JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser reviews What We Learned about the Jaguars in the first week of 2019 NFL Free Agency …
1.Nick Foles is the Jaguars’ franchise quarterback … Hints, reports and speculation about this had built for weeks – months, actually – and became official Thursday morning. The Jaguars signed former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year deal worth a reported $88 million with $50.1 million guaranteed. Foles’ contract essentially assures he will be the starter for at least the next two seasons – and likely three. The Jaguars’ decision-makers on Thursday left no doubt that they believe he is a face-of-the-franchise quarterback.
2. … and Blake Bortles is not. As one era ended, another began. Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft and the Jaguars’ starting quarterback from 2014 Week 4 through 2018 Week 12, was released Wednesday night after the Jaguars announced agreeing to terms with Foles.
3.The Jaguars believe Foles will help a young receiving corps. Obviously. A questioner asked Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin if Foles would help the Jaguars’ young receivers “get their feet under them.” Coughlin: “I’m kind of befuddled because it’s common sense. We’ve got a guy who can put the ball where it needs to be placed the majority of the time, and people are confident the ball will be there.”
4.The Jaguars love Foles as a winner. Foles went 4-1 in the postseason the past two seasons and was Super Bowl LII’s Most Valuable Player. “It’s very difficult not to recognize the circumstances he came into play in both seasons, and the way he responded,” Coughlin said. Coughlin when asked what he remembered from coaching against Foles when he was coaching the New York Giants: “He was 2-0.”
5.Foles was the top choice. Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell said during the recent 2019 NFL Scouting Combine the team would rank quarterbacks available in the draft and free agency this offseason to determine the best choice to help the team win immediately. He confirmed Thursday that Foles was No. 1 on that list.
6.The Jaguars now have four quarterbacks on the roster. With Foles signed and Bortles gone, the Jaguars’ quarterbacks are Foles; Cody Kessler, who started Weeks 13-16 last season; 2018 sixth-round selection and ’18 practice squad quarterback Tanner Lee; and Alex McGough, an ’18 seventh-round selection by Seattle who spent ’18 on the Seahawks’ practice squad.
7.Quarterback still could be in play at No. 7. Could the Jaguars further address quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft? That will be a storyline in the coming weeks. Coughlin was asked Thursday if Foles’ signing would prevent the Jaguars from looking at quarterback in the draft. “I wouldn’t say that,” Coughlin said.
8.Coughlin has confidence in Fournette. Coughlin expressed confident Thursday in third-year running back Leonard Fournette, adding that he “does have some things he’s got to prove when he comes back about his preparation.” Coughlin, who issued a statement following the regular-season finale calling Fournette’s behavior in that game “disrespectful and selfish,” met with Fournette shortly after the season. “He’s a young, young player who loves football,” Coughlin said. “He had an outstanding year [as a rookie]; he had a very disappointing year [last season]. We want him to be a great player and I think he’s in the same mindset.”
9.The Jaguars will take all of Bortles’ cap hit in 2019. The Jaguars released Bortles without a so-called “post-June 1 designation,” which means absorbing $16.5 million in “dead money” on the 2019 salary cap for Bortles rather than splitting the hit over ’19 and ‘20.
10.The Jaguars don’t regret Bortles’ contract. Coughlin and Caldwell made this clear Thursday – even though Bortles’ three-year extension contributed to above-mentioned “dead-money” issue. “I told Blake that: I don’t regret drafting him, and I don’t regret the extension,” Caldwell said. “I do regret that it didn’t work out.” Coughlin: “I have no regrets about that.”
11.The Jaguars received interest in Bortles – but no trade offers. Caldwell on conversations with other teams before Bortles’ release: “I had a lot of teams call and inquire if we were going to keep him or release him. We discussed what would make sense. At the end of the day, it (a trade) didn’t materialize. I think he (Bortles) will have a market out there [in free agency].”
12.Trading back is a possibility. Caldwell on possibly trading back from No. 7 in the 2019 NFL Draft to secure more selections: “We’ll look at every option. We’ll look at the best player available at No. 7. We won’t know until we’re on the clock.”
13.The Jaguars need Chark to develop. Caldwell throughout the offseason has made clear the Jaguars like a wide receiver group that includes second-year veteran DJ Chark Jr., sixth-year veteran Marqise Lee, third-year veteran Dede Westbrook and third-year veteran Keelan Cole. Key to that group’s development is Chark, who showed flashes as a rookie before missing five late-season games with a quadriceps injury. Coughlin was asked if Chark had potential to develop into a big-bodied threat along the lines of Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. “He certainly could,” Coughlin said.
14.The starting safeties could be Harrison and Wilson. Caldwell confirmed Thursday that the Jaguars believe Ronnie Harrison and Jarrod Wilson could start the season at safety. That would represent a complete changeover at the position, with 2018 Week 1 starters Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson released in December and March, respectively. Harrison was a third-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft and Wilson signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent in 2016.
15.The Jaguars have plans to re-sign first-contract players CB Jalen Ramsey and DE Yannick Ngakoue. Caldwell on Thursday was asked about cap space and how it relates to re-signing 2016 draft selections such as cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. “There are ways around it and we’ve kind of prepared for all of that,” he said.
16.The Jaguars have some cap space – but not much. Caldwell confirmed Thursday that including $9 million already allocated to sign rookies the Jaguars at that time were about $12 million under the 2019 cap. The Jaguars can create space by restructuring veteran players, but the $12 million indicates that the Jaguars are done with “high-profile” free agency for this offseason. “We have limited funds,” Coughlin said. “We’re obviously studying everything, and we’d like to think there are perhaps a bargain or two out there that we could take advantage of. But we have limited funds.”
17.Things are good around the Jaguars these days. Caldwell on morale in the wake of signing Foles: “It’s good. It’s great. We just signed a Super Bowl-winning MVP.”