The 34-year-old Garrard faced the prospect of never stepping on the field again when he herniated a disc in his back and had to undergo surgery last October. He was coming off of his only Pro Bowl season with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the disappointment of being released by the team that drafted him.
Garrard is relishing the second chance being given to him by the Dolphins, fully cognizant of the fact that nothing is being handed to him. Incumbent starter
“I don’t think I have anything to prove. I think I’ve proved a lot of things as a starting quarterback, but I just want to go further than I’ve gone before,” said Garrard, who has thrown for 16,003 passing yards, 89 touchdowns and 54 interceptions over his career. “I want to go deeper in the playoffs and get a taste, a shot at winning a championship. So those are things I want to prove to myself. I want to make sure that when my career is done that I poured everything I had into it.
“That was one thing I was thinking about all season last year when I was sitting home on the couch not knowing if I’ll get a chance to play again, that I really didn’t empty my tank. I have a number of years of football left in me. I wanted to make sure that I left it all out there on the field, that I leave this game with no questions on whether or not I have anything left. That’s definitely fueling my purpose and getting to that championship glory. That’s the number one thing for me.”
Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had Garrard on his radar last year after Chad Henne suffered a season-ending shoulder injury at San Diego in Week 4. The two sides had a conversation but Garrard was just becoming aware of the extent of his injury at the time and realized he wasn’t going to be able to play so he turned down Miami’s offer.
Five months later and further along in his rehab from the October surgery to repair that herniated disc, Garrard reappeared on Ireland’s radar. This time the visit between the two went so well that Garrard didn’t even visit any other NFL team, instead turning his sights to a new beginning in the same state he began his NFL career. Ireland now feels better about his quarterback situation.
“I’ve been chasing this guy since last year,” Ireland told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “He’s athletic, he has arm talent, he’s got veteran experience and he brings great leadership. We went with a veteran at the position and we talked to Matt and he understands we need to play better at quarterback to get over the hump. So they’ll compete and we'll see what happens.”
In addition to feeling comfortable with Ireland during his visit to South Florida, Garrard also came away significantly impressed with new Head Coach Joe Philbin. The West Coast offense Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman are installing is something that excites Garrard because he feels it fits his skill set perfectly.
More importantly, Garrard sees in Philbin someone who is ultra prepared and someone that he is excited to work with. The conversations he had with Philbin further sold Garrard on the Dolphins being the best fit for him.
“I think Coach Philbin is a great mind and a great coach. He really understands I believe what it takes to put together a great team,” Garrard said. “He’s got a great vision, a great purpose it seems like to me. Everything he said kind of sounded like it was already in my head. I felt that was really one of the deciding factors for me in joining the Dolphins here, that and talking to him. You can just look at his history of what he’s done in the past. Hopefully, that can continue over with the Dolphins and with us and really get that offense down there kind of upbeat and rolling.”
So the combination of how impressed he was with Philbin, the fact that he was reassured there would be an open competition for the starting job and being able to stay in Florida made Garrard’s decision to sign with Miami an easy one. He can relocate his family with ease.
His last four years in Jacksonville were his most productive as he put together back-to-back seasons of over 3,500 passing yards in 2008 and 2009 and then led the Jaguars back to the playoffs in 2010 with 23 touchdown passes and a 90.8 passer rating. In 2007 he tied an NFL record for fewest interceptions thrown in a season with three while throwing 18 touchdown passes and engineered an upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card game.
If the limited exposure he had to the West Coast offense while backing up Byron Leftwich in Jacksonville is any indication, the Dolphins could be in store for a revived Garrard. He sees this system as being a perfect fit for him.
“I love getting the ball out of my hands fast, moving in the pocket, bootlegs, all those things are right up my alley and the style and scheme that they’re running will be great,” Garrard said. “A lot of the terminology is similar to what I was already running, so that’s going to be a nice, easier transition. It’s all not the same, but a lot of it is so that’s usually the hardest part with playing the position is getting all the terminology down and being able to sing it. So that’s great it’s already familiar to me. That’s a system I really wanted to be in again.”
Garrard will get a feel for just how Philbin’s and Sherman’s system will translate to his skills soon enough when the first set of OTAs and mini-camps are held in May.