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Monday, March 11, 2013
Updated: March 12, 3:39 PM ET
Desperate Gang gambles on Garrard

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

Think about how much the New York Jets' quarterback situation has changed. A year ago, the Jets signed Mark Sanchez to a lucrative contract extension, trumpeting him as their guy even though the rest of the world had questions.

Now they're bringing in David Garrard, who hasn't taken a single snap in two years, to challenge Their Guy in an open competition.

David Garrard?

David Garrard
David Garrard shouldn't be taken lightly by Mark Sanchez, but it won't be easy for him to bounce back after missing two years.

This is a sad commentary on the state of the Jets. They made a mistake with Sanchez, coughing up an $8.25 million guarantee for 2013, and now they're paying the price because there are no easy solutions. The free-agent market is barren and the draft is thin.

Even if there were a quality quarterback on the market, the Jets wouldn't be able to afford him because they have all that dough committed to Sanchez. So they signed Garrard, who used to be a good quarterback. They still might sign Brady Quinn, who never was a good quarterback.

Don't blame new general manager John Idzik; he didn't create this mess. He's trying to dig out of it, using his previous team as the model. In recent years, the Seattle Seahawks adopted the trial-and-error approach at quarterback. Here's a less-sophisticated way of putting it: Throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and hope something sticks.

Seattle went to camp last year with a shaky incumbent (Tarvaris Jackson), a free-agent gamble (Matt Flynn) and a third-round rookie (Russell Wilson). Their plan was to let the best man win, hoping the best man was good enough to be Their Guy for a long time.

The Seahawks hit it big with Wilson, who blew away the competition and became one of the NFL's bright young stars. The Jets don't have a quarterback with that kind of upside -- maybe they'll get lucky in the draft -- but Idzik's strategy still holds.

Competition.

The former Seahawks executive is all about competition, and he comes from a place where the size of a man's contract doesn't determine playing time. Flynn signed a three-year deal with $10 million in guarantees, but he rode the bench the entire year behind a rookie making about $600,000 a year.

You can bet Idzik shared that with Garrard. The Jets, more than any team in the league, are the Land of Opportunity. That was a big factor in Garrard's decision.

So it will be Garrard versus Sanchez versus Greg McElroy versus (fill in the name of someone not named Tim Tebow). You think "SportsCenter" will be camping out in Cortland this summer to chronicle this battle? Uh, doubt it.

Sanchez probably isn't quaking in his flip-flops, fearing a 35-year-old quarterback who missed the last two seasons with back and knee injuries. But he shouldn't take Garrard too lightly.

Unlike Mark Brunell and Tebow, Sanchez's last two backups, Garrard isn't ancient and he can actually throw a football in a conventional offense. He was an above-average quarterback from 2007 to 2010, earning a Pro Bowl selection and a big contract.

The big question with Garrard is whether his body can hold up. He underwent back surgery after his surprising release from the Jaguars in 2011 and he needed arthroscopic knee surgery last August, ruining his chance of making the Miami Dolphins' roster.

"His knee is a concern," an AFC personnel executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He'll look fine in drills, but I don't know if he can take a hit."

The Jets put Garrard through a rigorous workout recently, testing his stamina and ability to move and throw on the run. He really impressed the Jets' brass, which evidently feels he's a fit for Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast system. His 62 percent career completion rate suggests he might be.

Garrard defenders will tell you he still has some good football in him, and that he was a victim of circumstances and bad luck. He was fired by two teams that had drafted first-round quarterbacks -- Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville and Ryan Tannehill in Miami. Some considered Garrard the favorite for the Miami starting job when he hurt his knee.

In reality, Garrard is a long shot. It's hard for a player to miss two years and return to his previous form. He's Plaxico Burress, minus the prison time. The Jets, of all teams, should know the degree of difficulty.

But they're in desperation mode, bringing in options in case Mornhinweg can't be the Quarterback Whisperer for Sanchez.