JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, there’s a pretty simple reason why the Jacksonville Jaguars absolutely had to sign free-agent quarterback Nick Foles.
His perseverance is impressive: Foles nearly gave up football at one point. Also impressive is his reputation as a leader, which is something the Jaguars certainly need on offense. Staring down Tom Brady and never blinking in the Super Bowl can’t be talked about enough, either.
But only one thing really mattered to Coughlin: “What we truly believe is that this quarterback, this young man, gives us the best chance to win.”
Coughlin’s job — as well as those of general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone — depends on it.
Coughlin and Caldwell gave Foles the highest guarantee in franchise history ($50.125 million) because they believe he will bring consistency, which they didn’t have during the five-year Blake Bortles tenure. Along with a running game led by Leonard Fournette (another gamble, by the way), plus one of the league’s best defenses, quarterback consistency is the key to a formula for the Jaguars to return to the playoffs.
At the very least in 2019, the Jaguars had better be in playoff contention in December instead of being eliminated before most people are finishing up their Halloween candy, which has been the case for much of the past decade. If they aren’t contending, it’s possible Coughlin, Caldwell and Marrone — or some combination thereof — could be looking for jobs in 2020.
Owner Shad Khan has never said that, nor has he hinted that it’s playoffs-or-bust for the Jaguars this season. But he’s all-in on Foles being the missing piece who will make his franchise an annual contender; he even said it was the Jags’ dream to sign the former Super Bowl MVP.
“We agreed where we needed to upgrade — obviously at quarterback,” Khan said after the team’s annual state-of-the-franchise presentation. “We got Nick Foles, and it is very, very encouraging the way we are heading.”
Whether signing Foles, 30, translates into more victories depends on various other factors, of course. Injuries, losing key players, players not performing up to expectations, bad decisions on and off the field — all will factor into whether the Jaguars will be improved in 2019.
The Jaguars aren’t the first team to pin the majority of their hopes for success on a free-agent quarterback. Since 2000, 13 other teams have signed a signal-caller to a multiyear deal with the intention of making them an immediate starter.
Three of those turned out well. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl with Denver and played in another. Brett Favre led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game in his first season and retired after his second. Drew Brees has led the Saints to seven playoff appearances and a Super Bowl victory.
However, when the quarterback isn’t a future Hall of Famer, things typically haven’t worked out that well. Seven of the 10 other free-agent quarterbacks signed to multiyear deals failed to lead their teams to the playoffs. Two others never made it past the first month as the starter.
A brief look at the 10:
Jeff Blake (New Orleans): He signed a four-year deal in 2000 and led the Saints to a 7-3 record before breaking his foot. Aaron Brooks finished the season, led the franchise to its first playoff victory, and was named the starter the following season. The Saints cut Blake after the 2001 season.
Jon Kitna (Cincinnati): The Bengals signed him to a four-year deal in 2001 and he had an 18-28 record as starter with 59 touchdowns and 59 interceptions in four seasons before eventually giving way to Carson Palmer. He then signed a four-year deal with Detroit and threw for more than 4,000 yards in 2006 and 2007, suffered a back injury four games into the 2008 season, and was traded to Dallas after the season.
Brad Johnson (Tampa Bay): The Bucs outbid Baltimore in 2001 for Johnson, who went 26-23 as a starter and helped lead Tampa to a Super Bowl XXXVII victory over Oakland. The Bucs made the playoffs twice in his four seasons, but Johnson got benched in 2004 and was cut after the season.
Jake Plummer (Denver): Plummer signed a seven-year contract with the Broncos in 2003 and led the team to the playoffs in his first three seasons. The 2005 team reached the AFC Championship Game but Plummer had four turnovers in the loss to Pittsburgh. He was benched late the following season and traded to Tampa Bay.
Drew Bledsoe (Dallas): He signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys in 2005, one day after being released by Buffalo. He led the Cowboys to a 9-7 record in his first season but played so erratically the second that he was benched for a former undrafted player in his third season: Tony Romo. Bledsoe was cut after the season.
Matt Flynn (Seattle): He signed a three-year deal with the Seahawks in 2012 to be their starter but was beaten out by the team’s third-round draft pick: Russell Wilson. Flynn threw nine passes that season and Seattle traded him to Oakland the following April.
Brock Osweiler (Houston): The Texans gave Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed in 2016. The Texans went 9-7, but Osweiler was benched for Tom Savage and then eventually returned to quarterback Houston in the playoffs, where the Texans beat Oakland before losing to New England. Houston traded him to Cleveland the following March, but he was released after the Browns decided to go with rookie DeShone Kizer as the starter.
Mike Glennon (Chicago): The Bears gave Glennon a three-year deal worth $45 million in 2017. He started four games but was benched after throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles against Green Bay. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky, whom the Bears selected second overall, took every snap the rest of the season. The Bears released Glennon the following March.
Kirk Cousins (Minnesota): The Vikings gave Cousins, who was coming off three consecutive 4,000-yard seasons in Washington, a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $84 million in 2018. He threw for 4,298 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs one season after making the NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum at quarterback.
Case Keenum (Denver): He signed a two-year deal worth $36 million ($25 million guaranteed) in 2018 after his great 2017 season with Minnesota (3,890 yards, 22 TDs, 7 INTs; an appearance in the NFC Championship Game). He more than doubled his interceptions (15) and the Broncos went 6-10 in 2018. The team traded for Joe Flacco this offseason and dealt Keenum to Washington.
Those players don’t have any impact on what Foles will do with the Jaguars. It’s just a historical trend that says teams that go shopping for a franchise quarterback generally miss more than they hit — unless, of course, you’re able to snag a future Hall of Famer who somehow became a free agent.
Foles has done some things that would seem to indicate that he’s not going to flop. He did throw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in his second season in the NFL. He did replace an injured Carson Wentz in 2017 and lead Philadelphia to a championship with a stellar postseason, which included a Super Bowl MVP performance.
He replaced Wentz again last season and had the Eagles in position to beat New Orleans in a divisional game before his pass went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands and was intercepted with less than two minutes to play.
That’s why the Jaguars believed they had to have him.
“You think through each year, how things happened to him, how he progressed, but it is very difficult not to recognize under what circumstances he came into play in both [the past two] seasons and how he responded,” Coughlin said. “In order to be able to do that, you have to be on your game because you never know as backup quarterback when you are going to get your chance. When the opportunity came, obviously his teammates believed in him. They didn’t skip a beat. They just kept playing and playing and did some amazing things and the same thing happened [last] year.”