Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Nick Foles' Flop Could Spark Jaguars Shake-Up

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterDecember 4, 2019

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 24:  Nick Foles #7 of the Jacksonville Jaguars runs the ball and is tackled from behind by Harold Landry III #58 of the Tennessee Titans in the second half at Nissan Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.   The Titans defeated the Jaguars 42-20.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Jaguars and Panthers may be headed for big changes in the offseason, Odell Beckham Jr.'s a man who needs a plan and is player gambling on NFL games more prevalent than we all think? All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance. 

              

1. Foles' follies

There's something undeniably wrong going on in Jacksonville. Anyone who watched quarterback Nick Foles the past few weeks could see it. He is off. Way off. And not just because of the injury he suffered at the beginning of the season.

In four games played, Foles has thrown only three touchdowns to two interceptions. He is 0-4 as the starter, and after being benched Sunday, it appears the Jaguars have no idea of how to fix him.

When a player you signed in the offseason to a four-year, $88 million contract (with $50.1 million guaranteed) is benched, that doesn't reflect well on the player or on the coaching staff. And, indeed, two NFC front-office executives said they believe coach Doug Marrone might be the one to pay for Foles' ineptitude.

The Jaguars, these execs think, won't be moving on from Foles. He's only 30, and it's highly likely he will get another shot next season. Marrone, on the other hand, isn't just sitting on a hot seat but on one the temperature of seven million suns.

At 4-8, the Jags could be in for more than just a change on the sideline. The NFC execs believe it's no guarantee Tom Coughlin, the top football man in the organization, and Dave Caldwell, the general manager, will return either.

The odds that owner Shad Khan fires everyone remain extremely small, but Khan is also not the type of owner to sit and do nothing. If the season keeps spiraling, someone (or, someones) will be sacrificed.

This is a crucial moment for one of the league office's favorite franchises. Khan is well-respected by everyone in football, and the Jaguars are becoming a bedrock franchise. But this year has not gone as planned, which leaves the organization with some big decisions.

First, of course, is the quarterback. With four games left, the Jaguars will be taking a hard look at how Gardner Minshew II does as the starter again, not just for this season but beyond, the two NFC execs believe.

Second, if Minshew does exceptionally well, will Jacksonville try to trade Foles? It won't be easy. Teams will know the Jaguars are desperate to dump him, and Foles' base salary next year is $15.1 million.

While that number is far from exorbitant for a starting quarterback—Andy Dalton is the 20th highest-paid quarterback, and he made $16.2 million this season—in Foles' three games back, his offense has been outscored 103-44 (although he was benched halfway through Jacksonville's latest loss).

If Minshew doesn't impress, then the team could keep Foles and hope it can transform him back into the quarterback who torched the Patriots in Super Bowl LII and was named the game's MVP. But that assumes the team has the staff on hand to help Foles bounce back.

And that circles us around to how this whole mess started.

                               

2. Building a mystery

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

So what, exactly, has foiled Foles this season? There are three main theories:

• He's lost his nerve in the pocket. This is probably one of the more stunning aspects of Foles' struggles in Jacksonville. Go look at video of him running that Philly offense. He was so cool in the pocket that he looked like a human glacier. Now, he looks uncomfortable and unsettled.

 A lack of accuracy. Another shocker because when Foles was an Eagle, he was highly effective, racking up a 93.2 QB rating. This season, he has slipped to 84.6, which puts him in the Mitchell Trubisky universe, a universe you don't want to be in because that's the Mirror Universe

 He's still injured. Foles spent most of the season sidelined with a broken collarbone. Is it possible he's still feeling the effects of that injury? This is the least likely scenario but still plausible.

For their part, the Jaguars are still trying to decode why Foles has struggled. And in benching him, it's clear they don't exactly know.

No one does.

                    

3. Hard choices in Carolina

Brian Blanco/Associated Press

Meanwhile, about 400 miles away, another franchise has already begun making some of the difficult choices it would face this offseason.

While the Panthers' firing of head coach Ron Rivera wasn't shocking given a season that went from bad to disastrous with four straight losses (including Washington), Rivera may only be the beginning.

Before he was let go, there were league officials who believed team owner David Tepper was going to clean house of Rivera, general manager Marty Hurney and quarterback Cam Newton.

Will Tepper go further? That's unclear, but team officials around the league think that some owners are losing patience faster than they did in the past. Teams are increasing in value, but so is the amount of money owners are investing in them. So, owners start thinking: If things aren't going well, why wait?

