A brief history of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks, from Steve Beuerlein to Gardner Minshew
With the impending arrival of Trevor Lawrence as Jacksonville’s next quarterback, the NFL Draft's No. 1 NFL pick joins a long line of passers — some memorable, some a little less so — to wear the teal, black and gold jerseys behind the center during the last 25 seasons. The Times-Union takes a look back at some of the most notable names.
Trevor Town:How Cartersville, Ga., shaped Lawrence, the Jaguars' likely No. 1 NFL draft pick
How to watch:Where to find the NFL Draft — all three days of it — on TV, live stream
The first quarterback in Jaguars history, Steve Beuerlein owned a Super Bowl ring from Dallas Cowboys days and eight years of NFL experience when the Jaguars picked him in the expansion draft. He also didn't stay very long. Six games into his first year in Jacksonville, he lost his spot to the more mobile Mark Brunell, and within a year was suiting up for the rival Carolina Panthers.
Mark Brunell became the first Jaguars quarterback to reach the playoffs, and for many Jags fans, he's still the most memorable. The left-hander won the job during 1995 and kept the job eight years, directing four consecutive playoff runs from 1996 to 1999, earning three Pro Bowl selections and creating some of the team's most sparkling highlights. His second-half scramble and his touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith to take down the Denver Broncos in the 1996-97 divisional playoffs stand out as Exhibits A and B. Brunell didn't remain too long after the departure of Tom Coughlin, getting dropped to the bench under Jack Del Rio in 2003, but after his achievements, nobody was surprised when he received a spot in the Pride of the Jaguars in 2013.
No, Rob Johnson didn't play too much football for the Jaguars — just one start, in fact, coming in the 1997 season. But the fourth-round draft choice from Southern California still played an important role in the team's history. After completing more than 78 percent of his passes in part-time duty, Johnson found himself in demand, and the Jaguars traded him to Buffalo for a first-round and fourth-round pick in a transaction that ultimately brought Fred Taylor to the First Coast.
It took a wacky chain of events, including an unheard-of missed pick by the Minnesota Vikings, to bring Byron Leftwich to Jacksonville in the first round of the 2003 draft. His arrival heralded the end of the Mark Brunell era. Jaguars fans groused about Leftwich's up-and-down accuracy (he never completed more than 60.5 percent of passes), lack of mobility and fumble issues, but the rocket-armed passer from Marshall could lead a comeback with the best of them - 10 game-winning drives in barely three years. Unhappily, injuries diminished his effectiveness, and by 2007, head coach Jack Del Rio decided to move on. Leftwich was shipped out of Jacksonville in a surprise release nine days before the season's start.
Originally, David Garrard was brought to Jacksonville as a backup and potential successor to Mark Brunell. He ended up as the backup and ultimate successor to Byron Leftwich in time for 2007. More agile than Leftwich, Garrard led the Jaguars to a 2007 playoff victory in Pittsburgh and, at his best, was nearly impossible to pick off. But his last years with the club, plagued by inconsistency, saw the Jaguars sink into sustained mediocrity. His exit was unceremonious and bizarre: Head coach Jack Del Rio released Garrard hours after the Jaguars' kickoff luncheon at the start of the 2011 season.
Garrard's exit briefly inaugurated the micro-era of Luke McCown, perhaps the least remembered quarterback to start a Jacksonville game for reasons other than injury. A journeyman who had backed up Garrard in the previous two seasons, McCown won his first start against Tennessee but crashed miserably against the Jets on Sept. 18 - 6 of 19 passing for 59 yards, with four interceptions, a safety and a quarterback rating of 1.8. Jags fans had seen enough. That spelled the end of McCown's two-game first-team tenure.
The Jaguars had drafted Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 overall out of Missouri with expectations that he would steer the offense through the next decade. This did not work. Gabbert was error-prone, tentative and inaccurate (barely 50 percent completion) as a rookie, and though he showed faint flickers of improvement in year two, the writing was quickly on the wall. The Jags benched him during the 2013 season opener, and though he saw action in two more games, he closed his third season with seven interceptions in only three games.
