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Jaguars release Garrard, elevate McCown to starting QB

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 or not it will save 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.

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If the timing of the move wasn't strange enough -- five days before the season opener against the Tennessee Titans -- it came two hours after the team introduced Garrard as its starting quarterback at a kickoff luncheon at the chamber of commerce.

"He just couldn't get it going," Del Rio said. "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 and Jaguars general manager Gene Smith met with reporters Tuesday and clarified that Garrard's release was made in the best interests of the franchise.

"This decision was pure football," Del Rio said. "Gene and I met at length -- really over several weeks -- about the position."

Garrard issued the following statement on his Twitter page: "Thank you jaguar fans for an awesome ride! You are the best fans ever. You'll always have a special place in my heart and my family's heart!"

Del Rio will turn the starting job over to Luke McCown, who outplayed Garrard and rookie Blaine Gabbert in the preseason. But McCown played mostly with and against second- and third-teamers. McCown completed 12 of 18 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks.

Garrard's agent, Al Irby, told The Florida Times-Union that three teams already have contacted him about the quarterback, who was shocked by the Jaguars' decision. Irby said he told the teams he spoke with that he would keep quiet about their interest.

"Been assured that the job was his this year," Irby said. "That's why we're all shocked, and so was he. This had to be a last-minute decision, that's the only thing I can say. I don't think these guys would purposely tell me one thing and (do another)."

"I was shocked by the decision," Jaguars 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."

Del Rio said it wasn't so much that Garrard lost the job, or McCown won it, but a combination of the two.

"I think Luke has come on," Del Rio said. "He came back (from injury last season) and had a heck of a camp. He had the best camp of the three quarterbacks, and he's earned this opportunity."

Del Rio said he was comfortable with just two quarterbacks on the roster, leaving Gabbert one injury away from regular-season action.

"I think Blaine's talent is obvious. ... He is a talented young man, and his time will come," Del Rio said. "But he's got to earn it."

Garrard missed the preseason opener because of a sore back, but he started the final three games. He completed 50 percent of his passes for 216 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. He was sacked three times.

Del Rio's latest quarterback swap is similar to what he 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.

But he has been average since, with 53 TDs and 38 INTs during the past three seasons. He also has been sacked 117 times in that span.

Garrard's performance late last season was one of the final straws.

With running back Maurice Jones-Drew sitting out against the Washington Redskins, 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 overall pick in April's draft. Gabbert might have had a chance to win the starting job, but the NFL lockout denied him a a summer filled with meetings, film work and organized team activities.

Gabbert was dropped to third on Jacksonville's depth chart last week.

McCown moved up to second, although no one knew he actually was auditioning for the starting job.

Garrard was repeatedly hit during last week's preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams and had 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. He blamed an interception against the Atlanta Falcons on wide receiver Mike Thomas, then ripped the line for Thursday's problems.

Del Rio called Garrard a middle-tier quarterback after the 2009 season, and Weaver challenged the quarterback to do more with teammates that offseason.

Garrard did.

He responded by setting the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (23), enjoyed five of the best eight games of his career and led 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 tight end Marcedes Lewis as offensive captains.

Garrard was released the next day.

Del Rio and Smith thanked Garrard for his commitment to the franchise.

"David had a nice run here; we were joined at the hip," Del Rio said. "He just wasn't able to get it together this preseason. He even admitted that."

Said Smith: "I admire him as a man, even more than as a player, and he's left a tremendous mark on this franchise."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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