Doug Marrone went into the process of acquiring his new quarterback—the one his future will be staked to—without getting to shake the guy’s hand. Or saying two words to him. Or seeing him step foot in his new workplace.
Sound weird? It is.
If a team signs a veteran free-agent quarterback, like the Jaguars did eight days ago in Nick Foles, there’s going to be projection. There’s no pre-draft visit, no on-campus workout, no combine circuit to evaluate the player. That left Jacksonville’s head coach with just his research and his resources. His reality? The Jaguars had to get this one right without the benefit of putting Foles through a basic job interview.
“Obviously, this was a major decision,” Marrone said from his office around lunch on Wednesday. “It’s major. Not to take away from any other player that you acquire, but it’s major because of the position. That’s just the way it is. So when you do all that homework, and you’re in discussions constantly, internal discussions on plusses and minuses, whatever they may be, that’s all you’re talking about.
“So you’re talking about Foles quite a bit, once we knew that he was going to be available.”
The Jaguars knew for sure when Eagles EVP Howie Roseman conceded as much at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 27. But by then, the wheels were alraeady in motion, and Marrone felt like knew Foles as well as he possibly could without actually having met him in person. The NFL’s rules make it that way, and when finding the man to replace Blake Bortles, it was Jacksonville’s job to work around them as best they could. So they made calls. And calls. And calls.
“Really, for me, you gotta be able to talk to people you trust,” Marrone said. “You have to hear that, so you get the truth. And sometimes, that’s the hardest thing—when you’re trying to find out, and going through the process, whether it’s free agents or the college draft, finding someone you can trust that’s gonna tell you exactly what’s going on.”
Jacksonville found those people, and in turn, Foles is now a Jaguar.
We’re fresh off of Ohio State’s pro day in Columbus, and in this week’s GamePlan, I’ll answer a ton of your mail on Odell Beckham, Kyler Murray, the Bengals’ future, the Broncos’ linebackers, Nick Bosa, the draft’s top two defensive prospects not named Nick Bosa, the Steelers’ hierarchy and much more.
But now that last week’s free-agent free-for-all has slowed to a crawl, we’re starting with the Jaguars’ decision to sign Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million deal, and how they came to it despite all the disadvantages created for a team looking to find a quarterback on the free agent market.
With all due respect to Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown, Nick Foles heading to Jacksonville is as big as it gets for 2019, and that’s because of the position, as Marrone said. If Foles proves to be the guy he was the last two Januarys (and on one magical night last February), this one signing will pump life into a core many thought would be broken up for cap reasons this offseason. If Foles fails, a total rebuild probably won’t be far behind.
That much is riding on what Marrone, EVP of football ops Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell are doing here. And over the last two months, they’ve treated it as such.
A handful of the Jags’ decision-makers—the aforementioned trio included—have been working the phones, taking notes and gathering information. Marrone called Frank Scelfo, an offensive staffmate of Marrone’s with the Jaguars in 2015 and Foles’s position coach at the Univ. of Arizona, and Jim Schwartz, the former Bills defensive coordinator (when Marrone was head coach) and current Eagles defensive coordinator.
Pretty quickly, Marrone and five other Jaguars staffers had gone deep with 2-3 people apiece who knew Foles intimately. The key was finding consistent threads that weaved together a picture of the quarterback to whom Jacksonville was looking to hand their offensive keys. The good news? There wasn’t any conflicting information on Foles.
“The biggest thing for me was nothing stays with him,” Marrone said “He doesn’t get rattled. He knows where he’s going with the football. He’s great in the locker room. His teammates love him. Those were the constant things. … Some of them you can see on film, but some of them you can’t. It’s the relationships, how he is around the building. Things of that nature.
“Those are the things that stuck out. What’s amazing is, the consistency of all those sources that you’ve spoken to, they’re all different, all from different times, but after a while it becomes a pattern.”
With that in the bank, three other factors came into play …
• New Jacksonville OC John DeFilippo was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia in 2016, and Foles’s experience playing for him was meaningful. While Marrone wanted to emphasize that “there are some things that we’ve changed” in the DeFilippo’s scheme, and “we’ve made this the Jaguar offense,” there’s little question that Foles goes in with a leg up over everyone, which is ideal.
“One of the things that I’ve always believed in philosophically—you always want your quarterback to be ahead of everyone else on the offense, meaning that everyone is trying to catch up to the knowledge of the quarterback,” Marrone said. “When that happens, it creates leadership, it creates a lot of good situations.”
