The Jacksonville Jaguars should decide between Gardner Minshew and Nick Foles before the offseason begins to make things work for everyone.
Competition, they say, is a good thing.
The notion of forcing a player to fight for his job works at most positions in the National Football League. It forces rookies and veterans alike to focus on improving their game in any way they can—physically or mentally—and refuses to let anyone coast on talent alone. It also weeds out the pretenders from those with the mindset and skillset to play professional football.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, however, competition might be the worst thing at the game’s most important position.
Heading into the 2020 season, the Jags know they have to answer the toughest single questions any franchise can face in the next few weeks and months. They’ve announced that head coach Doug Marrone will not return next year, which means a new coaching staff will be in place by the time the 2020 season rolls around. Beyond a new leadership team, the Jags also have a major decision to make at starting quarterback between veteran Nick Foles and surprising rookie Gardner Minshew.
This year, Minshew looked like an unearthed gem, a brilliant late-round find who has been an above average starting option on a team that lost Foles to injury. It was a wonderful story for the basement-dwelling Jags, and “Minshew Mania” was a fun narrative coming from an otherwise overlooked roster. Yet Minshew has struggled down the stretch to keep up with his early season production and Foles has injuries he can blame for his poor showing in four starts (with a record of 0-4).
Between the pair, it makes sense, on paper, to force Foles and Minshew to battle it out in training camp. Let them both meet the new coach and spend the next several months with him learning the system and showing him what each is capable of. Just like any other position, competition would help the new coaches make a decision on the inherited QB battle with a clean slate for each.
Except, in this case, it wouldn’t. In fact, a quarterback competition might be the worst approach a new leader could make.
Team Building Approaches
Nick Foles is not Gardner Minshew. Gardner Minshew is not Nick Foles.
This is important to note as the Jags head into another offseason with cash to spend in free agency and major picks to use in a loaded NFL Draft. The Jaguars have two first round picks at their disposal and the focus is likely going to be on the offensive side of the ball for the most part as they try to rehab the offensive front, add a couple playmakers, and figure out the quarterback situation.
Now it is possible the Jags package these picks to move up for a quarterback prospect which makes all of the competition talk here null and void. However, given the money owed to Foles and the promise of Minshew after a single season, it makes more sense for the Jaguars to try to complement the signal callers already in house—at least the one who will be starting.
Here’s where it’s important to note the differences in Minshew and Foles. You don’t structure an offense with Minshew at the helm in the same way you would with Foles. Knowing that Foles was going to be their starting quarterback coming into the 2019 season, Marrone and company were committed to a run first approach that kept the pressure off of the quarterback to force the production. Depending on the schemes used, that will affect what’s asked of wideouts, the traits sought at tight end, and the playing style and experience drafted for offensive linemen.
If Minshew is at the helm, the Jags would be best to lean into his maverick manner at quarterback and surround him with quicker targets who excel at creating separation. Offensive linemen should be athletic more than powerful to allow Minshew to move in and around the pocket and ultimately step up to take those chances that make him so dangerous. His intelligence at the line, his vision from the pocket, and his ability to throw into tight windows are all elements that affect not only the way the offense is called but how the team is built.
Before the team takes any evaluative measures or decides on personnel changes, it would do well to know desired specifics for each position based on the quarterback who will be starting.
A drama-free offseason
Two years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs surprised the NFL with the trade of Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. It wasn’t that Smith wasn’t expected to be on the move—he was—but rather the timing of the move came so quickly that it shocked everyone. That’s because general manager Brett Veach traded him away before the Super Bowl was even played.
Veach’s move to clear any cloud of potential competition away from Patrick Mahomes was key in the sophomore quarterback’s development. By getting rid of the other option entirely before the previous season was officially closed, Mahomes never once answered a single question about playing time or handling the competition. There was no drama to be found because the Chiefs made sure none could exist.
Foles’ contract and Minshew’s lack of experience will keep the Jags from clearing the roster like the Chiefs did, but they can similarly eliminate the complicating factors by allowing the new coaching staff to evaluate and then name next season’s starter as soon as possible. From there, both players can still give it his all knowing that nothing will remain handed to them, but each player can also focus on staying in his respective lane.
For the starter, Minshew or Foles, it will be vital for that person to receive the lion’s share of any first-team reps in a new coach’s system. Imagine how much better either player will be having received all the starter’s reps with returning players and rookies. Imagine receiving every practice starting rep from the coaches. Imagine having everyone in the QB room focused on helping a single player get ready for Week 1.
The importance of stability
At this point, Foles has started four total games after signing a big money deal. Minshew went from sixth round flyer to QB phenom before being grounded a bit. The Jags made a switch to Foles when he was finally healthy, despite Minshew’s success, and then switched again when they didn’t like the results. None of it has worked. The experimentation has been a disaster.
Even recently as the Jags have tried to figure out their offensive issues, Minshew said the following, “I think at this point we’re kind of throwing crap on the wall, seeing what sticks and hopefully we’ll get it figured out this week and we’ll get rolling.”
What model franchise would ever feature a quarterback saying those words? Can you imagine Tom Brady saying this? Can you imagine the Ravens, Chiefs, Seahawks or Steelers operating this way? The statement, though honest, is an embarrassing indictment on a team without answers—at least partially because of their inability to articulate a clear vision and then see it through.
A new coach is going to have the chance to work with a decent quarterback to go with running back Leonard Fournette and wide receivers D.J. Chark, Chris Conley, and Dede Westbrook. There are some nice pieces here with which the team can work and build, especially if some mock drafts are right and the Jags add a playmaker like CeeDee Lamb.
Allowing either Minshew or Foles to settle into the starting role and work with these players more intensely than a QB competition would allow sounds like a much better approach for a team that’s used to throwing pasta at the proverbial wall to see what sticks.