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The more mobile Garrard played well, leading to speculation he might take over for good, especially given that trading or releasing Leftwich would save the Jaguars $5.15 million against the 2007 salary cap. But Del Rio named Leftwich the starter early in the offseason. A poor preseason, however, combined with Garrard’s development, prompted the Jaguars to cut Leftwich nine days before the regular season.

“I didn’t see it coming. No way, no how,” Taylor told reporters at the time. “I needed one of those telescopes that goes to Mars.”

Leftwich predictably said he doesn’t want to say anything negative about Del Rio or what happened in Jacksonville, other than he regrets not playing for assistant coaches Mike Shula and Dirk Koetter, who were hired before last season.

“I had a great relationship with them,” he said. “It’s frustrating not getting to play with coaches of that magnitude.”

James Harris, the Jaguars’ vice president of player personnel, said he did not want to “relive” what happened with Leftwich.

“I can only say that he’s a smart guy that had some good years for us,” he said. “He had a winning record. He has a good arm. A tough guy. He had some injuries that affected his production and ability to get on the field. … I would think that he would play again.”

Atlanta, saddled with quarterback problems in the wake of Michael Vick’s legal issues, signed Leftwich after his release. But he suffered a badly sprained right ankle against New Orleans, and screws were inserted in the ankle to help the healing process.

With the franchise reeling from the Vick situation, the sudden departure of coach Bobby Petrino and a general lack of talent, Atlanta launched a full-scale rebuilding effort. The club released Leftwich along with several other veterans and drafted quarterback Matt Ryan with its first-round pick.

“I know teams are thinking, ‘Hey, this guy’s getting injured every year,’” Leftwich said. “A lot of teams are scared of taking a chance on me. We all know I can play once I’m out there. But I don’t really know. I know somebody’s gonna give me the opportunity, and when I get that opportunity, somebody’s gonna take advantage.”

Leftwich’s injury history “is a legitimate concern,” former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Plus, Byron’s one of those guys that will sit in the pocket and take the hit. He’ll wait till the last second, but a price comes with that.”

Billick, now a game analyst for Fox, liked Leftwich enough in college that the Ravens tried to work a deal with the Minnesota Vikings to trade up in the draft. But in an infamous draft day snafu, the Vikings took too much time - some say the Jaguars intentionally stalled them - and lost the pick, allowing Jacksonville to take Leftwich. The Ravens were still happy, taking linebacker Terrell Suggs and then Kyle Boller, the quarterback they had rated right behind Leftwich.

“He can throw it,” Billick said of Leftwich. “There’s never been a question about his ability. He’s got one of those unique arms. He proved to be fairly accurate. He has a bit of a wind-up, but he has the arm strength and anticipation to counter that. Most of the problems stem from his injuries.

“I don’t think anyone’s questioning his courage,” Billick said. “But you’re talking about the ankle and the pivot point [in his delivery] and how important that is. It’s gonna be a concern. But he’s gonna get another opportunity.”

Leftwich is an “interesting guy,” Chicago Bears pro personnel director Bobby DePaul said. “He did have some success, but he had some durability issues that kind of catches up to you.”

Other than that, “he has all the intangibles you’re looking for,” DePaul said. “He’s a high character, highly intelligent team guy.”

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