And Marrone knows it, having been Drew Brees’ OC in 2006. That was the first year for a new quarterback and staff in New Orleans, and a key assistant there ease the transition, like the Jags hope DeFilippo will for Foles. “Pete Carmichael was with [Brees] in San Diego, so when we put in installations, what he liked, what he didn’t like, Pete Carmichael gave us great insight,” he said. “So we were able to cut down that learning process, keeping it shorter. ... There are certain things, I go back to New Orleans, where Drew’s like, ‘No, I’d rather run this.’ Nick’s at that point where he can say, ‘I like this concept better than that concept,’ and ‘I feel like I can work this in this coverage or this in that coverage’, or ‘I like this this.’ They’re all different to an extent. You can win football games with a lot of different quarterbacks, but sometimes you have to go through a lot to figure it out together, on what they like.” And the Jags won’t have to nearly to the extent they might otherwise.
• Foles is right for Jacksonville’s current core—which, again, wasn’t broken up this February and March, as some expected—because in Marrone’s view, Foles is transparent and real. Bortles was a popular figure in that locker room, but he eventually lost his grip, proving, for the 10 billionth time, that the scoreboard is what ultimately counts in these hierarchies. Foles’s track record and readiness to run the offense matters too.
“You have to be able to deliver results on the field,” Marrone said. “There’s a difference between personality in the locker room and then, all of the sudden, the business aspect of what you’re doing on the field. I look at those two things separately. And I think that, from the business sense, it’s a results-oriented business. If you’re able to have results and prove yourself, then I think people will follow you. That’s my experience, having been a former player and in all my years in coaching.”
• Speaking of results, Marrone wasn’t wild about my contention that this move would scream win now to the rest of his roster, like restructuring Marcel Dareus and picking Calais Campbell’s option earlier this offseason also might. That’s because he doesn’t know any other way
“For me, I’d have a difficult time commenting on that or saying, ‘No, it’s O.K., we know it’s going to take us a while,’” he said. “I’ve never been in that situation, and I’ve never been told I was in that situation.” But if the players want to take it that way, or allow for the fact that paying a 30-year-old who’s won the Super Bowl MVP could create a sense of urgency? Marrone’s all for that, especially since he believes all that separated the Jags of 2018 (6–10) from ’17 (10–6, two playoff wins) was injury luck and some of his own missteps (which colors the call to keep the core intact.
“If you’re gonna say it, Albert, ‘well, these moves, it looks they’re trying to win now,’ then good. I hope so. Because I hope all of our moves always look like we’re trying to win.
That brings us back to just how much is riding on the strong right arm of Foles in Jacksonville. We’ll find out soon enough if Playoff Foles of the last two years can become a more regular appearing character on the NFL landscape in 2019. For now, Marrone can take comfort in a moment of reassurance that he, and the Jags did the right thing.
When Marrone and Foles finally met for the first time, there wasn’t a second of hesitation on Marrone’s part in recalling how he felt when it went down.
“I guess the best way to explain it for me, I’ve learned so much, and talked so much, that when we met for the first time, when he came into building to sign the contract, when we sat down and got some time together, I felt like … I felt like I knew him already,” Marrone said. “Does that make sense? In other words, you hear all this stuff, and it’s from people you trust and you paint the picture in your mind of the personality and what he’s gonna be, and you’re like, ‘oh my god, it’s right on point.’
“My first experience with him, I felt like I knew him already. Almost a déjà vu. I knew the personality traits. I knew who he was, being transparent. It was right on the money.”
Whether that adds up to Foles being the right quarterback remains to be seen. But at the very least, it sure can be taken as a sign that, at this early juncture, the Jaguars are on the right track.
On to mail...
I love the dice-roll by John Dorsey on Beckham, but it’s Baker Mayfield. One, he’s a quarterback, which puts his acquisition in a different context. Two, scouts referred to Mayfield as a culture-changing force last spring, and that was dead on. The Browns’ identity changed because of the QB. I sincerely doubt Beckham would be nearly as amenable to going to Cleveland a year ago, and Mayfield’s the difference.
Then, there’s the longevity of great players at the position. If Mayfield’s who the Browns think he is, he could stabilize the organization for the next 15 years. Conversely, five or six years from now, we’ll probably be seeing some signs of decline in Beckham, based on how things go at that position.
From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): Could you foresee a scenario where a team falls in love with Murray and trades up with Cards for him?
