JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have a quarterback for the future, possibly the not-too-distant future.
The Jaguars traded up six spots in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night and selected Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the 10th pick. The move instantly created a quarterback competition between Gabbert and inconsistent starter David Garrard.
"We feel like we have a very capable player in David," coach Jack Del Rio said. "Certainly, there's going to be competition. We have an opportunity to have a young man with a good skill set come in here and work and earn his way. I don't think you can be strong enough at that position. It's such a premium position in what is really a quarterback-driven league."
Jacksonville gave up Friday's second-round pick to swap first-rounders with the Washington Redskins. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith watched Gabbert get passed over by several teams with quarterback needs, and when Tennessee passed on him at No. 8, Smith started working the phones.
He tried to make a deal with Dallas at No. 9, but that fell through. The Redskins turned out to be a more willing trade partner. Washington later selected Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan at No. 16.
Many predicted Kerrigan would land in Jacksonville, a team that finished near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive category last season. But Smith and Del Rio felt like they couldn't pass on drafting a franchise quarterback for the first time since picking Byron Leftwich seventh overall in 2003.
That pick backfired, with Garrard eventually beating out Leftwich.
Smith and Del Rio can only expect better results this time around.
Gabbert threw for 3,186 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, and had 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns during his three-year college career.
"We're very happy to acquire a player we had strong feelings about as someone that can be the quarterback that can lead us in the future," Smith said. "Certainly David is our quarterback. ... David's a proven starter. Blaine's coming out of a shotgun, spread offense in college. He is an underclassman. But this guy has the physical skills, certainly the mental skills, to develop.
"We feel like we have an excellent situation here to bring along a young player."
Gabbert welcomed the competition and acknowledged that he needs time to learn Jacksonville's offense and make the transition to pro-style formations.
"I'm ecstatic," Gabbert said. "David Garrard is a great quarterback. It's one of those situations where I'm going to come in, learn as much as possible and compete in training camp. That's all you can do."
Garrard failed to take Jacksonville to the next level.
Sure, he set the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season, enjoyed five of the best eight games of his career and led the Jacksonville Jaguars to several late wins.
But when the Jaguars turned to Garrard to get the team into the playoffs, he struggled to handle the extra load. His final two games, which included two costly turnovers late, had fans calling for a quarterback change.
He's just 39-37 as a starter and has one playoff victory.
This season was one of his best, though. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards, with 23 TD passes and 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.8.
Garrard led the team to late wins against Indianapolis, Buffalo, Houston and Cleveland. But he showed more inconsistency in losses to San Diego, Philadelphia, Tennessee, the New York Giants and Washington.
Now, Garrard's days are seemingly numbered.
Gabbert might not get the nod on opening day, but surely fans will be clamoring for him to take over -- whether it's now, after Garrard struggles or after the team loses.
"The future will dictate whether it was the right move or not," Smith said. "You trust the work that you've done and you continue to acquire players to get to where you want to go, and I do think it starts at the quarterback position. ... This is a league where there's tremendous competitive balance and the quarterback certainly can impact games in this league, maybe more than any other player.
"We feel like we have a guy that can lead us into the future."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press