Ankle injury puts Leftwich's season, future in question

How well his damaged left ankle responds to rest and treatment over the next week to 10 days could resolve whether
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich, who has missed the past three games, plays again during the 2006 season.

And by extension, perhaps, it could also determine his long-term future with the franchise.

Leftwich traveled to Birmingham, Ala., on Monday for a second opinion on his balky ankle from Dr. James Andrews, and ESPN.com has learned that the renowned orthopedist apprised the four-year veteran signal-caller that there is, indeed, debris and bone spurs in the joint. Andrews recommended to Leftwich that he rest the ankle for 7-10 days, and then have it re-evaluated.

Team doctors have advised Leftwich that he should not play again this season.

If the ankle does not show significant progress in the timeframe set by Andrews, sources said, Leftwich likely will not play again in 2006. And if that is the case, surgery to clean out the ankle probably will be indicated. In fact, one league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday night that it is "probably just a matter of time" until Leftwich needs surgery to mend the ankle and get him ready to play in 2007.

Leftwich, 26, was listed as "questionable" on the Jaguars' official injury report Wednesday evening. Five-year veteran David Garrard, who is 2-1 since replacing Leftwich but who threw four interceptions in last week's upset loss to the Houston Texans, will start for a fourth straight game when Jacksonville hosts the New York Giants on Monday night.

Last week, Leftwich gauged his ankle at 85-90 percent healthy and acknowledged that it was probably unrealistic to expect it to be 100 percent this season.

"It's not like it's a broken leg," Leftwich said. "It's not like it's a bone floating around. I've just got some scar tissue in there. There's probably a lot of people who've got scar tissue. That's just how it is. I don't know in my whole life if I'd ever be 100 percent again. That's just [how it is] with anybody's who has ever played the game. Nobody in this locker room is 100 percent."

The Jaguars' first-round choice in the 2003 draft, and essentially the face of the franchise since ascending to the starting role just three games into his rookie season, Leftwich has not played since an Oct. 22 loss at Houston. He claimed to have been originally injured in an Oct. 1 game at Washington. But problems with the ankle were exacerbated in the days preceding the game at Houston and he almost did not make that start because of swelling and discomfort.

Leftwich fractured his left ankle in 2005, and missed the final five games of the season, then returned to the starting lineup in a wild card-round playoff loss at New England. His current ankle problems are unrelated, Jacksonville officials have said, to last season's fracture. Garrard was 4-1 while replacing Leftwich in the lineup in 2005, and is 7-4 as a starter for his career.

Complicating matters is that Leftwich will enter the final season of his original rookie contract in 2007, and has a base salary of $5.2 million, and a salary cap figure that could be exorbitant for the Jaguars to carry if the former Marshall star is not the starter. One of the NFL's most amenable players, and popular with his teammates, Leftwich said last week that he wants to remain in Jacksonville.

But there is a feeling that some Jaguars officials don't believe Leftwich, who was 3-3 as a starter this year before the ankle injury and is 24-20 for his career, is the long-term answer at the position. And there are some close to Leftwich who feel a change of scenery might be in his best interests, especially with what has transpired this season.