In six years on the First Coast, Chad Henne started only 22 games and none at all in his final three seasons. Jaguars fans' expectations were always limited for the former Dolphins quarterback, let go after four interception-plagued years in Miami, and the Jags planned for him to back up Blaine Gabbert. When Gabbert stumbled, though, Henne ended up starting 13 games in 2013, going 4-9. Aside from three starts in 2014, he spent his remaining time in Jacksonville watching patiently behind the next man to bear the title of Jaguars starting quarterback, Blake Bortles.
A quarterback who grew up in Florida, one who went to college in the Sunshine State. Finally, this was the one who was bound to turn the Jaguars around. Everything set up perfectly for Blake Bortles, who rode into Jacksonville as the No. 3 overall pick in 2014 at the helm of a rebuilding but optimistic team. Everything, that is, except the consistency. Fans tried to show patience at first, even though Bortles was more down than up through his first three years. He produced his share of shining moments in an unexpected 2017 charge to the AFC title game, where he almost outdueled Tom Brady, but those moments proved too few and far between. Benched in midseason before briefly returning for the end of a dismal 2018 campaign, Bortles exited Jacksonville with a career 24-49 record.
The Jaguars acquired Cody Kessler from the hapless Browns with an eye toward finding a backup for Bortles. When Bortles' accuracy and confidence both collapsed during a 2018 season that grew uglier by the week, head coach Doug Marrone made the call for Kessler, first briefly during an October loss to Houston and then on a long-term basis in November. While Kessler technically went 2-2 as a Jags starter and completed nearly 65 percent of his passes, he lacked the ability to threaten defenses downfield and often wound up a sitting duck for pass rushers. By the year's end, he was back on the bench.
Probably the most heralded quarterback in Jaguars history, and certainly the most expensive, Nick Foles arrived on the First Coast in March 2019 with a Super Bowl MVP trophy from Philadelphia and an $88 million contract from Jags owner Shad Khan. The resume was strong — he outdueled the Patriots' Tom Brady in a Super Bowl, after all — and, for Jaguars fans, his arrival brought hopes that he could complement a bruising defense to bring greater success than the erratic Bortles. Then, in his very first Jacksonville quarter, trouble: While throwing a touchdown pass to D.J. Chark in the Sept. 8 opener against Kansas City, Foles was crushed between Chiefs lineman Chris Jones and the ground, breaking his collarbone. That was the beginning of the end: Foles only played three more games in Jacksonville, lost them all and got shipped out of town to Chicago for a fourth-rounder in March.
He arrived in Jacksonville with a 2019 sixth-round draft pick from the opposite corner of the country in Washington State, a late-round quarterback whose distinctive facial hair and offbeat persona outshone his preseason stats. But Gardner Minshew won his spot on the Jaguars' roster anyway, and needed only three quarters to make an impact. His record-setting performance in relief of Foles in the Sept. 8 season opener against the Chiefs won an NFL Rookie of the Week award and touched off an instant First Coast outbreak of Minshew Mania. But Minshew Mania faded into a sophomore slump in 2020, a 1-15 campaign marred by a thumb fracture and a disconnect with the coaching staff because of not reporting the injury when it happened. In 2021, what is Minshew's next move?
Another late-round rookie quarterback from the Pac-12. Could Jake Luton revive the Jaguars with Minshew Mania losing its momentum? The sixth-rounder from Oregon State, thrust into the limelight while Minshew was sidelined with an injured thumb, showed promise in a 27-25 loss to Houston, earning acclaim for his powerful arm. But everything went wrong two weeks later against Pittsburgh, a four-interception nightmare that included a completion percentage of 43.2, a quarterback rating of 15.5 and a dreaded bad thrown percentage of 36.4 from Pro Football Reference. Back to the bench, for now, with a long-term future not certain in Jacksonville.
Jaguars fans didn't have the highest of expectations for Mike Glennon, former Buccaneer/Bear/Cardinal/Raider, when he stepped into the starting role to follow Gardner Minshew and Jake Luton in the 2020 season. He was installed as starter for Week 12 against Cleveland, benched after a 31-10 loss to the Titans three games later and un-benched for the season's close against Chicago and Indianapolis. Whatever the opponent, Glennon lost all five games. Many of his numbers were far from awful (62 percent completion, seven touchdowns, five interceptions), but with 5.99 yards per attempt and a lack of speed that made him easy prey for blitzers (sacked six times in the season finale), he struggled to produce much zip in a stagnant offense. In March 2021, Glennon signed a 1-year contract with the New York Giants.