In 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars thought so highly of Blaine Gabbert they took him with the No. 10 overall pick. Three disappointing seasons later, Jacksonville recouped what little value Gabbert's name has across the league, shipping him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported details of the deal, which was confirmed by the Jaguars official website:
“We thought highly of Blaine as an early entry into the 2011 NFL Draft,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a team statement. “He is a high-character individual that will be given every opportunity to develop within our system and we are looking forward to working with him.”
Gabbert, 24, has spent each of the last two seasons dealing with myriad injuries. In 2012, he tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder and was held out of the season's final six games while recovering. The Jaguars replaced Gabbert with Chad Henne, a move that would eventually help usher the end of his time in Jacksonville.
Though named the starting quarterback for Week 1 last season, Gabbert lasted all of 35 attempts before suffering a lacerated hand and again ceding his post to Henne. He came back a couple weeks later, but it was clear whatever faith Gabbert had engendered during the preseason was gone. After the Gabbert-led offense put together a total of 25 points over three starts—the last of which resulted in a hamstring injury—Henne was named starter and the former first-round pick didn't see the field again.
When Henne re-signed with the Jaguars prior to Tuesday's beginning of free agency, the writing was on the wall for Gabbert's departure. Many expect Jacksonville to use a high-round draft pick to compete with Henne, a serviceable backup but a guy who doesn't resemble starter material. With Gabbert due a base salary of $2.01 million for 2014, it seemed unlikely the team would keep him around as a third-stringer.
Head coach Gus Bradley was non-committal over the weekend when discussing Gabbert's status:
It all depends on what we do in the draft. Just want to have flexibility in the draft to make sure that we can draft the best players at the position where we’re drafting and not to be handcuffed. Now, whether we decide to draft a quarterback in the draft or not, obviously that’s something that Dave (Caldwell, the general manager) and I are looking at. I haven’t had any of those discussions like that with Blaine. I told him right after the season, come in, compete and let’s go. Let’s see what happens.
Gabbert finished the regular season with 481 yards passing and one touchdown against seven interceptions, completing just 48.8 percent of his passes.
Among quarterbacks who had more than 10 passing attempts in 2013, only the Browns' Brandon Weeden had a worse DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement), per Football Outsiders. Coupled with a -83.7 percent DVOA—a metric that shows a player's value relative to league average, adjusted for factors like strength of schedule—it wouldn't be unfair to call Gabbert the worst highly used quarterback of last season. He also finished as one of the league's worst signal-callers in both 2011 and 2012.
In 28 career games, Gabbert has thrown for 4,357 yards and 22 touchdowns against 24 interceptions. Of the seven quarterbacks taken in the first three rounds in 2011, Gabbert is the first one to change teams.
Despite his struggles, Gabbert should walk into 49ers training camp No. 2 on the quarterback depth chart. Colin Kaepernick, himself a 2011 selection, is entrenched as the starter, but as Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News points out, head coach Jim Harbaugh likes quarterbacks with Gabbert's build:
Last season, another former high-profile flameout, Colt McCoy, served as Kaepernick's primary backup. McCoy, an unrestricted free agent, appeared in four games, throwing only one pass. It's now highly unlikely that San Francisco brings McCoy back unless he's available at some point this summer and Harbaugh is unhappy with Gabbert's development.
Still more than seven months away from his 25th birthday, it's hard to write Gabbert off entirely. The Jaguars selected him knowing he was raw but equipped with the raw physical tools to be a franchise-level talent. The same sentiment used to be tossed around about Kaepernick, who Harbaugh has subsequently molded into one of the league's best young quarterbacks.
Having seen Gabbert play, a similar story seems unlikely. But he'll be in a far better situation in San Francisco and playing for a coaching staff that still has faith in his skill set.
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