JACKSONVILLE – As swings go, this one’s big. Really, really big.
The Jaguars on Wednesday announced they had agreed to terms to sign Nick Foles, who until late Wednesday afternoon had been a quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles and who over the past two NFL seasons earned a reputation for clutch play and playoff heroics.
He was the Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player following the 2017 season.
He went 10-3 as a starter the last two seasons.
He went 4-1 in the postseason during that same span, showing enough guts in pressure situations to become perhaps the NFL’s biggest free-agency story this offseason.
That’s big-time, high-profile stuff – and when the Jaguars’ officially sign him at TIAA Bank Field Thursday they will take a franchise-defining risk in search of a franchise-altering reward.
Where does Foles-to-the-Jaguars fall on a list of all-time high-profile Jaguars transactions?
The thought here is it’s No. 1. He’s the top quarterback in 2019 NFL free agency, and never in 25 offseasons have the Jaguars operated in offseason air that rarified.
But rarified air is high-altitude air. As such it also brings the risk of a big fall – and it’s that dynamic that has made Foles’ acquisition exciting and frightening all at the same time.
The guess here is that the Foles’ acquisition will work – at least on some level.
It’s hard to imagine the attributes that enticed the Jaguars to sign Foles – poise, accuracy, clutch play in pressure situations – not translating at least somewhat to his new situation. And with better quarterback play, it’s equally hard to imagine a Jaguars offense that struggled through an injury-wrecked 2018 season not improving.
It’s equally hard to imagine an improved offense not making this team at least .500 and therefore a contender in the coming season. There’s enough returning defensively to make that true.
That potential is very much there, there’s risk to any free-agent move, particularly one that involves a quarterback as high-priced as Foles. He, after all, never has started a full NFL season – and his heroics in Philadelphia were done as a backup in relief of starter Carson Wentz. That caveat meant that in addition to Wednesday being one of the most-exciting days in franchise history, it’s also the riskiest.
What was the official rationale behind the move?
We should learn more about that Thursday, when we’ll hear officially from Foles what he liked about the Jaguars – and what his hopes are for leading this franchise. We should hear, too, from the Jaguars’ decision-makers – and their words will be more scrutinized and analyzed than those of Foles.
That’s as it should be because this move is not only the most-high profile offseason transaction in the Jaguars’ 25-year history, it’s also one that sets their direction for the foreseeable future.
The Foles’ signing, by definition, means the Jaguars believe they can win now. It means they believe they can win the AFC South. It means they believe they can advance in the playoffs. Foles reportedly signed a four-year deal worth $88.1 million with a potential to be worth $102 million with $50.1 million in guarantees. That’s not elite-quarterback money, but it’s enough money that the Jaguars must be thinking all those things.
They also must be thinking that Foles is a long-term solution and a major upgrade at the position.
It’s safe to assume all those things, but it’s the nature of the NFL offseason that those things don’t get said until introductory press conference. That’s when significant topics get addressed.
And there are plenty more significant topics for the Jaguars to address.
Why was Foles’ contract what it was? Why Foles instead of a cheaper veteran with a drafted rookie? Can the Jaguars put enough around Foles offensively to help him succeed? What is the current state of a salary cap that has grown tighter in recent seasons, and that forced the release of a slew of veteran players last week?
Those will be the questions. Some will be answered specifically, and some will be answered vaguely because that, too, is the nature of NFL offseasons.
The ultimate nature of most NFL offseasons these days, of course, is that they’re about change – and that very definitely is the nature of this Jaguars offseason. The Blake Bortles era ended officially Wednesday, and a new era began.
This one began in as the highest-profile way possible – a big move at the game’s most important position. And the guess here indeed is this is the right move – and a very necessary one given the circumstances – but it’s very much a risk-reward swing.
And as those sorts of swings go, it’s as big as could be imaginable.