The 2012 free agent quarterback carousel is less than a month away from kicking into high gear. Obviously there is one Colt who will potentially be the leader of the pack on this merry go round (see what I did there). If and when Peyton Manning is cleared to actually play again (and that is a big if) and Indianapolis decides to release him, there will be quite the feeding frenzy for his hall of fame caliber talents. Once the dust settles on that bidding war the real fun will begin for the rest of the 2012 class of quarterback free agents. Drew Brees is technically a free agent but is a lock to return to the Saints, so irrelevant to this discussion. Matt Flynn looks to be the flavor of the month, having been groomed in the high powered Green Bay offensive system and fresh off a record breaking performance against Detroit in week 17. The list gets pretty pedestrian after Flynn with Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton and Alex Smith possibly being the most notable. Some of the more interesting names that aren't likely to get much press are Josh Johnson, Brian Hoyer (restricted) and Vince Young. The one name that seems to have fallen through the cracks and could turn out to be the steal of the off season is David Garrard.
The Jaguars released Garrard in September of 2011 and a lingering back injury that required surgery kept him out of the league for the entire season. Reports are coming out now that Garrard has been medically cleared to begin training and is on track to return in late March or early April. While David Garrard will never be confused with Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or even Mathew Stafford in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks, he was more than a serviceable starter while in Jacksonville. Should it turn out to be true that he is indeed fully recovered from the back injury, his name belongs at the top of the free agent list of quarterbacks. Garrard took over as the full time starter for the Jaguars in September of 2007 when Byron Leftwhich was surprisingly released. In the next four seasons Garrard would throw for over 12,400 yards, and 71 touchdowns while adding another 1100 yard and 11 touchdowns running the ball. In the 2007 playoffs he would lead Jacksonville to a stirring upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers highlighted by a 32 yard fourth down run to set up the winning field goal. A career regular season and playoff .500 winning percentage with 58 turnovers from the point he replaced Leftwhich as the full time starter isn't a ringing endorsement in favor of Garrard. However, upon closer examination some interesting factors can be brought to light to explain some of the team's struggle during the Garrard era. Actually it is not even necessary to dig very deep to see where a major problem existed for the Jaguars from 2007-2010; they had no weapons at the wide receiver position. The steady MJ Drew and Mercedes Lewis offered a little bit of help from their respective tight end and running back positions, but after those two it is a very uninspiring list. Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, Dennis Northcutt, Mike Thomas and the oft injured, never consistent Mike Sims Walker are make up the list of names that David Garrard had at his disposal during his reign as starter. Oh, and lest we forget an over the hill at the end of his career Torry Holt was on board in 2009 and did not muster a single receiving touchdown.
Given the total lack of talent at the wide receiver position during his time in Jacksonville, David Garrard managed to post some very nice numbers. Entering the 2012 season he will actually be coming off of a career high 28 total touchdown season in 2010. With teams such as Washington, Miami, Kansas City and Seattle looking for quarterbacks to come in and either challenge for a starting position (or push the incumbent quarterback during training camp), Garrard should be in high demand. Grossman, Cassel, Jackson, Moore and Orton are all quarterbacks whose career winning percentages linger at just over .500 or below and each one of them have had better talent to work with than Garrard ever enjoyed. Given the reality of the situation (that he was out of the league for the entire 2011 season and does have the back injury history), David Garrard will not be signed to a team and handed the starting job. His price tag will undoubtedly be considerably less than some of the other names on the market and that makes him hands down the steal of the off season. The chance to bring in a proven starting caliber quarterback at what will be a bargain basement price will be too much to turn down for a few teams. Now, who exactly are those teams? The three NFL teams who could benefit the most from signing David Garrard are the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles. While each of these teams have a starter in place, each of them are in need a high quality backup quarterback to keep a team on track should an injury or possible benching(Hello Tebow) take place.
The Bears' season fell apart last year when Cutler went down and Caleb Hanie was totally ineffective as his replacement. Wasting valiant efforts from their defense week after week, Chicago eventually had to lure Josh McCown out of retirement to man the offense. Having Garrard poised and ready to take over for Cutler should he get injured again would be a prudent move by the Bears. The receiving corps needs an overhaul and money saved by getting Garrard on the cheap could be put toward pursuing some of the high end free agent receivers due to hit the market. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the Chicago defense aren't getting any younger and the window of opportunity in the NFC North is closing quickly with the Packers on top and Detroit on the rise. The Bears cannot afford to have another season go down the drain due to lack of quality backup quarterback play; signing Garrard would be just the insurance they need.
The Denver Broncos are not going to bring Brady Quinn back for the 2012 season as Tim Tebow 's back up; and they need to have somebody behind the chosen one in case the whole experiment blows up. Should Tebow manage to actually continue to build on the incredible late season run of 2011, his style is going to catch up to him at some time and having a capable backup is a must. Whether it ends up being an Elway hook or a Tambi Hali hit, the chances are good that Tebow will miss some time. The young receivers in Denver could also benefit from Garrard's presence on the team. The AFC West is there for the taking as long as San Diego keeps bringing back Norv Turner and the Broncos need to shore up their quarterback position to make repeating as champs possible. David Garrard is just the quarterback to mentor Tebow and replace him in the lineup if necessary.
The best fit for Garrard may be with the Philadelphia Eagles. Vince Young is gone and there will be no Mike Kafka era in Philly. Michael Vick is not built to take a season long pounding and not miss at least a game or two. The opportunity to be in Philadelphia with the receivers they have would be a chance for Garrard to really shine. The NFC East is a coin flip from season to season and Andy Reid seems to be running out of time to get Philly back to the big dance. To have Vick go down and take their playoff chances with him would likely spell the end for Reid and he is smart enough to know this. Getting Garrard now and letting him work with Marty Mornhinweg the entire off season would ensure the Eagles of being set at the quarterback position. The NFL may have forgotten about David Garrard, but I'm betting that David Garrard has not forgotten how to play quarterback in the NFL. You heard it here first; David Garrard is the hidden gem of the 2012 list of free agent quarterbacks.