Maybe a team in striking distance to move up falls in love and gets aggressive, but right now, I’d classify the chance of it happening as doubtful. One reason is because I do think Arizona really likes Murray, and will seriously consider taking him. The other reason is that even if they don’t take Murray, Nick Bosa would be there for them, and I think the comp coming back would have to be pretty strong.
But never say never this time of year … The Raiders are certainly doing all the work on Kyler Murray. The Giants have, too, although he doesn’t shape up as quite their type.
From Beau Gleason (@BeauGleason): What is the primary position group the Bengals will be looking to fix in the draft? I’ve heard anywhere from offensive line to interior defensive line to linebacker.
After they moved on from Vontaze Burfict, linebacker is certainly be in play. LSU’s Devin White is worthy of the 11th pick—a guy who stacks up with what Roquan Smith was last year. And finding someone to take pressure off Geno Atkins of the interior of the defensive line, particularly given the strength of this class at that spot, would make good sense too (Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence).
One thing I’d mention is that this will be Zac Taylor’s first draft pick as head coach, and a lot of times coaches look to set a tone in the type of guy they bring in with that one. From that standpoint, someone like White would make sense, but we’re a little too far out from the draft right now to start matching teams to players with much authority.
From Chirp Jones (@chirpperjones): Will Broncos go linebacker or corner???
The Broncos have the 10th pick, and usually a team looks to fill a high-impact position in the top 10. Having great corners is certainly a bigger deal in this era than being good with your off-ball linebackers. But this is a different year, and if you’re playing to what the board might look like, a linebacker would probably be more likely.
White and even Michigan’s Devin Bush would be good values in Denver’s range. Are LSU’s Greedy Williams or Georgia’s DeAndre Baker at the level where taking them that high would make sense? My early background work would indicate they aren’t.
From Doug Fast (@drfastman): Why do coaches make such a big deal about QB's not taking snaps under centre in college? I know it must be more complex at the pro level but isn't it something we all learned in grade four?
Doug, I think this is more about what goes along with playing from under center than just being able to take the snap. Part of it is the footwork involved. The other being able to operate with your back to a play as a play develops—when QBs are working off play-action, a lot is happening as they carry out their fakes, which means when they turn, they have be able to mentally and physically react quickly.
So there’s the teaching that goes into it, which I don’t believe is that difficult. And then how the quarterback carrying out a play changes, which is harder.
From michael christopher (@Bigdogz1318): How superior of a prospect is Quinnen Williams compared to Josh Allen in your mind. If the Jets can’t trade out of the third pick is best player available to good to pass up over need? Who are your comps for both players?
I think Quinnen Williams is a safer prospect than Allen, even though he really only played one year at Alabama. The reason why? You know pretty much exactly what he is, and he’ll fit just about any scheme. Allen’s a hybrid edge rusher/linebacker that has great versatility, but a team drafting him will have to figure out where his full-time home is.
As for comps, I’ve heard Williams described as a bigger version of Geno Atkins, because of his ability to disrupt. The easy comp for Allen would be Buffalo’s Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds wound up playing middle linebacker as a rookie. More recently, I heard him called a poor man’s Khalil Mack that really isn’t far off from where Mack was in 2014. Which is pretty intriguing.
From Steven Doodnauth (@StevenDoodnauth): What are the odds Lynch trades out of the No. 2 again, to a QB needy team, and [Nick] Bosa falls in the Jets’ laps?
I’d be very surprised if Bosa was there for the Niners and they pass on him.
From Michael Pollack (@PMikePollack): Are Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin on the hot seat in 2019?
I don’t think so, and my context for that is how Bill Cowher’s tenure went in Pittsburgh. The Steelers went 7–9, 6–10 and 9–7 in 1998, ’99 and 2000. People there grumbled about the need for change, but then Pittsburgh went to the AFC title game in 2001. The same questions arose after a 6–10 campaign in 2003. Then, the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger, went 31–7 the next two years, and won Super Bowl XL.
Maybe Art Rooney II is different than his dad. I’ll wait to see proof of it. Short of a total disaster in 2019, I don’t see Pittsburgh blowing the operation up.
From DanielMerryOnTheRadio (@MrDanielMerry): With the Saints having very few draft picks, do you think we will be able to find a solid TE and edge rusher?
They’re bringing in Jared Cook, and they’ve kicked the tires on signing Ziggy Ansah or trading for Robert Quinn, so it’s not like they plan on forcing those needs in the draft. And they shouldn’t want to be in a position to—they only have one pick in the first four rounds. There’s a good chance a really good tight end is there for that second-rounder (62nd overall). A pass-rusher could slide too.
