcing his retirement at an emotional press conference that begins what will hopefully be a short but successful wait for Hall of Fame credentials, the first given to a Jacksonville player. But the man who was the face of the team for four years left the building without fanfare, and the front-office ran him down in a press conference called after he was gone. It was cold, classless and potentially poisonous to team morale.

Garrard was publicly humiliated, but he’s no victim; he’s already rich and still young enough to get even richer, and he surely understood the nature of the business he was in. The fans are now forced to endure another “rebuilding” year of uncertainly dotted with freak success and abysmal failure, but for them it is all just a game—one for which they have a lot of passion, but still just a game. The real victims here are new starter Luke McCown and presumed future starter Blaine Gabbert. They rose on a cloud of negativity not of their making, and expectations are now much higher because removing Garrard represents an “all-in” gesture toward the new guys. It’s now much harder for both of them to succeed, because they’re already being played against each other.

It should say enough about the effectiveness of Jaguar decision-making that the last two starters driven from Duval—Leftwich and Mark Brunell—both went on to productive and lucrative careers working as backups for franchises in bigger markets, or that Garrard’s agent had already received offers from at least three other teams within two hours of the announcement, or that one of them may be the Indianapolis Colts. Even if Garrard’s utility to the Jaguars had truly ended (which it hadn’t), it was maybe not the best idea to leave his talent open to exploitation by conference rivals.      

Were these questions worth considering? Of course! Jack Del Rio said out-front that it was solely a football decision. Perhaps that was really their intent, but it did not work out that way. After spending so much time talking up their love of “character”, to see the literal embodiment of that ethos given the Old Yeller treatment at age 33 sends a clear signal to other players that there is no upside to the time spent “giving back”. Those emotional bonds formed with kids in hospitals, charity groups and such can be snapped on a whim, consistent with a right-to-work state forcing sadistic austerity onto its people.

Garrard’s unceremonious sacking, lacked with acrimony, is an experience that resonates with many city and state employees who have been going through the same thing themselves this summer. Like them, he acted in good faith and gave all to people who treated him more like a broken-down mid-range racehorse than a human being with many positive contributions still to be made. This Garrard thing was the kind of move Rick Scott would make if he ran a football team; it’s something the Florida Marlins would do. That’s not good, not at all.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; September 7, 2011

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