The Jacksonville Jaguars have given no indication to Gardner Minshew of Nick Foles about their plans for the starting quarterback position once Foles comes off injured reserve, sources said, but there is a very real chance the upstart rookie keeps the job.
Minshew has been one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season. He has become not only a central marketing cog for a franchise that has long struggled to attract fans but also the face of the franchise, literally, with the Jaguars embracing his mustache and free spirit to sell tickets and other merchandise. Minshew, despite a limited cast around him after being forced to take over the offense once oft-injured Foles went down in Week 1, has made a strong case as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year through the first half, winning the Rookie of the Week award multiple times.
The sixth-round pick has helped the Jaguars stay in the AFC South race with a 4-4 record entering Sunday's key game against Houston in London, winning over teammates, coaches and fans with his ability to spread the ball around and keep plays alive. Foles, whom the Jaguars gave $50 million guaranteed for two years despite there being a lukewarm-at-best market for the veteran, is scheduled to return from IR in Week 11, with the Jaguars on the bye next week. Foles has been practicing recently with his fractured clavicle healing.
It would be a surprise to some in the organization if the Jaguars now went back to the 30-year-old Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP, given Minshew's potential and growth, to say nothing of his mobility and minuscule rookie salary. Minshew, 23, ranks a very-respectable 12th in the NFL in quarterback rating (98.9), tucked between Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Ryan, and is on pace for 4,000 passing yards. He has thrown 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions, the fourth-best ratio in the NFL behind only Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. He has thrown four more touchdown passes than any other rookie quarterback, with first-overall pick Kyler Murray a distant second despite having played one more game than Minshew.
Besides the on-field production, the Jaguars love Minshew's study habits and attention to detail, sources said, and they have been willing to expand the playbook and allow him to attack teams more willingly as their comfort with him has grown. Despite all of the hoopla about "Minshew Mania," and his sudden, national fame, Minshew has turned down several marketing and appearance opportunities to focus on football, I'm told, which has not gone unnoticed around the team facility. He has also boosted the development of young receiver D.J. Chark, a key piece for the Jaguars moving forward; Chark ranks seventh in the NFL with 660 receiving yards, 10th in yards per catch (vital to getting defenders off Jacksonville's ground game and establishing a downfield attack) and tied for first with six touchdown catches.
Minshew has not attempted to gain any clarity about the situation, even with Foles nearing full health, and if nothing else has established himself as a viable NFL quarterback with a very bright future. A win over Houston would put the Jaguars in a second-place tie in the division with the Texans and in the thick of the wild card race.