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The Jaguars Are Ruining All the Fun (and Potentially Their Future) by Benching Gardner Minshew II

Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone announced Tuesday that the team’s resident meme lord will hit the pine as Nick Foles returns from his collarbone injury. But Minshew showed much promise in his nine-game run, and the Jags could come to regret that choice.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are few things NFL teams want more than a young, promising quarterback. And they’ll do pretty much anything to get one. In recent years, the Rams, Eagles, Bears, Texans, Jets, Bills, and Cardinals have all traded up in the draft to select prospects they thought could become franchise quarterbacks. At least one team appears to be openly losing games to try to secure a high draft pick in a QB-heavy class. Hell, Arizona wanted a promising young passer so badly that a year after taking Josh Rosen at no. 10, the team picked Kyler Murray at no. 1.

A good, young passer is the best asset in the league. The benefits of spending rookie money on a franchise signal-caller are well known at this point, and the presence of a young star can be cathartic for fans who desperately want to root for the next Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Yet these players don’t grow on trees. Whole lifetimes can be lived without a franchise landing an exciting rookie quarterback—just ask Bears fans. So it was baffling when the Jaguars announced that they were benching theirs.

Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said Tuesday that rookie Gardner Minshew II will take a backseat and Nick Foles will return as the team’s starter after the Jaguars’ Week 10 bye. Foles, whom the team signed to a four-year, $88 million contract this spring, has missed the past eight games with a broken collarbone, but Jacksonville activated him off of IR this week.

Playing in relief of Jacksonville’s high-priced free agency acquisition, Minshew became a meme-friendly folk hero, with his prominent mustache and love of jorts. But he also quickly established himself as a potential long-term quarterback option for a franchise that hasn’t had one since Mark Brunell … if he even counts. In nearly nine full games this season, Minshew has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,285 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. The sixth-round pick is averaging 7.4 yards per attempt, has led two game-winning drives, and has the best adjusted net yards per attempt of any rookie passer since Deshaun Watson.

And he’s been passing the eye test, too. Minshew has shown the capability to hit his receivers perfectly in stride, and the ingenuity to create offense out of nothing. These types of plays are just special:

Minshew’s benching follows the first truly ugly game of his career, a 26-3 loss to the Texans, in which he completed just 27 of 47 passes for 309 yards, with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. At one point, Minshew turned the ball over three times on four snaps (one was a lost fumble). But that game was in London, the NFL’s version of a house of mirrors, and came against the division-leading Texans. You’d think he’d get a little bit more of a leash.

Instead, the Jaguars wasted no time in going back to Foles. Jacksonville knows what it’s getting in the former Eagle: a quarterback who looks incredible in spurts, but has a lot of mediocre play in between. Foles’s 2013 10-game, Chip Kelly–fueled stretch qualifies as one of the most efficient quarterback seasons ever, but the following year, with Kelly’s offense starting to crumble, he lost his starting job. He downright sucked as the Rams starter in 2015 and landed with the Chiefs as a backup a year later. He was the catalyst for the Eagles’ Super Bowl run—but was a drag in the team’s final three regular-season games that year. His recent playoff win over the Bears had us questioning whether he possesses magical powers … and then he face-planted in the divisional round against the Saints.

The last time we buckled into the Foles roller coaster, he attempted eight passes before breaking his collarbone in the Jags’ Week 1 loss to the Chiefs. His 75 yards and one touchdown to DJ Chark were enough to make him look like everything the team needed at quarterback. But don’t let Foles’s highs outweigh his lows. He will cost the Jaguars at least $50 million in guarantees, all to deliver a little good mixed with a little bad.

Minshew, on the other hand, is pure hope for the future (on a cheap contract to boot), and benching him seems to go against all NFL QB logic in 2019. Think about Minshew in relation to Murray, who went 177 spots ahead of him in April’s draft: Minshew has a higher Pro Football Focus grade, ANY/A, touchdown-to-interception ratio, and more wins than the Cardinals’ rookie. Yet no one in their right mind would bench Murray for Foles.

Of course, nothing is set in stone. Minshew could turn out to be the next Foles: a flash-in-the-pan youngster whose promise over a relatively limited sample size dissipates quickly. But he could also be the team’s new franchise quarterback. It’s too bad the Jaguars aren’t trying to find out.