On June 11, 2015, one of the headlines on Pats Pulpit simply read Patriots Sign Quarterback Matt Flynn, Waive Garrett Gilbert: the New England Patriots had just made a minor transaction in the middle of the NFL’s quietest time, letting one passer go in favor of another more experienced one. In the end, the move proved to be insignificant as Matt Flynn was released again just two months after being brought on board.
For Garrett Gilbert, however, it meant that he had to move once again — a recurring theme that went all the way back to his collegiate days. The Texas native, who was named Male High School Athlete of the Year back in 2009, started his college career at Texas and after appearing in 10 games during his freshman season won the starting gig one year later: Gilbert started all 12 of the Longhorns’ contests in 2010.
However, with Gilbert at the helm, Texas finished at 5-7 and with its first losing record since 1997 — and things continued to go south for the quarterback. Two games into the 2011 season, Gilbert was demoted to a backup role before a shoulder injury ended his junior campaign. Instead of returning the following season, he opted to transfer to SMU where he served as the starter for the remaining two years of his eligibility.
After failing to impress in 2012, Gilbert took his game to another level the following season and as a result heard his name called on draft day 2014: the then-St. Louis Rams picked him in the sixth round to compete for a backup job behind starting quarterback Sam Bradford. But despite Bradford suffering a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, stability was still not on the menu for Gilbert.
The Rams released him during final roster cuts, and shortly afterwards signed him to their practice squad. Only two months later, however, he was let go again and remained out of a job until mid-December. At that point, the Patriots called: they brought in Gilbert to fill a vacant spot on their very own practice squad. Joining the 11-3 team at the time turned out to be a successful move for the quarterback.
After all, New England was gearing up for another playoff run and Gilbert would serve as the third option behind starter Tom Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo. And even though he never was promoted to the active roster, Gilbert helped the Patriots prepare for the slate of passers they would face during the playoffs: the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco, the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck, and the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
Winning the game agains the latter, earned the Patriots their fourth and Gilbert his first Super Bowl ring. Once again, however, the joy would not last. Four months after New England’s thrilling 28-24 victory over the Seahawks and despite the cloud of Deflategate hanging around the Patriots organization and Tom Brady, the club opted to part ways with Gilbert in favor of the aforementioned Matt Flynn.
The next four years saw Gilbert move from one team to the next. He was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions immediately after his release from New England, but was let go again not even two months later. He then spent the next two seasons on and off the Oakland Raiders’ practice squad before joining the Carolina Panthers — the team that finally gave him his first in-game action in the regular season.
With Cam Newton dealing with a shoulder injury and backup Taylor Heinicke — a fellow ex-Patriot — being placed on injured reserve, it was Gilbert’s time to shine... by being elevated to the active roster as the backup of Kyle Allen. When Allen was pulled in the fourth quarter of the Panthers’ 33-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints because of an injury, Gilbert entered the field to play the first 13 snaps of his NFL career.
They would also be his last 13 snaps for now. Gilbert completed two of three pass attempts for 41 yards and was sacked once, and on the very next day and with the Panthers’ season over was released again. At that point, however, he already knew his next destination: the newly formed Alliance of American Football. After all, Gilbert was picked seventh overall during the new league’s quarterback draft one month earlier during a short stint as a free agent.
And on February 9, Gilbert made his debut as the starting quarterback for the AAF’s Orlando Apollos. Since that day, he has been the league’s best quarterback. In his first game, the 27-year old completed 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 227 yards and two touchdowns as his Apollos blew out the visiting Atlanta Legends by a score of 40-6 — in large part due to the former Patriot’s contributions.
Gilbert was even better last week, when he led Orlando to its second victory in as many games: he went 19 of 28 for 393 yards and another pair of scores en route to a 37-29 victory. On top of that, Gilbert successfully completed two-point conversions two weeks in a row in a league that does not use the extra-point kick and has its teams go for the two points after every single touchdown.
All in all, Gilbert leads the AAF in passing yards through two weeks and has the best completion percentage of all starting quarterbacks. Whether or not this is enough to earn him another shot in the NFL remains to be seen — but he is doing all he can to prove that his career is far from over.