JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nick Foles is the best veteran quarterback expected to be available this offseason, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have to determine whether trading for or signing the Super Bowl LII MVP is in the best long-term interest of the franchise.
Is the cost -- draft picks and/or the $20 million-plus it likely will take to sign Foles to a multiyear deal -- worth it for a quarterback who has started double-digit games in a season just twice in seven years and won’t have nearly the quality of offensive playmakers in Jacksonville that he had in Philadelphia?
With owner Shad Khan saying he was “far from content with the status quo” and that he will not overlook “how poorly we accounted for ourselves following a 3-1 start” in 2018, it’s clear that the Jaguars need to be in the playoff hunt into December 2019 for coach Doug Marrone, general manager Dave Caldwell and executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin to be retained. The general thought is that a veteran quarterback -- and Foles specifically -- gives the Jaguars the best chance to do that.
But that might not necessarily be the case. Teams have made the playoffs with rookie quarterbacks on a somewhat regular basis over the past 15 years. Other things must in place for it to happen, but the days of resigning yourself to a losing season with a rookie quarterback are over.
Just look at these five examples from the past seven seasons:
Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury in Baltimore’s Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh and rookie Lamar Jackson stepped in as the starter (after the bye week) and helped lead the Ravens to home victories over Cincinnati and Oakland and a road victory at Atlanta. The Ravens lost in overtime at Kansas City the following week and Flacco was cleared to return.
Except coach John Harbaugh stuck with Jackson, who closed out the season with victories over Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers on the road, and Cleveland. The Ravens won the AFC North title with the Week 17 victory over the Browns, and while Jackson struggled for much of the AFC wild-card game against the Chargers, he nearly led a fourth-quarter comeback in the 23-17 defeat.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo suffered a compression fracture in his back during a preseason game and coach Jason Garrett went with fourth-round pick Dak Prescott as the starter over veteran Kellen Moore. The Cowboys went 8-1 -- thanks in large part to rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott -- and Romo conceded that Prescott deserved to remain the starter after he was cleared to return.
The Cowboys went 13-3, won the NFC East, and lost a thrilling NFC wild-card game to Green Bay on Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. Prescott threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-31 loss.
Three rookies were season-long starters and led their teams to the playoffs: Seattle’s Russell Wilson (11-5), Washington’s Robert Griffin III (9-6) and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (11-5). The Redskins were NFC East champs, and the Seahawks and Colts were wild-card teams.
Wilson was the only one of the three to win a game in the postseason, throwing for 187 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 67 yards in the Seahawks’ 24-14 victory over the Redskins. Griffin threw for 84 yards and two TDs with one interception and lost a fumble in the loss.
Luck threw for 288 yards but turned the ball over twice in the Colts’ 24-9 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Eight other rookie quarterbacks have started at least seven games during the regular season and led their teams to the playoffs since 1980: Dan Marino (1983), Bernie Kosar (1985), Dieter Brock (1985), Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Matt Ryan (2008), Flacco (2008), Mark Sanchez (2009) and Andy Dalton (2011). Only Brock (a 34-year-old former CFL player in his first NFL season), Roethlisberger, Flacco and Sanchez won playoff games. Roethlisberger and Sanchez are the only rookie QBs since 1980 to win multiple playoff games.
The most important thing to take into consideration about those rookies: They got a lot of help.
In the majority of instances, they benefited from one of the NFL’s best ground games as well as defenses that ranked among the tops in the league in yards and points allowed. The 2009 Jets, for example, topped the league in all three categories, and the 2018 Ravens had the NFL’s top total defense and ranked second in scoring defense and rushing offense.
Six of those rookie QBs (Jackson, Wilson, Sanchez, Flacco, Roethlisberger and Kosar) played on teams that ranked in the top 10 in all three categories. Luck and Brock were the only two quarterbacks who played on teams that ranked outside the top 10 in those categories, and Luck had by far the worst support of any of the rookies. The Colts ranked 22nd in rushing, 26th in total defense and 21st in scoring defense.
Griffin’s Redskins ranked 28th in total defense and 22nd in scoring defense, but they had the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense.
That brings us to the 2019 Jaguars. If they choose to go with a rookie quarterback, they have two of the three supporting pieces already in place to have success. The 2018 Jaguars defense ranked fourth in scoring and fifth in total defense.
The run game struggled last season with injuries along the offensive line -- only one healthy starter was in the lineup the final three weeks of the season -- and a subpar performance by running back Leonard Fournette. But the Jaguars did lead the NFL in rushing with Fournette in 2017 and there’s hope inside the building that Fournette -- after a meeting with team management -- will be more committed in 2019.
Going with a rookie quarterback in 2019 instead of Foles doesn’t mean the Jaguars can’t make the playoffs. It might be their best option, especially if they get the top one on their draft board and are able to use the money not spent on Foles on adding some playmakers.