Getting Rid of Leftwich Great Move for Jags
by Robert Ferringo - 09/05/2007
As long as I have been a Chicago Bears fan there are only two players that I ever remember praying for my favorite team to draft. The first was a tornado defensive end from my alma mater named Dwight Freeney. The second was a 6-foot-5 quarterback with a rocket launcher arm named Byron Leftwich.
In 2002, Freeney got picked up by Indianapolis, pilfered about 18 spots before any mock draft had him going. It was foreshadowing for future soul-crushing moments involving the Colts and my Bears. In 2003, Leftwich got passed over by the Bears, who traded out of the No. 4 overall slot and allowed him to slide to Jacksonville at No. 7. It was foreshadowing for future soul-crushing moments involving Rex Grossman and my Bears.
That was the second thing that I was thinking about when I heard Leftwich would get cut; the first being, "I wonder how this will affect the line in their opener?" I thought back to the days when I was openly rooting against Chicago to better increase their odds of claiming the prize, Heisman candidate quarterback Byron Leftwich. And now the guy who was supposed to save me from that specific ring of hell in which your quarterback platoon is Jim Miller and Shane Matthews is now a castoff, a journeyman. My, how things change.
Leftwich has turned out to be a pretty average NFL quarterback. He has a career passer rating of just 80.5 and a 24-20 record as a starter. He has also had the added bonus of being incredibly injury prone, missing 15 games over the past two seasons. And that has really been his downfall; if Leftwich had stayed healthy he might have been able to prove himself worthy of that No. 7 overall pick in the 2003 draft. Instead, he couldn't stay on the field without breaking a nail and thus opened the door for David Garrard.
The right-handed Leftwich couldn't be trusted. He couldn't be counted on to Be There. And in a situation where grown men with hyperactive pituitary glands are smashing into one another, and shaving months and years off their lives with every collision, the one thing that you can't be as a leader is unreliable. Quite naturally the bobbleheads will point to his faulty mechanics, his statuesque presence in the pocket, or his feud with coach Jack Del Rio as reasons for his departure. But at the bottom of a bottle of bourbon in some lonely Gulf Coast crab shack, Del Rio will tell you the real reason was a lack of trust.
I applaud Del Rio for having the stones to cut Leftwich. He's the head of a rough and rugged crew of godless mercenaries and I think his move reflects that attitude in his Jaguars. I wrote just last week in my NFL Power Rankings that the only thing keeping Jacksonville from being one of the top five teams in the league was their streaky signal caller. I think the move is a boon to the offense and to the team, but I am curious to see how the oddsmakers approach the Jaguars in the wake of the shakeup.
Jacksonville opens up its season at home against Tennessee. They opened as 5.5-point favorites but the line has held firm at Jaguars (-6.5) for over a week now. Interestingly, Garrard started both games against the Titans last year and the results couldn't have been more bipolar. In a November game at Alltel Stadium Garrard led a 37-7 rampage and then in a key December tilt Tennessee returned three Garrard turnovers for touchdowns for a 24-17 win.
Personally, I think Jacksonville is better off. I think that Garrard's touch on the ball will help bring out the best in the Jaguars' underachieving wideouts (Leftwich didn't throw a very catchable ball). I think that his mobility will help be a deterrent for opponents who would have been blitz-crazy against Leftwich. And I think Garrard's overall versatility will make him a better fit to shepherd Dirk Koetter pro-style sets. Garrard is 9-6 in his career as a starter and has been incredibly sharp this preseason.
Finally, the entire Leftwich-Del Rio situation stands in stark contrast to the situation involving - ironically enough - Grossman in Chicago. Del Rio has proven himself the anti-Lovie Smith because he has the confidence to admit a mistake and to make a change when something isn't working. Smith, who confuses stubborn naiveté with "conviction" (much like another idiot Texan who's name sounds like George W. Douche), refuses to embrace the horror of the Sex Cannon. He refuses to change courses when one isn't working. Del Rio did not. Instead, Del Rio recognized that his quarterback has a very definite ceiling. And he understands that if he can find a reliable game manager who can make a play or two, his team runs the ball and plays defense well enough to make a legitimate championship run.
Today I'm not wishing Chicago had Leftwich. And today I'm not thankful they have Grossman. But I'll tell you this much: I'm sure as hell glad they don't have Jim Miller or Shane Matthews.
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