But you don’t want to be in a spot where you have to do anything when you have that little capital (part of the price for acquiring Marcus Davenport, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Apple last year). And clearly, New Orleans doesn’t plan to be.
From RickVaughn (@Randy_Dufresne): Would you agree that the statement “nobody drafts well” is more accurate than “Belichick can’t draft”? I feel like the leagues failures are overlooked by Pats fans who want something to complain about?
No, I think there’s validity to the claim of late. New England doesn’t have a lot of under-25 cornerstones on their roster (Who else other than RB Sony Michel?), and so that would be confirmation that they’ve struggled a little in this area. The flip side is that they’ve had their runs when they’ve drafted really well (2010-12), and that hot-and-cold part of it is normal across the NFL.
The one thing that hurts them a little, perception-wise, is that Belichick is always looking for inefficiencies and, in doing so, has a draft board that looks a little different than most. When he strikes out, the strikeout can seem more spectacular because, to a lot of other folks, some of his picks look like reaches.
From Chris Evans (@chrisevoevans): With so much money in the NFL, and the free-market approach of the U.S. economy, why doesn't the NFL have football (soccer) style contracts and transfers?
The owners have gotten their way, and it’s better for the league if there’s a salary cap and constraints on the top of the market for players. The NBA, by the way, has a salary cap, and systemic constraints on the top of the market (max contracts) as well.
Baseball’s different. So in a way, yeah, it’s system is the most American of all. But any player in that sport will tell you it took a lot of fighting on the part of the players to get there, the kind of fighting that NFL and NBA players haven’t been as willing to go through with historically.
From Ankur (@Ankurksharma): Your thoughts on the Bills free agency this year?
Really like what they did, because they didn’t compromise the cap cleanup they underwent over the last 13 months, while finding a way to bring in good and productive pieces to help their young quarterback. OC Brian Daboll knows how to use slots, and gets a solid one in Cole Beasley. John Brown can still scoot, if he can stay healthy. And tight end Tyler Kroft is a solid all-around player.
And even more important than having those guys to throw to, Brandon Beane got big guys up front to keep Allen upright, with Mitch Morse being a potential five-year anchor for the middle of the offensive line, and coming with depth pieces Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano, Spencer Long and LaAdrian Waddle.
So I’d say Buffalo comes away from all of this a winner, having effectively worked the edges of free agency without a splash move that might hurt them down the line.
From Paul Butler (@Now_ThatsEnough): What are the chances (%) in your opinion, that Arizona actually trades [Josh] Rosen before the draft? And if so do you think it will be to the A.) Giants, B.) Redskins, C.) Patriots or D.) a surprise team?
I’d say there’s a 50.000000023% change he’s traded. So a little better than not? Like I said, if you asked me now, my guess is that Kyler Murray is Arizona-bound which would be Rosen’s ticket out of town. And I think he then becomes a very intriguing option for teams with aging quarterbacks.
If you’re the Patriots, Chargers, Steelers, or Saints (or even the Packers?), you aren’t going to be bad enough soon to draft the heir to your aging old vet. So what do you do? You have to get creative, and dealing for Rosen would be a creative way to solve the problem. At worst, you get an amazingly affordable backup—he’s under contract for $6.24 million over the next three years. At best, he’s your successor.
So say you’re the Chargers? Is that worth the 28th pick? If you like Rosen (and the added bonus that he’s a homegrown face for a franchise that needs to sell itself to Los Angeles), I’d say it is.
From Don Ridenour (@DonRidenour): Who would be the best team on Hard Knocks?
They’re gonna hate me for saying it, but it’s the Raiders, and it’s not that close. Both Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock are already TV stars. Antonio Brown. Maybe Marshawn Lynch. Burfict. Mark Davis. The looming move to Las Vegas. The final year of training camp in Napa, which would give HBO a pretty spectacular backdrop for the whole thing.
No need to overcomplicate this. It’s the Raiders.
From Phucket_73 (@Phucket73): What do you think of the Raiders signing #Burfict? As a huge Raiders Fan since 1980 I am not happy at all personally! We can lose games because of his rogue actions causing personal fouls!
I think it make sense because you had a need, and you have a coach, in DC Paul Guenther, who knows how to work with him and manage his personality. Oakland needed a commander in the middle of its defense, and even though he’s lost a step, Burfict can give them that while try and find younger pieces at the position for down the line.
Now, I don’t like a lot of the antics we’ve seen from Burfict either. But from a football standpoint, this pickup does make some sense.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.