QB skips free agency, gets $2M bonus

The 2005 free agency signing period isn't even over yet and already the 2006 talent pool is shy a player who might have been one of the most pursued unrestricted veterans.

Only 10 months shy of unfettered freedom, Jacksonville Jaguars backup quarterback David Garrard on Thursday signed a three-year contract extension that keeps him off the market next spring and ties him to the team through the 2008 campaign. The extension is worth about $5.25 million in "new money" and includes a $2 million signing bonus.

Garrard was entering the final season of the original four-year contract that he signed with the Jaguars as a fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft. He will retain his scheduled base salary of $455,000 for 2005. The base salaries in the "extension" seasons are $1 million each in 2006 and 2007 and $1.25 million in 2008.

The extension is of great significance to Jacksonville because it provides the team, for the foreseeable future, tremendous security behind starter Byron Leftwich.

While the new deal is somewhat puzzling, because it means that Garrard has essentially bypassed free agency and the potential for a much more lucrative contract, the three-year veteran clearly had other priorities.

"I definitely have a spiritual side to me," Garrard told the team's Web site. "Jacksonville tells me how much they love me. If that's my calling, to be here as a backup my entire career, well, it's not a bad thing. It's not what I want. But a lot of times it's not about what I want."

Garrard, 27, and his agent earlier this offseason received permission from the Jaguars to seek potential trade scenarios. No fewer than seven teams, including a few where Garrard might have competed this summer in camp for the starting job, made inquires about him. But with Jacksonville seeking a first-round choice in return, those teams backed off. A few hinted to ESPN.com that they would pursue Garrard next spring in free agency.

There is still an outside chance that, at some point in the future, the Jags would consider trading Garrard away. Now that his salaries are set through '08, with his compensation palatable, trade possibilities might be enhanced. It is all but certain, though, Garrard will remain with the Jaguars through this season.

In a recent "Tip Sheet" column, ESPN.com cited Garrard as the rare, still-emerging young quarterback who might be available in free agency. Most unrestricted players at the position are older and in decline, and viewed primarily as caretakers. Had Garrard gone into free agency next spring, he would have represented, for some team, a chance to get a potentially ascending player with peak seasons still in front of him.

All of that became moot, though, with the Thursday extension.

The former East Carolina star struggled last spring through a battle with Crohn's Disease, an incurable but manageable inflammation of the large intestine. Garrard had surgery last June, was recovered in time for camp, and quickly regained his strength. There have not been any subsequent flare-ups.

Garrard has appeared in just 10 games, with three starts, and completed 70 of 130 passes, for 691 yards, with four touchdown passes and three interceptions. But he possesses solid tools, with good size and a strong arm, and many personnel people in the league feel that he could develop into a starting-caliber quarterback.

The Jaguars also re-signed restricted free agent linebacker Akin Ayodele. The three-year veteran signed the one-year restricted qualifying offer, for $656,000, tendered to him two months ago. Ayodele started all 16 games in 2004 and posted 131 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a recovery.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.