By: Hays Carlyon
Gardner Minshew has been perfect.
The sixth-round rookie took over the Jaguars offense 11 snaps into the season when starter Nick Foles broke his collarbone on a touchdown pass in the loss to Kansas City on Sept. 8.
The Jaguars placed Foles on injured reserve giving Minshew an eight-game stretch at minimum to showcase his abilities.
The hopeful expectation was that Minshew could go 4-4 and hand Foles back a 4-5 team out of the bye that would still have a chance to make a surge to the playoffs.
No one expected brilliance, but that’s what Minshew has delivered.
Minshew is 2-1 as a starter, showing incredible playmaking, grit, poise and leadership in a comeback 26-24 win at Denver on Sunday.
The NFL named Minshew the Offensive Rookie of the Month on Thursday. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone described Minshew’s productivity as “remarkable” and that was before the Denver win.
Minshew’s sense of humor and style has charmed the league, nearly overshadowing some impressive numbers.
- He’s completed 84 of 121 passes (69.4 percent) for 905 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 106.9. His completion percentage and passer rating both rank fifth in the NFL among players with at least 100 pass attempts.
- Minshew threw for more than 200 yards and posted a passer rating of at least 95 in each of his first four contests of his career, becoming the first player in the NFL since 1990 to do so. He is also the only quarterback to achieve the feat in all four games this season.
- In the red zone, Minshew sports a 123.9 passer rating (8-of-11 passing for 57 yards, 5 TDs and no INTs) which is the highest in the NFL with at least 10 passing attempts in the red zone.
Minshew leads the Jaguars (2-2) to Carolina (2-2) on Sunday. The game is still slowing down for Minshew. It just wasn’t moving as fast for him initially as it does for most rookie quarterbacks.
“You get more comfortable each week,” Minshew said. “You get a better relationship with these guys, and I think that’s one of the biggest things. It’s getting better with our unit more than it has anything to do with other people are doing.”
The question is starting to be floated around.
What does Minshew have to do to keep the starting job once Foles is healthy?
I think he has to be near perfect. The fascinating aspect of this though is that he has been.
The Jaguars signed Foles this offseason to a four-year, $88-million contract with $50-million guaranteed.
They love him. The former Super Bowl MVP is only 30.
Everyone at TIAA Bank Field was enamored with Foles’ ability to perform and lead heading into the season. Nothing changed in regards to that prior to the injury, in which he threw one of the best touchdown passes you’ll see this season.
The Jaguars would take on nearly $34 million in dead money to release Foles after this season, according to spotrac.com. That isn’t happening. Foles will either be a Jaguar in 2019 with a salary-cap hit of $22 million or be traded if the franchise decides to hand the offense over to Minshew.
The Jaguars could easily keep both and still have an inexpensive quarterback room because Minshew’s salary is microscopic at $632,000 next season.
The schedule sets up well for Minshew to present a welcomed, but tricky, dilemma for the Jaguars.
The chance to go 3-2 over the next five games is real. After Carolina, the Jaguars host New Orleans, play at Cincinnati, host the New York Jets and play Houston in London. The Bengals and Jets are winless.
The problem is I don’t think 3-2 over the next five allows Minshew to keep the job. At 5-4, the Jaguars would probably thank Minshew for keeping the season afloat and start Foles. This assumes Foles would be medically cleared to play at the earliest date possible: Nov. 17 at Indianapolis.
For Minshew Mania to keep Foles sidelined, he probably needs to win four of the next five. Then, he’s 6-2 as a starter. That’s a lot of momentum to disturb with a quarterback change.
That’s also a tall order.
I’m not betting against him.
Minshew is demonstrating multiple attributes associated with a seasoned, Pro-Bowl starter.
He can shake off a rough start. He can get hot late and lead game-winning drives. He protects the ball. He makes plays above the X’s and O’s. He generates a belief that the team will win. He’s a coach’s dream.
This Minshew Magic looks real, but it will need to remain incredibly potent to fend off a healthy Foles.
(You can email Hays at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)