Blaine Gabbert was doomed from the start
March, 11, 2014
By Michael DiRocco | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackBlaine Gabbert went just 5-22 as a starter in three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are Chad Henne's team now.
General manager David Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch are confidently putting the offense in Henne's hands. It's not exactly handing the keys to Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but it is the correct move for the Jaguars to make.
That's why the team traded Blaine Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft and possibly a conditional pick in 2015. Caldwell said the move was more about the franchise's confidence in Henne than Gabbert's struggles.
"When we signed Chad, we made a commitment to give him a starting position and build around him," Caldwell said shortly after the trade was announced on Tuesday afternoon. "We felt like he was going to be a starter and there is a possibility we would draft a young quarterback in the draft somewhere along the line and he would come in and be the backup and learn behind Chad.
"That left Blaine to compete for that and I just felt like it was a good opportunity for us to move on and possibility get a draft pick for someone who can come in and help us this year instead of a backup quarterback."
Gabbert obviously wasn't in the team's plans once Henne signed a two-year extension last week. However, trading the former first-round pick is a shrewd move because Caldwell was able to get something for a player he was likely going to cut at some point. Plus, it frees up $3.82 million in cap space.
While the trade obviously excites fans that have been extremely critical of Gabbert, it also is an example of what can happen when you put a quarterback on the field before he's ready. Not only will he struggle, but it can set your franchise back years.
Caldwell and Bradley gave Gabbert every chance to succeed in their first season in Jacksonville. Despite Gabbert's poor play in his first two seasons -- 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and a 5-19 record as a starter -- both gave him a clean slate in 2013. He played well enough in the preseason to win the starting job.
AP Photo/Jack DempseyChad Henne completed 60.6 percent of his passes last season for 3,241 yards. He had 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
But injuries, as they did in his first two seasons, affected his progress. He suffered a fractured thumb in the second preseason game and played through the injury in the season opener before suffering a cut on his hand. He missed two games, came back in Week 4 and suffered a hamstring injury in Week 5. He never saw the field after that.
When he did play, he was awful, completing just 48.8 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions -- including three returned for touchdowns.
Henne didn't tear it up, but he was consistent and kept the offense out of bad situations. He made a handful of plays, including tossing the winning touchdown pass against Cleveland with 40 seconds remaining, and Caldwell believes with better offensive line play, more weapons, and another year in the offense Henne will be much better.
Caldwell didn't want to talk about why Gabbert didn't succeed in Jacksonville and that there is never just one person at fault in such a situation. He's right. There are two who bear more fault than anyone else: Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith.
Smith traded the Jaguars' first-round pick (No. 16) and second-round pick (No. 49) to Washington to move up six spots to take Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011. The Jaguars' starter that season was supposed to be David Garrard, who was in the fourth-year of an seven-year, $60 million contract, but in a surprise move the team released Garrard just five days before the 2011 season opener.
Luke McCown started the first two games, but Del Rio made the switch to Gabbert for the final 14 games. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Gabbert clearly wasn't ready to be the team's starter and he never seemed to recover.
He went 5-22 as a starter and the team has won just 11 games in Gabbert's three seasons.
Caldwell has had nothing but praise for Gabbert, especially in the way he handled being demoted, and said he likes the former Missouri standout. That's partly why he sent him to San Francisco. He knows GM Trent Baalke, it's a stable organization, and there's no pressure.
"I know we're sending him to a good situation," Caldwell said. "That's what I told him at the end of the year. I said, ‘If something did come about, I [would] try to send you to the best situation possible.'"
It turned out that way -- for Gabbert and the Jaguars.