JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A year ago, Gardner Minshew wasn’t sure when — or if — he would be drafted. All he wanted was a chance.
Now he’s the Jacksonville Jaguars’ undisputed starting quarterback after the team traded Nick Foles to Chicago on Wednesday for a compensatory fourth-round pick, and he is tasked with turning an irrelevant NFL franchise into a contender.
No question that Minshew is up for it.
Remember how unsuccessful he was at hiding his disappointment and anger when the Jaguars went back to Foles after the bye week? Remember when he corrected a question about his stats being as good as the other rookie quarterbacks at the end of the season? Remember this?
“I know what I am,” Minshew said. “I know I’m going to be a great quarterback in this league. I think we are going to build something great here.”
Minshew said that the day after the 2019 season finale. Now he’s got to back it up.
He clearly has the support of the locker room. He energized his teammates, who saw past the headband and jorts and naked stretches in the locker room and saw someone who had fun every moment he was on the field. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious, and his teammates said they felt it when he was in the lineup.
It wasn’t all good on the field, though. Minshew also had some pretty bad performances, especially against New Orleans, Houston and Atlanta. He also lost seven fumbles (tied for second most among QBs).
Still, he set franchise rookie records for touchdown passes (21) and passing yards (3,271) to go along with only six interceptions. He had a better passer rating than any rookie quarterback, threw more touchdown passes than No. 1 pick Kyler Murray in two fewer games and threw half as many interceptions as both Daniel Jones and Murray. Most importantly, he won more games than Jones (three) and Murray (five).
He had the kind of ups and downs you’d expect out of a rookie. The Jaguars clearly believe he’ll continue to improve. It won’t be easy, though. The Jaguars have won 11 games combined the past two seasons and a lot of the best players on those teams — such Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith and potentially Yannick Ngakoue — are gone. There isn’t a player on the current roster older than 29 (cornerback D.J. Hayden turns 30 in June). Minshew will be 24 in May.
So the Jaguars will be among the youngest teams — if not the youngest — in the NFL in 2020. And their salary-cap situation is pretty good, too. Even with the $18.75 million in dead money from the Foles trade this season the team is in good shape moving forward. Including the new deals for linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue on the franchise tag of $17.8 million, the Jaguars have $17.5 million in cap space for 2020.
With 12 draft picks this season and nine in 2021, the Jaguars are in a good place to reshape the roster.
There will be growing pains. There’s no way to know how much of an offseason program there will be because of the measures being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus, or even if there will be one at all. It would be even harder for rookies to make much of an impact in 2020 without the extra practice and meetings and study time.
That will make things harder for general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone, who are under pressure to at least compete for a playoff spot in 2020. After suffering through a double-digit loss season for the seventh time in his eight seasons as the owner, Shad Khan said in January that “the time to win is now.”
Fair or not, the bulk of that responsibility will fall to Minshew.