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February 26, 2020

Backup role possible again for Nick Foles as Jaguars plan to keep him

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Nick Foles Minshew Jags Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars are reportedly trading Nick Foles to Chicago and handing over the offense to Gardner Minshew.

The things coaches and general managers say at the annual NFL Combine should generally be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. There's a lot of smoke-screening and maneuvering to be done before free agency and the draft.

But if the Jacksonville Jaguars are telling the truth, they plan to keep Nick Foles around to compete with Gardner Minshew for their starting quarterback job. If he loses, he could be returning to the well-paid backup role that made him a hero in Philadelphia and a Super Bowl MVP, when called upon.

Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and GM David Caldwell both said Foles will remain with the team, despite persistent rumors that Jacksonville would search for a trade partner.

"I mean, you've got two guys who've shown that they can play, that they can win games," Marrone said Tuesday. "I think that both quarterbacks will come in, we'll look at both quarterbacks, we'll evaluate what they do well schematically, what they like to throw. Both players will compete. I don't think there's anything wrong in that."

“Nick obviously has a much larger body of work than Gardner does," said Caldwell. "But what Gardner did last year as a rookie I think is very impressive. He won six games and was .500 in the games he started."

The Jaguars signed Foles last March to a four-year, $88 million contract, including $50.125 million in guaranteed money. He broke his collarbone in Week 1 against Kansas City, paving the way for Minshew's impressive rookie season, under the circumstances. Foles struggled in his brief return and was eventually benched.

Next season, Foles' contract is fully guaranteed for $15.25 million and will count for $21.375 million against the salary cap. Cutting him would cost about $34 million against the cap, while trading him before June 1 would cost about $19 million. If he's dealt after June 1, the Jaguars would save $15.875 million, with a dead cap hit of $6.25 million.

A Foles trade, if it's going to happen, would likely come during the summer. Most teams have already made plans at quarterback by that point. Foles' best option, at the moment, appears to winning the quarterback job in Jacksonville.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan recently described the team's quarterback situation as an "embarrassment of riches," which is perhaps overstating the accomplishments of a 6-10 team. Maybe not. 

For as shaky as Foles looked late last season, it's possible that his struggles were largely about returning from a difficult injury and being out of sync with the offense Minshew had been leading. Even if he remains in Jacksonville in a backup role, it's safe to say that's where most of his finest work has been done.