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3 thoughts on what’s next for Florida Gators after Jaden Rashada fallout

How does Florida remove this name, image and likeness stain? And is a five-star high school junior enough to save the Gators?
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier and his program will have to navigate the fallout of the high-profile departure of Jaden Rashada.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier and his program will have to navigate the fallout of the high-profile departure of Jaden Rashada. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Jan. 18

Though the uncertainty over Jaden Rashada’s Florida Gators future ended Tuesday when he requested a release from his letter of intent, the fallout is ongoing. Here are three thoughts about what’s next after a $13 million name, image and likeness dispute helped cost UF of one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects.

This NIL stain will be hard for UF to remove

After coach Billy Napier spent last offseason saying name, image and likeness “should and will be a strength” at UF, I asked him in July if he thought it was one already. His answer: “I do.”

Does anyone feel that way now?

Related: Who’s to blame for Florida Gators, Jaden Rashada stalemate?

The still-murky details of why Rashada’s deal collapsed are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether the blame belongs to the Gator Collective — a third-party name, image and likeness company that works with UF athletes — or a donor who didn’t fulfill a pledge or Rashada’s family or someone else. Public perception is reality. And the public perception is that a Gators signee bailed because he wasn’t going to get what he was promised. That’s the message the next wave of transfers and recruits will hear from rival programs.

Quarterback Jaden Rashada is a blue-chip prospect coming out of California's Pittsburg High.
Quarterback Jaden Rashada is a blue-chip prospect coming out of California's Pittsburg High. [ JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO | Bay Area News Group (2022) ]

There isn’t an easy comeback or fix. But if name, image and likeness is going to be a strength at UF, the people in and around the program must figure it out.

The short-term loss is significant but not necessarily devastating

Rashada is talented enough to have competed for the starting job as a freshman, but the Gators have experienced options without him: Jack Miller (who started the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Oregon State) and up-and-down Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz. Add in Max Brown (the No. 1,588 overall recruit of last year’s class), and the quarterback room is OK but unimpressive.

Graham Mertz transferred from Wisconsin to Florida this cycle and is expected to contend for the Gators' starting job.
Graham Mertz transferred from Wisconsin to Florida this cycle and is expected to contend for the Gators' starting job. [ KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI | AP (2022) ]

It’s also incomplete. Napier said last month that he likes to have four scholarship quarterbacks. Now he has a chance to add one more.

Because the 2023 recruiting class has already been picked through, the transfer portal is his best hope. The top candidate, former top-50 national recruit Walker Howard, announced Wednesday he was transferring from LSU to Mississippi. Sam Huard (Washington) and Jake Garcia (Miami), two top-50 recruits from the 2021 class, are the next-best available options.

Failing to sign a high-end prep quarterback in two consecutive classes isn’t good, but it can be overcome. Willie Taggart didn’t sign any high school quarterback at Florida State but added a notable transfer: Jordan Travis. Perhaps Napier can find his Travis through the portal, either now or after it reopens this spring.

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Help is coming, but it might not be enough

The Gators’ saving grace is a non-binding oral commitment from DJ Lagway, a five-star Texan in the ‘24 class. Florida fans pinning their hopes on a prep player who can’t sign for another 11 months need a fallback plan. That’s not a knock on Lagway; it’s a reflection of the crapshoot nature of quarterback recruits.

Since 2014, Florida schools have signed seven quarterbacks who were ranked among the top 10 in their class by 247Sports. Brad Kaaya became Miami’s all-time leading passer. Three others (the Gators’ Feleipe Franks and Will Grier, plus Miami’s Jarren Williams) had careers that were, at best, mixed before transferring. The other three (Rashada, Garcia and Florida State’s Malik Henry) left before ever making an impact.

Feleipe Franks was one of his recruiting class' top 10 quarterbacks when he joined the Gators. His career at Florida was mixed before he transferred to Arkansas.
Feleipe Franks was one of his recruiting class' top 10 quarterbacks when he joined the Gators. His career at Florida was mixed before he transferred to Arkansas. [ MONICA HERNDON | Times (2018) ]

The ‘19 recruiting class is also instructive. Five of that cycle’s top seven quarterback prospects (including Mertz) transferred. Another, Sam Howell, flipped late from FSU to North Carolina. The final one, Max Duggan, led TCU to the national title game.

The best programs mitigate this risk by stockpiling talent. Georgia has a trio of former top-250 recruits who will vie to replace Stetson Bennett. Alabama signed top-200 recruit Jalen Hurts and five-star prospect Tua Tagovailoa in back-to-back classes — and needed both to win the 2017 national championship. Five-star passer Hunter Johnson didn’t work out at Clemson. The Tigers’ next one, Trevor Lawrence, did.

Maybe Lagway becomes Florida’s Trevor Lawrence, a phenom who starts and stars immediately. But you can’t count on it. And that’s where Rashada’s decision stings; it deprives the Gators of one more roll of the dice to try to find their next star quarterback.

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