Just over a year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars were less than 10 minutes of game clock away from their first ever trip to the Super Bowl. But the New England Patriots — as they’re wont to do — spoiled that by erasing a 20-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to win the AFC Championship.
Two weeks later, Nick Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Lombardi Trophy and was named Super Bowl MVP.
Maybe things would’ve been different for the Jaguars if Foles was their quarterback in 2017 instead of Blake Bortles. Maybe that’s the magic Jacksonville is now trying to recreate.
The Jaguars announced Wednesday that Foles is the new quarterback of the team. According to Ian Rapoport, it’s a four-year, $88 million deal with the Jaguars for Foles.
“They believe he is a franchise-lifting QB, and have a great infrastructure around him,“ NFL Network’s Mike Silver said earlier Monday.
Jacksonville’s issues in 2018 were much bigger than Bortles — and the infrastructure is far from great. It’ll take way more than adding Foles to solve them.
The Jaguars’ offense is bad just about everywhere
Bortles was not a good quarterback and replacing him became a must for the Jaguars. But he was only one part of the shit sandwich that was the Jacksonville offense last season.
This was already a team that didn’t have much offensive talent to work with; then regression and injuries struck.
Running back Leonard Fournette — the fourth overall pick in 2017 — missed eight games and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry when he was on the field. Carlos Hyde, who was acquired via trade in October, also averaged 3.3 yards over eight games and is now on the trading block again.
The receiving corps lost Marqise Lee to a season-ending knee injury in preseason. He was joined on injured reserve by tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul before the end of October. That left Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, and D.J. Chark as four underwhelming options for Bortles and Cody Kessler.
But even worse was an offensive line that had 12 different players start a game in 2018. Left tackle Cam Robinson — the team’s 2017 second-round pick — suffered a torn ACL in September, and the team was down to its fourth-string left tackle by December.
And unsurprisingly during all of that, Bortles regressed from “good enough to win games” in 2017 to a disaster who was benched for Kessler, a quarterback who entered 2018 with an 0-8 record. Bortles and three rookies — Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen — were the only three starters to finish the season with a passer rating under 80.
With the offense struggling, a defense that was arguably the best in the NFL in 2017 wasn’t quite as dominant a year later. It was still top five in yards and points allowed, but the unit only came up with 17 turnovers after forcing 33 in 2017.
If there’s a positive, it’s that the Jaguars get a lot of talent back from injury in 2019. But is that a great infrastructure? Is there really much reason to believe that Foles fixes an offense severely lacking in playmakers? No.
How much of an upgrade is Foles, really?
At his best, Foles is a great quarterback. A Super Bowl MVP even.
In five starts in 2018, he completed 72.3 of his passes with an average of 282.6 yards per game, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions.
But after leading the Eagles to the playoffs with a three-game winning streak to end the regular season, he wasn’t the same postseason passer in January 2019 who won a Super Bowl the year prior.
Foles threw two interceptions in each of the Eagles’ playoff games. He did just enough to edge the Bears in the Wild Card Round, but he couldn’t get enough points on the board in a 20-14 loss to the Saints a week later.
And that’s been the problem for much of Foles’ roller-coaster career: It’s impossible to guess which version of the quarterback is going to show up. That could be why the Jaguars are reportedly bidding against themselves for his services — although it’s still too early to assume no other teams will be interested.
Foles’ career passer rating is just 88.5, a step up from Bortles’ career mark of 80.6.
Much like Foles, Bortles’ problem in the NFL has been inconsistency. Bortles had eight games with a passer rating over 100 in the last two seasons and seven games with a rating below 60.
Ideally for the Jaguars, they’re getting a 30-year-old version of Foles who will have fewer ups and downs than he did earlier in his career. But most indications are that they’re signing another inconsistent quarterback and expecting him to play well in a bad offense.
The Jaguars need to think long term
Jacksonville needed to sign a veteran quarterback — one way or another. The likely scenario is that Foles is a bridge solution for Jacksonville. He can serve as a stopgap starter for a team that believes it has the defensive talent to get back to bullying opponents the way it did in 2017.
But the Jaguars would’ve been best served by searching for a cheaper option when it’s going to take a lot more than one big move to get back to being a contender.
And now that Foles is the quarterback of choice, Jacksonville would be especially foolish to then pass on a prospect they believe is a future franchise quarterback.
The No. 7 overall pick and an extra third-round selection could provide the Jaguars with some fresh offensive talent. On the other hand, the most prudent use of their top 10 pick may be adding a young quarterback of the future — Dwayne Haskins, Kyler Murray, or Drew Lock, perhaps. Those three are popular choices for the Jaguars in mock drafts. Taking one would be wise for a team that needs an offensive rebuild.
The $22 million per year commitment to Foles over the next four years suggests they might not do that, though.
Jacksonville helped clear itself out of its current cap space hell by jettisoning Tashaun Gipson, Hyde, and Malik Jackson. It can do more by parting with Blake Bortles. But signing Foles will leaves the team with little room to add other free agents — especially at $22 million per year. The Jaguars aren’t going to be in the market for Le’Veon Bell, or any other big offensive weapon.
The Jaguars in 2019 will still be low on playmakers and will probably look more like the 5-11 team of last season than the one that went to the AFC Championship in January 2018. That’s true with or without Foles.