Nick Foles is almost ready to play. Gardner Minshew has captured the imagination of the fans and, to some extent, his teammates. Jacksonville is in the middle of a playoff race.
Your move Doug Marrone.
Jacksonville climbed to 3-4 by grinding out a rather ugly 27-17 win over 0-7 Cincinnati. The Bengals defense was valiant, keeping Minshew under control even as the Jaguars ran for 216 yards. The Bengals offense was vile, turning the ball over four times, including a clinching interception when Giovanni Bernard ran into one of his own blockers on a screen.
Jacksonville took full advantage by not making mistakes. Minshew was smart in the process. He made no high-risk throws, often scrambling rather than trying to force a throw as he had in previous games. He showed a deft understanding that Jacksonville could win this game simply by waiting for the Bengals to screw it up.
In that way, Minshew is wise beyond his years. At the same time, he is still rough around the edges.
He completed only 15 of 32 throws despite another strong game by running back Leonard Fournette, who deserves much more credit than he has received. In some respects, this game should have been over earlier than it was, but Jacksonville prolonged Cincinnati’s anguish the way a bad matador prolongs the death of a bull.
At 3-4, Jacksonville has a game next Sunday against the New York Jets before starting a run of three critical division games against 4-3 Houston, 4-2 Indianapolis and 3-4 Tennessee. In short, Minshew has gotten the Jaguars to a point where they are still in the fight.
But, is he good enough to guide this team beyond just an interesting battle for the AFC South crown?
That’s the real question Marrone has to consider as he plots out the rest of this season. It’s a season with a lot more possibility than most Jaguars could have predicted, especially if you had told them before the season that Foles would get hurt in the opener and Jalen Ramsey would be gone before midseason.
The fact is that Jacksonville is a lot closer to the team that nearly upset New England two years ago in the playoffs than to some meandering team trying to figure out where it belongs. Two of its losses were by less than a touchdown even with Minshew running the show.
If you look really hard, there are the ingredients of a contender between the rugged running of Fournette and the pass rush that comes primarily from the front four. Sure, losing Ramsey is a blow, but the players had already dealt with that situation weeks ago when Ramsey didn’t show for practices and feigned injury.
Players smell quitters faster than the general public and Ramsey, for all his obvious greatness, quit on his Jaguars teammates.
And while plenty of people may be ready to concede the AFC title to New England again, the Patriots are not so overwhelmingly dominant that they can’t be had. New England has built a 6-0 record by going through a parade of misfit teams so far this season. The only game against a halfway decent quarterback was the opener against Ben Roethlisberger and an ill-prepared Pittsburgh squad.
That’s why the coming decision on Foles is so critical for Marrone. Jacksonville could win this division. If it can get hot at the right time, it could duplicate the success of 2017, when it nearly toppled the Patriots in the playoffs.
While Minshew is interesting and has the making of something really cool at quarterback, Marrone needs to go with Foles if he has any hope of making some serious out of this opportunity.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?