JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Gus Bradley’s decision to go with Blaine Gabbert as the Jaguars’ starting quarterback may not be a popular one in Jacksonville, but it is the correct one.
It has nothing to do with the way Chad Henne played against Oakland and Seattle. Even if Henne had thrown for 300 yards and led the Jaguars to improbable victories on the West Coast, the Jaguars have to start Gabbert this Sunday and the rest of the season.
It’s not about wins and losses in 2013. It’s not even about wins and losses in 2014. It’s about 2015 and beyond. It’s about finding out whether Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 draft, is the quarterback around which Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell can build the franchise. The only way to learn that is to see Gabbert play.
The backlash from fans, though, is warranted. Gabbert has certainly done nothing in his two-plus seasons to show he has that ability. In his 25 starts he has completed at least half of his passes 17 times (including the game in which he was injured last season and went 2-for-2) but has also had eight games in which he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes, including his 16-for-35 performance in the season opener against Kansas City.
Even worse: The Jaguars are 5-20 in games in which he has started.
The team isn’t much better with Henne as the starter (1-7), but the offense has looked marginally better. Gabbert started the first 10 games of the 2012 season but suffered a forearm injury after throwing just two passes in the 10th game. In the first nine games the Jaguars averaged 263.6 yards per game, 185.3 passing yards per game, and 14.1 points per game.
Gabbert’s injury landed him on injured reserve and Henne started the final six games, during which the Jaguars averaged 326.3 yards per game, 233.3 passing yards per game, and 15.3 points per game.
There are some valid reasons for Gabbert’s poor play. He is on his third head coach and offensive coordinator. He has not exactly had an all-star list of receivers at his disposal. He also has battled a series of injuries (toe, shoulder, forearm, ankle, thumb, hand) that have caused him to miss eight games.
Some see those as excuses, and they very well may be, but the bottom line is this: Gabbert has a clean slate with the new regime. It would be easy for Caldwell and Bradley to adopt the belief held by nearly everyone outside the organization that Gabbert is a bust and any time spent trying to develop him is a waste. That would be irresponsible on their part.
Look at it this way: You’ve taken an executive job at a new company that has been floundering for years. You are under a lot of pressure to quickly turn the company around and make it among the best in the country. Would you take the word of the person you replaced -- who was fired for actually making things worse -- on issues vital to whether you could succeed?
Caldwell and Bradley need to make up their own minds on Gabbert and they’re starting from ground zero. They see a big kid (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) with a strong arm and the athleticism to move around in the pocket. They like his attitude and work ethic and they obviously feel he has potential or they would have drafted a quarterback in April.
Henne obviously isn’t the long-term answer and his contract expires after this season, anyway. Playing him over Gabbert would do no good and the team would essentially be in the same place in December as it was when Caldwell and Bradley were hired in January.
Gabbert may look terrible. He may throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. He may not lead the team to a single victory. But at least Caldwell and Bradley will have their answer and can start seriously investigating quarterbacks.
So Gabbert has to play. It may not be the popular decision, but it is the right one -- and the Jaguars' future depends on it.