One of the biggest underlying story lines of the past few weeks that has started to pick up steam are people asking what the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to do when Nick Foles is inevitably healthy and comes back from injured reserve. Will he immediately get his starting job back, regardless of how Gardner Minshew II is playing? Does he sit on the bench as an excruciatingly expensive back up quarterback?
The situation is often described as a hard one to sort through, but personally I think it’s quite an easy decision to make.
Nick Foles broke his clavicle in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs, coming on his 10th play of the game and a long touchdown pass to wide receiver D.J. Chark. The team quickly ruled Foles out and Minshew was pressed into action after a preseason that left a whole lot to be desired. Minshew impressed and the “Minshew Mania” took hold and the wave has carried forward.
Minshew is 2-2 as a starter, damn near 4-0, and his play isn’t showing any signs of falling off. So the answer to me when someone asks what do the Jaguars do when Foles comes back is to ask why are they so certain Foles comes back?
I’ll say it simply; If Minshew’s play has not just completely fallen off a cliff and he’s actively detrimental to your offense, there isn’t really any acceptable reason to bench him. Benching him just because you handed Nick Foles a large contract in the offseason isn’t a good reason, and certainly not one that will sit well with a locker room of players who’ve been riding with the rookie that is a large part of keeping them in games.
If Minshew is still keeping up his play, it’s probably best for the Jaguars to just avoid the situation entirely and keep Foles on injured reserve until the end of the season. Remember, you do not have to designate players for return anymore, you can just simply do it after a number of weeks. It’s entirely possible the team could be above .500 at that point, in the thick of a playoff race. On the flipside if you continue to lose games, but Minshew is performing, what does bringing back Foles really help with?
You give Minshew the time to continue to develop, you avoid the awkward situation that will cause a riot in the stands as soon as Foles has a handful of bad plays, as well as the questioning of the players in the locker room for the switch.
Not only that, but I’m not really sure right now what Foles offers your offense that Minshew doesn’t. Sure, he’s bigger and has a stronger arm, but neither of those have proven to be big detriments in games so far. Minshew is much more mobile and elusive than Foles in the pocket, so that’s actually a downgrade, and Minshew has shown the crunch time moxie to make plays to either win the game or put a win within reach. That’s a big reason a lot of people liked Foles, and you’ve already got it.
Through five games in the 2019 season Minshew ranks in the top half of the league in multiple passing categorys, has seen his odds for the offensive rookie of the year surge, and is setting impressive rookie league-wide records. Frankly, he’s playing some of the best quarterback we’ve seen from the Jaguars since 2007, so I’m not sure how you can even think about pulling the plug on that unless he just has a run of absolutely bad games.
The real question is what to do in 2020
The biggest question really becomes; If Minshew continues to grow and develop, what is the best avenue to get rid of Nick Foles. His contract is a point where it’s not feasible to keep him as a back up, and I have no doubt Foles wouldn’t cause issue if that ultimately ended up the case.
If it all continues to play out as it has, there will likely be a market for Foles as a starting quarterback in 2020 and the team can eat the dead money and pick up a draft pick or two. Foles carries a dead money hit of $18.7 million in a pre-June 1 trade, but also offers a cap savings of $3.3 million. Foles base salaries for 2020, 2021 and 2022 are $15.15M, $14.875M and $20M, respectively. The signing bonus money is eaten by the Jaguars, which makes Foles an exceptionally affordable starting quarterback option for many teams.
The Jaguars could even split the dead money with a post-June 1 designation which would give them a total of $15.8M savings in 2020, but carry a dead money hit of $12.5M in 2021. But, you also have to consider that if that move is made, your starting quarterback is locked into a sixth-round rookie contract with his cap hit maxing out at $812,721 the final year of his contract, in 2022.
That would give the Jaguars a ton of cap flexibility that would have been tied up in Foles going forward.
Sure, it’s only been five games and might sound pre-mature, but it’s something the team is going to have to start thinking about, because I think of Minshew was going to turn into a pumpkin like Kyle Allen did this past Sunday, we’d have seen it by now. Instead, he’s instilling belief in the Jaguars to come back from deficits and having a shot to win the game in the end of games they probably have no business being in.
If there are signs of Minshew coming back down to Earth, I haven’t seen it yet.