3 Observations on Jaguars' Offseason at QB Following Cam Newton Landing in New England
For much of the 2020 offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars were labeled by many outside of Jacksonville as the team that needed to sign free agent quarterback Cam Newton. But on Sunday, that long-shot scenario was finally squashed as Newton agreed to a one-year deal with the New England Patriots.
Frankly, the Jaguars should have never been talked about as a likely landing spot for Newton, even if analysts, Warren Moon, Leonard Fournette and others advocated for the team to sign the former Most Valuable Player and No. 1 overall pick. Whether the Jaguars should have had an interest in adding Newton can still be debated, and the likely answer is they should have, but it was always clear the Jaguars were more inclined to roll with Gardner Minshew II as the starter than to bring in someone to possibly unseat him atop of the depth chart.
But with Newton now finally off of the market and with a new team, we can reflect on the decisions Jacksonville has made at quarterback this offseason since it appears the shifting of signal-callers throughout the league has drawn to a close.
So, what can we take away from the moves Jacksonville has made, or didn't make, at quarterback since the 2019 season ended? We examine here.
1) While Newton in Jacksonville would have been intriguing, it never appeared to be anything close to becoming a reality
Again, there was no shortage of advocacy for the Jaguars to sign Newton. When one of the team's top offensive players, and one of the faces of the team, pushes on national television for his team to sign a quarterback to push the incumbent starter, it is noteworthy. But strictly speaking from the point of view of the franchise's decision-makers, it never once seemed like Newton and the Jaguars would actually be a match for one another.
Jacksonville has been set, at least in the team's eyes, since signing free agent veteran quarterback Mike Glennon in early May. With Minshew, Glennon, Josh Dobbs and sixth-round rookie Jake Luton, the Jaguars have a crowded quarterback room filled with players the franchise is relatively high on. Once the Jaguars added Glennon instead of Newton, it was clear the high-profile signal-caller would be playing elsewhere in 2020.
The entirety of Jacksonville's 2020 offseason strategy to rebuild the offensive side of the ball has been focused on preparing Minshew for success, not to have someone push him for the starting job. From hiring offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to the additions of Tyler Eifert, Chris Thompson and Laviska Shenault, the Jaguars made a point to surround Minshew with players and coaches who can mesh with his skill set.
It can of course be argued that Minshew being essentially handed the starting job in his second season could be counter-productive, but the Jaguars have seen him as the guy at quarterback since the 2019 season ended, and likely for some time even before then. Minshew played well enough as a rookie to at least earn a shot to prove his long-term worth to the Jaguars, though, and a long-term answer is the only thing that can really save jobs in Jacksonville. If Minshew plays well in 2020, it should be no surprise to see Jacksonville's lead decision-makers return the next year. There is a legitimate question if that would have had even an iota of a chance to occur if Newton was signed, however.
Newton would have absolutely added intrigue to Jacksonville's 2020 season, but him not signing with the Jaguars is perhaps the least surprising development of the offseason, even if players, media and oddsmakers disagree.
2) Jaguars benefitted from one of the offseason's most dumbfounding decisions
Maybe the best move the Jaguars made this offseason was being able to get a draft pick in return for former quarterback Nick Foles. For months it was theorized that due to Foles' unreasonably bloated contract, the Jaguars may have had to actually part ways with a draft pick in exchange for getting Foles off of their books.
Instead, the Jaguars got a 2020 fourth-round pick (used to select linebacker Shaquille Quarterman) from the Chicago Bears, reuniting Foles with Matt Nagy and John DeFilippo after a disastrous single season in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were also able to clear Foles from their cap following the 2020 season, even if they had to take on an astronomical dead cap hit in the process.
But the question for months has been why did the Bears make this trade when they simply could have signed Newton for a low-risk, high reward free agent deal, which would have both saved money and draft picks. It is truly a head-scratcher, even when you factor in the question marks surrounding Newton's health.
But for what seems like the first time in quite some time, the Jaguars were on the winning end of a head-scratching move. The Bears could have easily had Newton but instead opted to roll the dice on Foles, helping the Jaguars out in a big way in the process.
3) Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone are taking a risk, albeit a calculated one
This point is less about Newton and more so about Jacksonville's overall strategy at quarterback this offseason. Even the most staunch of Minshew supported would likely agree that while Minshew was dazzling at times as a rookie, it is still a fairly big risk to roll into the 2020 season with the team's hopes relying solely on his shoulders.
Minshew was arguably the NFL's best rookie quarterback in 2019 but he was never truly given the keys to the offense, which was always designed for Foles. The idea is now Gruden will manufacture his scheme around Minshew and his talents, but Minshew will have to prove once and for all that he is both worthy and capable of such a responsibility.
But while Minshew brings some risk due to the simple matter of the unknown, along with questions about stretches of poor play as a rookie, nobody can watch Jacksonville's 2019 season and say confidently that Minshew won't be the guy at quarterback moving forward. Can anyone call him a franchise quarterback? Of course not. But he is far from a flash in the pan who lucked into playing time and he deserves to be viewed as much.
Because of Minshew's strong play as a rookie, Jacksonville's roll of the dice on him in 2020 is a more calculated risk than the one they took with either Foles or Blake Bortles in the past. They aren't hoping for something to happen that they have no evidence of being a possibly (i.e., Bortles becoming a consistent passer). Instead, they are counting on Minshew to take a big step in his development following a rookie year in which he breathed life into the team.
Minshew is coming off a strong season that showed more promise than anything else, making it understandable why the Jaguars have opted all offseason to keep him entrenched as the top quarterback. There is risk attached to him, but maybe not as much as some would believe.