JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — David Garrard lost his starting job the same way he got it: Just days before the season opener and in stunning fashion.
The Jacksonville Jaguars released Garrard on Tuesday, making a "pure football decision" that will save the franchise $9 million in 2011.
Whether it saves coach Jack Del Rio's job remains to be seen. Team owner Wayne Weaver has said Jacksonville needs to make the playoffs for Del Rio to stick around for a 10th season.
Del Rio made it clear late last season that he had grown tired of Garrard's inconsistent ways, but the coach remained steadfast through training camp and the preseason that Garrard was his starter. That changed Tuesday, when the Jaguars parted ways with Garrard after nine up-and-down seasons.
"He just couldn't get it going," said Del Rio, who added that the team didn't try to trade Garrard. "I had met with him a couple of weeks ago and brought him in and said, 'Hey, listen, you're my guy. I need you to get it going.' He was given every opportunity. He was somewhat apologetic that he wasn't able to deliver."
Del Rio turned the starting job over to Luke McCown, who outplayed Garrard and rookie Blaine Gabbert in the preseason. Playing mostly with and against second- and third-teamers, McCown completed 12-of-18 passes for 133 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.
"I was shocked by the decision," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "They obviously felt it was time to go in a different direction. Luke had a great camp, everyone knows that, and now he's the guy. There's no drop-off. We believe in Luke and we're going to rally around him."
Garrard missed the preseason opener because of a sore back, but started the final three games. He completed 50 percent of his passes for 216 yards, with no touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked three times.
Garrard didn't return phone or text messages seeking comment, but he thanked fans on his Twitter feed.
"Thank you jaguar fans for an awesome ride! You are the best fans ever," he wrote. "You'll always have a special place in my heart and my family's heart!"
The move was similar to what Del Rio did in 2007, when he released Byron Leftwich in favor of Garrard after the preseason finale. Garrard played well that season, throwing 18 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
He's been average since, with 53 TDs and 38 INTs over the last three seasons. He also has been sacked 117 times in that span.
His performance late last season was one of the final straws.
With running back Maurice Jones-Drew sitting out against Washington, the Jaguars put the game on Garrard's shoulders and he struggled to handle the load. He failed to read Washington's cloaked defensive schemes and nearly ended the day with five turnovers.
The Jaguars responded by drafting Gabbert with the 10th pick in April's draft. Gabbert would have been given a chance to win the starting job in camp, but the NFL lockout denied him a a summer filled with meetings, film work and organized team activities.
Gabbert dropped to third on the depth chart last week. McCown moved up to second, although no one knew he was actually auditioning for the starting job.
"Our starter is our starter until he's not our starter," Del Rio said. "That's the way it works. To do it any other way creates a circus atmosphere. We have not had that. We've had a very purposeful camp; we've had a very workmanlike, businesslike training camp. A decision was made in the best interest of the football team, and now we go forward."
Garrard ends his Jacksonville career with 16,003 yards passing, 89 touchdowns, 54 interceptions and a 39-37 record. He also ran for 1,746 yards and 17 scores.
Garrard's final game was one of his worst. He was hit repeatedly in last week's preseason finale against St. Louis and misfired on four of five passes. He ended the night with an animated exchange with his offensive line on the sideline.
That, too, had become an issue inside the facility, with Garrard pointing the finger more often than taking the blame.
Del Rio called Garrard a middle-tier quarterback after the 2009 season, and Weaver challenged him to do more with teammates that offseason.
Garrard did. He responded by setting the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (23), enjoying five of the best eight games of his career and leading the Jaguars to several late wins. But he struggled down the stretch.
It became clear Monday how teammates felt about Garrard. They declined to vote Garrard a team captain, instead choosing Jones-Drew and Lewis as offensive captains.
Garrard was released the next day.
"I think he's handled it like a man, like he's handled everything else," general manager Gene Smith said. "I think he's been a tremendous example how to handle adversity since he's been here ... At some point, you have to go through this as an NFL player."