Byron Has Jaguars Future In His Hands

As many people around Jacksonville and the NFL know, this is Byron Leftwich's team, and this is a make or break year for Leftwich, and the entire franchise. Leftwich is playing out the final year of his contract, and the 2007 season will determine not only his fate in Jacksonville, but likely his fate as a starting NFL quarterback.

As most Jaguars fans know, Leftwich has a rocket arm, good poise, and an undeniable will to win which occasionally causes him to take a great amount of abuse while waiting for open receivers. Leftwich has the tools to become an upper-tiered NFL quarterback, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy for an entire season since his rookie year way back in '03.

Whereas the Jaguars backup quarterbacks, David Garrard and Quinn Gray are serviceable, neither appears to be the answer on a long-term basis. In 2006, after Leftwich went down for the season, the Jaguars defense was outstanding, finishing with the number two overall ranking, and the Jaguars running game finished with the number three ranking in the NFL. With the backup quarterback playing the majority of the season, it only amounted to eight wins, and the team missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. When Leftwich is healthy and on the field, the Jaguars are a legitimate contender, when he's injured, they are just a solid, one-dimensional team.

So assuming Leftwich can stay healthy, and he takes the next step in his progression, the Jaguars will have their long term solution at quarterback, right? Not so fast. By the team waiting to give Leftwich a contract extension and letting him play out his final season, they have basically put the future of the quarterback position in Byron's hands. Although a contract extension prior to now considering Leftwich's injury history, would have been a giant leap of faith, the Jaguars are now in a precarious position of having no control over what happens regarding the quarterback situation. When asked if he was approached about a contract extension, Leftwich replied, "why would they talk to me about extensions when I can't stay out on the field? If you look at it that way, it wouldn't be smart about it on their part. Right now what I have to do is, I know there's a year on my contract, so what I'm going to do is I'm going to focus on this year and everything else will take care of itself. My whole focus is about nothing else but being on that field and making sure I play 16 games. If I do that, we will be successful like we should be."

So lets take a giant leap of faith and assume that Byron Leftwich plays out the '07 season and has a very solid year, why on Earth would he want to re-sign in Jacksonville? For a large, vocal sector of the fans, Leftwich has been public enemy number one, despite saying all the right things and giving to the community throughout his entire time in Jacksonville. Leftwich has been blasted by fans and certain members of the media for everything from his elongated release, to the way he wears his chin straps, or even the color of his shoes. His detractors will find any reason that they can think of to bash the guy, on and off the field. Although when Leftwich was asked if there is anything that needs to happen to make Jacksonville his first choice long term, he responded, "no, and that's my thing. Nothing special has to happen to win me back, I'm here. Nothing special has to happen. Like I said, I love being a Jaguar. I love those players in that locker room. I love being in that locker room. I can't say that any more. I'm worried about what I can control, and what I can control is going out there and trying to be in the best shape and play the best football that I can play."

As per usual, Byron continues to say the right things. Leftwich is a solid quarterback (when healthy), a good community guy, and a leader on and off the field. There are a few legitimate criticisms when it comes to his game, mostly involving health and lack of mobility. If you like his game or don't like his game, you must respect the man. He's starred in the face of criticism his entire time in Jacksonville, and has never blinked. He answers questions truthfully, and never deflects blame, still certain media types do their best to make up false stories about him and call him names. When asked about the negativity, Leftwich responded, "I think it might be the fan base reacting to the media because when you play quarterback in this league. I know enough quarterbacks around the league, I used to think like 'man, this is crazy. I've never been a part of anything like this. But when I talk to more quarterbacks around the league, they're saying the same thing. It's no matter how good they are. You're going to have fans who like you, you're going to have fans who love you and you're going to have fans who hate you, and what you do as a player is try to work your butt off and hope they respect that and hope they respect that I'm going to do everything I can, put everything on the line to try to win this football game. If that doesn't win them over, you can't really control that. All you can do is play your butt off week in and week out and let them ultimately make the decision if they want to like you or not."

The Jaguars had an opportunity to at least have some insurance against the departure of Leftwich by possibly selecting quarterback Brady Quinn with the 17th, and then 21st picks in the NFL draft, but they chose to better the team in the short run, by picking University of Florida safety, Reggie Nelson (which fills an immediate need). If the Jaguars weren't that high on Quinn, they also could have traded their 21st overall pick to the Cleveland Browns for their high second round pick (#36 overall), and next season's first round pick which would likely be in the top ten, and a draft class that is expected to have depth at the quarterback position. Since the Jaguars didn't exercise any of those options, they will now have to sit and wait, and hope that Byron Leftwich returns to Jacksonville after the '07 season, assuming they still want him.

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