Gardner Minshew auditions to be Jaguars' starter in 2020
The Jaguars have lost four in a row — all by 17 or more points — and, at 4-8, are on the precipice of the franchise’s eighth season with double-digit losses in the past nine years. In the first half of the past three games since Nick Foles’ return, the Jaguars’ offense has been stagnant (10 points), and most of the points and yards have come in garbage time.
If Minshew gets the offense moving and wins a few games, he’ll have a pretty good case to be the Jaguars’ starter beyond December.
“Hopefully he’ll come in and give us a little boost and provide for us the energy that we need as a team, pull us together, and allow us to finish strong,” executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin said during an appearance on “The Drill” morning show on Jacksonville radio station 1010XL. “There’s four games to go and let’s see what happens.”
Minshew threw for 2,010 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in his eight games as a starter. He also lost a league-high (at the time) seven fumbles, the result of him holding onto the ball too long, scrambling in the pocket and getting hit. But he also won four games and kept the Jaguars in the AFC South race at 4-5 when Foles returned.
Minshew had up-and-down performances in those eight games, which is to be expected for a rookie quarterback.
He threw for 204 yards and two touchdowns — both in the first quarter — in a nationally televised 20-7 victory over Tennessee on Thursday Night Football in his second start. He had 279 yards and three TDs in a rout of the New York Jets. He threw for 374 yards and two TDs against Carolina, but also lost three fumbles. He struggled against New Orleans when the Saints played two deep safeties to take away DJ Chark (no TDs, just 163 yards).
His worst performance came against Houston in London, when he turned the ball over four times (two interceptions, two fumbles) in a 26-3 loss. The Jaguars went back to Foles after the subsequent bye week.
The good news for Minshew is the Jaguars’ remaining four opponents — the Chargers, Raiders, Falcons and Colts — all have forced 15 or fewer turnovers. The Raiders and Falcons also rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense, sacks and scoring. The Colts have 32 sacks, but none of the other three has more than 27.
So things are in place for Minshew to potentially have a good run, and if he could finish with more than 3,000 yards, 20-plus TDs and fewer than 10 interceptions (and eliminate his fumbles), it would make for an interesting quarterback decision for whatever front office and coaching staff is in place next season.
Foles suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter of the season opener and hasn’t looked like a former Super Bowl MVP since his Week 12 return. He has 661 yards passing in three games, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He was able to lead the offense to only seven points against Indianapolis and three points against Tennessee in the first half.
He turned the ball over on the Jaguars’ first three drives against Tampa Bay last Sunday (two fumbles), and the offense went three-and-out on its next three drives before he was benched.
But can the franchise really allow him to stay there? Can whatever staff is in place go with a sixth-round pick over the player the Jaguars signed to a four-year, $88 million contract with a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed? And what would they do with Foles if they do?
Foles would have a dead-cap hit of $33.875 million if he were released before June 1, but that number drops to $21.375 million if he’s released after June 1. Still, that’s big-time dead money. The Jaguars already were hit with a $16.5 million dead-cap charge this season for Blake Bortles — the highest dead-cap hit for one player in NFL history — so would they be willing to eat $37.8 million to $50.375 million in dead cap in a two-year span?
A post-June 1 trade would save the Jaguars $15.875 million and include a dead-cap hit of $6.25 million, but would there be any teams willing to take on Foles’ contract?
That might be getting too far ahead, because if Minshew doesn’t play well the next four weeks, it’s moot. There’s at least one former NFL quarterback who thinks the Jaguars made a mistake by benching Foles.
“Gardner Minshew, there’s been times where it’s looked good, but he is physically limited as a quarterback and so the reality is he’s not a long-term answer to be the franchise quarterback,” ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck said on NFL Live. “He’s just not, physically. And so it’s very hard to build around something like that. So I would start there. With Nick Foles, you can definitely say that he hasn’t played as well as they would have wanted him to play.
“The reality is, though, is that he has proved that he has the physical tools and has played as well as you need to play to win a Super Bowl. There are very few people that are walking on the planet that have done that. I think when you make a move from a guy that has proved he can do that, you’d better be really sure that the guy you’re replacing him with can be a star and be your franchise quarterback.”
That’s what Minshew is trying to prove.