View from the O-Zone: Foles era begins

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JACKSONVILLE – This is more than a new era.

As far Nick Foles sees it, it’s a new era in exactly the right place – and the difference is all the difference imaginable.

Yes, the Jaguars’ new quarterback now is wildly wealthy. He’s playing for a coach he knows – and he will play in a number he long has coveted. And he’s getting an opportunity he long has wanted, too. But what he said made Thursday perfect was where those things are happening:

In Jacksonville …

With the Jaguars …

“It just sort of all aligned,” Foles said Thursday shortly after signing with the Jaguars as one of the top free agents of the 2019 NFL offseason.

It indeed all aligned for Foles to be where he was Thursday. And in remarkable fashion.

He first had to show remarkable poise in back-to-back postseasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, first in a playoff run that ended with his Most Valuable Player performance in a victory over New England in Super Bowl LII and then in a late-season, playoff-clinching run this past season.

Foles, who entered each season as a backup to Carson Wentz, performed coolly and productively in the most pressurized of situations.

And that mattered to Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin.

“It’s very difficult not to recognize the circumstances he came into play in both seasons, and the way he responded,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin lauded Foles ability to be prepared, and how his teammates responded.

“All of that was taken into consideration,” Coughlin said.

More had to happen than that, of course.

From the Jaguars’ end, they had to get close to the postseason in 2017 and struggle the next. And their quarterback, Blake Bortles, had to struggle enough in 2018 for them to stop believing in him. That became official Wednesday night with Bortles’ release.

Coughlin and Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell both addressed Bortles Thursday. While both said they didn’t regret Bortles’ 2018 contract extension, both also said that it was apparent this offseason the time had come for a change.

“I told Blake that: I don’t regret drafting him, and I don’t regret the extension,” Caldwell said, echoing Coughlin’s feelings. “I do regret that it didn’t work out.”

The end of one era and beginning of another wasn’t the only story at the ‘Bank Thursday. Coughlin also made news when he said he believed in third-year running back Leonard Fournette – that despite a difficult season on and off the field for the former Top 10 draft selection.

“I have full confidence in Leonard,” Coughlin said.

But that was comparatively minor compared to the big story of Foles.

Foles, who last entered a season as a starter in 2015 with the St. Louis Rams, will define the Jaguars’ immediate future – and possibly the long-term future, too. That’s a big role, but that’s what comes with a contract reportedly worth $88 million over four years with $50.1 million guaranteed that will make him this franchise’s face for at least a couple seasons.

That’s a responsibility Foles hasn’t faced of late. There’s a difference between being a backup and starter in the NFL, and Foles’ postseason-earned reputation for poise and focus during the most adverse of NFL situations undoubtedly will be tested in the coming seasons.

It's a test Foles wanted, and it’s why he was at the ‘Bank Thursday.

“This is a new challenge for me,” Foles said.

Foles was impressive Thursday. As expected from a player who has faced the media pressure of a major market and the toughest postseason pressure possible, he was unfazed by a day that he called “one of the greatest moments of his career.”

His reputation in Philadelphia was that of the ultimate team leader, and a player willing to face the toughest of questions in the toughest of adversity. He spoke extensively Thursday not of himself, but of the importance of bonding with new teammates and beginning to work to prepare for next season.

Yes, Foles without question on Thursday looked and sounded the role he will play, and he sounded like a player who understood the role’s importance.

He’s no longer Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and he’s no longer Philadelphia Folk Hero Nick Foles. He’s now Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles. He will wear the No. 7 he has coveted since high school and he will rejoin his quarterbacks coach from Philadelphia, new Jaguars offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and the Jaguars’ offense will be one that plays to his strengths and with which he is familiar.

To go along with that will come the expectations of his contract, which will mean he will be expected to be nothing less than being the best quarterback in franchise history, which means nothing less than leading a team to the Super Bowl.

Those are big expectations, but those come with big reputations and big contracts.

An era changed this week, and when everything aligned just the way the Jaguars and Foles hoped in the offseason, this became this became Foles’ team. He defines them now.

Let that era begin.

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