Remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars seemed only a reliable quarterback away from being a Super Bowl team? That’s not the problem anymore, with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles readying for his first season with the team after signing as a free agent in the offseason.
But for the Jaguars, it might not be as simple as plugging Foles into the lineup and returning to top-contender status in the AFC. Foles must demonstrate that he can re-create the magic he summoned in Philadelphia, where he went from being a journeyman to a Super Bowl MVP. And the Jaguars, coming off a disappointing 2018 that followed a trip to the AFC championship game in the 2017 season, must prove they still can put a Super Bowl-worthy team around their prized new quarterback.
“It’s great just being part of a great organization and a team that’s really bonding together,” Foles said following a joint practice with the Baltimore Ravens last week. “I think whenever you get to run an offense that you really enjoy and you have a lot of say in, what quarterback wouldn’t love that? But it’s really just about the people that you get to do it with.”
The Jaguars signed Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract in March to succeed the oft-maligned Blake Bortles, who threw 75 interceptions in 75 games over his five seasons in Jacksonville. Bortles did manage to help the Jaguars get one agonizingly small step away from the Super Bowl in the 2017 season, with their 24-20 loss at New England in the AFC championship game. But he regressed last season, with 11 interceptions to go with 13 touchdown passes in his 13 games, as the Jaguars went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC South.
Bortles was released, and the Jaguars signed Foles. The idea is that pairing Foles with running back Leonard Fournette and a still-rugged defense will get the Jaguars immediately back into the AFC’s top tier. But defensive end Calais Campbell cautioned that nothing can be taken for granted, not about a defense that was in the league’s top five last season and not about Foles.
“It only matters what we do this year,” Campbell said. “As for Foles, it’s the same thing. His past success doesn’t mean anything for this year. We have to earn this.”
Already, there are complications. Left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee are out with knee injuries and might not be ready for the start of the regular season, although Robinson was removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week. The Jaguars play in a competitive division that produced two playoff teams last seasons in the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, and a third, the Tennessee Titans, that finished 9-7.
Coach Doug Marrone said his approach is to keep his players focused on the immediate tasks at hand without fretting about the increased expectations.
“Don’t look too far ahead,” Marrone said. “Don’t look behind. … I have very specific goals of what we’re trying to get done each single day. And then when the chips start falling, they start falling.”
The decision to sign Foles was easy and the acclimation period is going well, Marrone said.
“I felt that when Nick came here, with all the information that we had, I felt like I knew him already,” he said.
Foles now has a team — and a starting job — that belong to him after being Carson Wentz’s understudy in Philadelphia. The Eagles had their greatest successes with Foles, not Wentz, in the lineup. Foles led the Eagles to their Super Bowl win over the Patriots in the 2017 season with Wentz sidelined by a knee injury. He took the Eagles on a late-season run to the playoffs last season with Wentz out with a stress fracture in his back.
Even so, the Eagles remained committed to the younger Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, as their franchise quarterback and allowed Foles to leave. After resurrecting his career in Philadelphia, Foles is expected to not only be a productive passer but also a team leader with the Jaguars.
“I think the big thing is I just need to be myself … just be genuine,” Foles said. “I talk about it all the time, just being genuine and helping these guys along. … Just teaching those lessons about, ‘Hey, this is the only play that matters, this play called.’ [And:] ‘Hey, we’re playing for one another. You’re playing for the guy next to you.’ The little things that I’ve learned from playing with so many talented players and coaches throughout my career, I try to bring to the practice field every single day and try to help my teammates.”
Foles left behind a team that respected him and a city that adored him. He can only hope to be as successful in his new home.
“I feel like I’m trying to get a little bit better every day, trying to get closer with the guys,” Foles said. “You develop those relationships to where when we come on the field and we play against someone, when we need to make checks or route adjustments or different line calls, everything is smooth. I feel good where we’re at. We’ve just got to keep progressing.”
More NFL coverage: