What Does Gardner Minshew Need to Show at the Finish of 2019?
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Much like each year of the past decade or so, the Jacksonville Jaguars could once again enter this year's offseason with the one question no NFL team ever wants to face: do we have a quarterback?
The Jaguars swung for the fences last offseason when the team inked free-agent quarterback Nick Foles to the largest contract in team history, a four-year, $88 million deal with $50 million in guarantees. The return on investment? About 11 quarters of quarterback play, one clavicle injury, and a benching for a sixth-round rookie who was never supposed to be more than a backup.
Foles carries a massive dead cap figure of over $38 million next season so, unless he is traded, it should be expected that he is still on the roster. The other quarterback who would join Foles in the quarterback room is Gardner Minshew II, who took Foles' job in Week 14 and went 4-4 as the starter while Foles was injured from Weeks 2-9.
If head coach Doug Marrone and the Jaguars' front office executives who signed Foles to such a massive contract are not in Jacksonville next season, which is expected, a new regime will have to make a big decision. Roll with Foles, draft a quarterback early, or put the 2020 season in Minshew's hands.
Minshew flashed brilliant playmaking ability in his first stint as starter but has only scored 21 points in six quarters since taking Foles' spot in the starter. He showed uncanny ability to extend plays early in the season and helped Jacksonville's offense score 20 or more points in five of his first nine starts.
But like most rookies, he also showed areas he needed to improve in, such as ball security after losing seven fumbles. If Minshew is going to convince anyone that he deserves a shot to start in 2020, he needs to keep the ball off the ground over these next three weeks.
“Just see the growth," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said during a Wednesday press conference at TIAA Bank Field when asked what he would like to see from Minshew.
"He obviously just came back, I thought he did a good job securing the football, and I think there’s things that go along the line of – I said the one good thing about him is there’s these little things that may go unseen that we work on, and he does a good job of that. There’s a couple things that we’ll be looking at to see his growth and I think we’ll be able to see it.”
What would Minshew like to see from himself over these final three games? Of course he'd like to help Jacksonville improve from its 4-9 record, but he has a few specific goals of his own.
"I think the things that help this team win are me taking care of the ball and finding ways to just keep getting first downs and get us in the end zone," Minshew said Wednesday. "I’m going to try to look for those explosive plays that we had earlier in the year, trying to find those while still taking care of the ball.”
For Minshew to impress any decision-makers enough to keep him in a starting role in 2020, he will need to show all of those things. In his last three starts, Jacksonville has scored 10 points or less two times and the lack of explosive plays and efficiency has been evident. though Minshew has been behind a mediocre offensive line and only has two true playmakers in wide receiver DJ Chark and running back Leonard Fournette.
In his last three loses as a starter (Weeks 7, 9, and 14) Minshew has recorded his three lowest quarterback ratings of each of his starts (51.4, 59.6, and 83.4) and he failed to eclipse 165 passing yards in two of those starts. Minshew will have to reverse that trend if he wants to have a shot to be the starter in 2020 and keep Jacksonville out of the quarterback market.
Minshew surprised most early on, surpassing all expectations for the sixth-round passer out of Washington State. Now the early frenzy around his play has cooled as the team has regressed, but he has improved in his coach's eyes.
“I think Gardner has progressed this year very, very well. It’s tough for any rookie to come in and play, it really is, especially some of the team’s defenses that we’ve have had to play here over the course of the season," offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said Thursday. "I think I just want to see his continued maturation in terms of seeing his eyes in the right spot, getting the ball out on time. And then continue to make plays with his feet."
If Minshew wants to keep Jacksonville out of the quarterback market next offseason, he will have to show more flashes of his early magic. Any new regime won't have strong ties to him because unlike Foles, he doesn't carry a hefty price tag.
More wins over the final three weeks would obviously go a long way, but Minshew simply needs to play well and produce as he did early in the season. If Jacksonville loses in shootouts that see Minshew give them opportunities to win the game, whoever is deciding on next year's quarterback will likely feel better about Minshew than if they win three defensive battles.