When Should the Jaguars Announce a Starting Quarterback for 2020?
2019 was an eventful year for Jacksonville Jaguars quarterbacks, with big contracts, benchings, injuries, hot streaks, and slumps all mixing their way into an unexpected situation.
The team made a major investment in the position before the season began, signing Nick Foles in March to a four-year, $88 million contract with over $45 million in guarantees, the largest guaranteed deal in the franchise's 25-year history. The thought going into the draft, training camp, and regular season was that Foles was the unquestioned starter and nothing would change that.
Jacksonville drafted Gardner Minshew II with the 178th overall selection in the sixth round in the 2019 NFL Draft, hoping the young passer out of Washington State could develop into a dependable backup option behind Foles.
But despite the investments and the planning, the entire scenario of Foles leading the Jaguars on the field each week while Minshew held a clipboard on the sideline lasted shorter than anyone could have expected.
Foles went down with a clavicle injury after only 11 snaps in Week 1, sidelining him for the next eight games and opening the door for Minshew to gain starting experience. Minshew exceeded expectations as a starter and helped the Jaguars get to a 4-4 record at the halfway mark, but Foles would regain his job in Week 11 when he returned from injury.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Foles' play in his return was below-average and the offense was stagnant week in and week out. After Foles committed three turnovers in one half vs. Tampa Bay in Week 13, he was benched at halftime and Minshew regained the starting role, holding onto it for the rest of the duration of the season.
Once the dust settled, the Jaguars had two quarterbacks with starting experience after the expectation for much of the past year was for them to only start Foles. The play of the two produced dramatically different results, making it a question of who the Jaguars will start at quarterback in 2020. Will they turn to the big-money free agent who they still have a financial commitment to, or entrust the young passer who outshined him?
Minshew's 2019 stats: 285/470 passing (60.64%). 3,271 yards passing. 21 touchdowns and six interceptions. 13 fumbles (seven lost). 6-6 record as starter.
Foles' 2019 stats: 77/117 passing (65.8%). 736 yards passing. Three touchdowns and two interceptions. Two fumbles lost. 0-4 record as starter.
Thus far, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell have done everything in their power to not make it clear which way they are leaning in terms of which quarterback to start in 2020. They have each publically stated the team essentially has two quarterback options. But is this the correct strategy as the Jaguars move into the offseason?
In some ways, yes. If the Jaguars were to name one quarterback the starter today, it would be done without having a head-to-head competition (though the two essentially had one during the 2019 season, which Minshew won). Due to both Minshew's play last season and Foles' massive contract, it would theoretically make sense for the Jaguars to lean either way.
If the Jaguars truly do think that they have two starting-caliber quarterbacks, a theory that is still debatable, then it would make sense for them to hold off on their decision until training camp.
"Frankly, this past year proved you better have two competent quarterbacks, OK?" owner Shad Khan told Jaguars.com earlier this month. "There were a number of teams if they didn't have a competent [backup] quarterback [in 2019], they wouldn't have made it. If you look at it, from where we've come from … an argument could be made we didn't have any competent quarterbacks, so this is in a way an embarrassment of riches for us in a good way that we do have two very good quarterbacks. I think as we move forward in this season – training camp or whatever – the coaches will have their work cut out to determine who gives us the best chance of winning as we move forward."
In another scenario, the Jaguars could potentially torpedo any possible trade value Foles still has if they name Minshew the starter during the offseason. Foles' value has already dropped dramatically due to both his contract and poor play in 2019. By openly stating Foles doesn't have a chance to start before the season, the Jaguars would make it loud and clear to all 31 other teams that Foles isn't viewed very highly in their eyes.
On the other hand, there are benefits to naming a starter sooner than later. It would give the Jaguars a chance to know who they want to craft their offseason moves around, considering Minshew and Foles have dramatically different skillsets. A team would logically build differently with Minshew as their starter than if Foles was.
There is also the advantage of how much going into training camp with a named starter can give the rest of the offense. That player is given all starting reps from the jump, giving him time to build chemistry with each of his targets as well as gel in the offense.
By extending the timeframe in which there is no named starter, the Jaguars would essentially force the rest of the offense to continue to adjust to two quarterbacks. This doesn't typically help offenses judging by recent NFL history, so it may be best for all sides to name a starter sooner than later.
The Jaguars are unlikely to publically name a quarterback any time soon. They may have their minds privately made up, but chances are we will have to wait for a few more months to see which way the Jaguars are leaning. Whether or not this will be the right strategy will be revealed in time and time only.