JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton offer three quick thoughts on new Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, early 2019 free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft …
1.The course is set at quarterback – and for the franchise. The Jaguars did more than sign a veteran quarterback by signing Foles as an unrestricted free agent last week. They established him as their franchise’s face, publicly and financially making clear they expect him to improve the offense significantly and to quarterback them to the next several postseasons. Signing Foles would have been silly had they not felt that way. It’s a bold statement about Foles, and a risky one considering he never has started more than 11 games in an NFL season – and considering he last entered an NFL season as a starter in 2015 with the St. Louis Rams. The key Foles question can’t be answered until next season – and makes his signing perhaps the biggest risk-reward acquisition in franchise history. Is he a quarterback that functions well with a talented offense around him but that absolutely needs elite players around him? Or is he a quarterback capable of lifting teammates? The Jaguars made clear last week that they believe he is the latter, and he needs to be just that if he is to be their franchise quarterback for the next half decade.
2.Free agency is about filling gaps: mission complete. Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin made clear upon signing Foles that the Jaguars’ likely course for the rest of 2019 free agency would be shopping for bargains. That’s what the Jaguars have done in the week since, re-signing guard A.J. Cann and signing free agents from other teams such as tight end Geoff Swaim (Dallas), offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (Cincinnati), linebacker Jake Ryan (Green Bay) and wide receiver Chris Conley (Kansas City). The Jaguars’ free-agent approach under Coughlin and General Manager David Caldwell has been to exit free agency with at minimum a starting-quality player at all positions, thereby not having to reach and draft for need in the draft. With numbers severely down on the offensive line and tight end, Ogbuehi and Swaim are sensibly-priced versions of this strategy. The most intriguing free-agent signing to date may be Conley, a mega-athletic wide receiver who is close with Foles from being teammates in 2016 season in Kansas City. He feels at first glance like a fit – and like a “bargain” free agent who could turn into more.
3.All in on offensive line? A prevailing feeling among observers/analysts is the Jaguars will select offensive line No. 7 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Right tackle appears to be the most obvious remaining need – and the thought here is that the prevailing view likely is correct. This appears to be a draft when value could match the Jaguars’ need, with offensive tackles such as Jawaan Taylor of Florida, Andre Dillard of Washington State and Jonah Williams of Alabama all making sense in the Top 10. Tight end also is a need, but the unusual depth of this year’s tight-end class could make it possible to get an early contributor at the position in Round 2 or 3. Perhaps the most intriguing Jaguars draft question will involve defense. This draft appears unusually good for interior defensive linemen and edge rushers; Coughlin is a big believer that you can’t have too many good players at either position. If an elite defensive lineman is available at No. 7, could the Jaguars go that route? It would be a surprise, but that’s the scenario for which the Jaguars are preparing when they fill out their depth chart with capable starters in free agency.
1.Foles brings something different. We know about Foles’ arm and his pocket presence; anyone who watched him the last two seasons can identify a guy with the physical characteristics of an NFL quarterback. I didn’t know he also carried the alpha qualities of a franchise quarterback, but those qualities were clear when he took the podium at his introductory news conference – and more so when he walked into the locker room to do an interview with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and me. He owns a commanding presence backed by a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player trophy. While Jaguars’ defense is loaded with alpha-dog personalities, the offense didn’t have one last season. Foles is clearly in charge enough that he was actively recruiting friends from Kansas City and Green Bay to join him in his new venture. He’s an impressive quarterback on the field and based on 20 minutes with him last Thursday, he’s equally impressive off the field and in a leadership role.
2.About those friends. Credit to Caldwell and his salary cap-management team of John Idzik and Tim Walsh. They managed to make room for a franchise quarterback and his salary – and leave some space to sign the draft class and a few up-and-coming free agents. Swaim gives them a young tight end coming off his best season while Obueghi is a former first-round pick who can play tackle on either side. Conley and Ryan are former mid-round draft selections who played roles on their previous teams but appear ready to take on more. Ryan on Tuesday said the chance to play with Foles was as important as the chance to play for Jaguars defensive assistant Dom Capers, who was his defensive coordinator in Green Bay. These are all young players, heading into what should be their primes. How well they’ll play will be determined by several factors, but they’re dependable players at a reasonable cost.
3.The free agents will be helpful in late April also. The four free-agent signings keep Caldwell’s focus on the best player available in the draft. It’s way too easy to just sit at No. 7 and take the best offensive tackle or best tight end on the board. In truth, in a draft loaded with elite defensive line prospects, it would be a bad move to pass on a long-term defensive star to reach for an offensive prospect. The free-agent signings could allow the Jaguars to sit at No. 7 – and if they can’t get a deal to move back for an offensive player they like, simply sit tight and take the best player on the board. I’m a BPA (best player available) guy nearly 100 percent of the time and can always find a spot for the best player regardless of position. It’s the smart way to build instead of reaching for need. You never lose when you have a great player on your roster as opposed to a good one.