The Panthers didn't, and it's likely a lot more teams won't in the coming weeks.

                                

4. Free Odell

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 24:  Odell Beckham Jr. #13 of the Cleveland Browns keeps loose on the sideline during the game against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland defeated Miami 41-24. (Photo by Ki
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Odell Beckham we once knew remains a missing person.

That Beckham wrecked the NFL.

The Beckham we've seen in Cleveland this season has been held to under 100 yards receiving in 10 of 12 games. He is a shadow of himself—unrecognizable to the football-viewing public.

Beckham's skills haven't suddenly eroded. He appears to be a victim of his surroundings. The quarterback play of Baker Mayfield has been erratic, while the play-calling of coach Freddie Kitchens has been curious at times.       

For his part, Beckham has been quiet so far, but history tells us there's no way that lasts. No way.

                        

5. Canary in the coal mine

Matt York/Associated Press

After Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for all of next season by the NFL for gambling, one longtime veteran player texted this to me.

"There aren't 1,000 players gambling," the player wrote, "but it's more than people think, or more than the NFL wants to admit. This is why they punished Shaw so harshly. They are sending a message to the players: 'If you gamble, we will catch you, and you will pay, maybe with your career.'"

The player emphasized he has no information about how many players might actually be gambling but added it make sense from a logic standpoint.

"When one player is busted for steroid or HGH use, do you assume it's just one player?"

The answer is no. 

                                      

6. Listening skills

One of the most important things an NFL head coach can do is listen to his players. You'd be stunned at how many do not. Texans coach Bill O'Brien is one who does.

The wild six-yard touchdown toss on an option play from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to quarterback Deshaun Watson in the Texans' win over the Patriots Sunday night was the result of a play drawn up on a piece of notebook paper by players and shown to O'Brien. He listened.

There are coaches who would have said: Take that play and shove it. Sit down. I'm the coach, and you're the player.

O'Brien didn't—to his credit—and his team won one of its biggest games of the year because of it.

                           

7. Finishing kick

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 01: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs for a touchdown in the third quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 1, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty I
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Titans running back Derrick Henry is making a compelling push to get into the MVP conversation. While his season-long numbers are impressive—1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns—check out his last three games:

• 149 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Colts.

 159 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars.

 188 yards and two touchdowns against the Chiefs.

True, those aren't good defenses, but also, so what? You play who you play.

Henry has put the Titans on his broad shoulders and led Tennessee to three straight wins. And while he's behind other MVP candidates like Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson, if what he's doing continues, he could make it a pretty close vote. 

                                 

8. The Tannehill turnaround

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 01: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans passes the ball during the second quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 1, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty
Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Since we're talking Titans, we would be remiss if we didn't mention quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who, along with Henry, has helped turn Tennessee into a playoff contender.

Talk about turnarounds. When Tannehill was in Miami, he looked like a player who didn't get it and never would. In six seasons with the Dolphins, he never had a quarterback rating above 93.5 or threw fewer than nine interceptions.

Now, in Tennessee, he has a league-leading 113.9 rating, has thrown only four interceptions in eight games and is 5-1 since taking over for Marcus Mariota as the starter.

And it hasn't been a fluke. Tannehill's .833 winning percentage and completion percentage (72.7) both rank second in the league, and his passing yards per attempt (9.1) check in at No. 1. In Miami, he didn't come anywhere close to this type of dominance.

Why the sudden blossoming? The Titans have let Tannehill throw deep, and he's connecting. He also has some solid weapons around him, like Henry in the backfield, and the spotty but talented A.J. Brown at receiver.

Tannehill's escape from the coaching grip of Adam Gase also shouldn't be overlooked.

One look at how Tannehill is thriving in Tennessee and how the Jets are bumbling their way through dispiriting losses to winless Bengals teams, and it's not hard to see that Gase didn't do Tannehill any favors.

Just look at how Gase made a proven offensive weapon like Le'Veon Bell all but disappear each Sunday.

That isn't Tannehill's problem anymore, and the Titans, for one, likely couldn't be happier about that.

                                     

9. Dumpster fire

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

This year's NFC East is, without question, one of the worst divisions in the recent history of the NFL.

The Cowboys lead it at 6-6 and likely will win it. But that's not saying much when the competition consists of the Eagles at 5-7, Washington at 3-9 and the Giants at 2-10.

With as ugly as things are, this offseason is shaping up as one of the most tumultuous the NFC East has seen in a long time, with potential coaching changes in Dallas, Washington and New York.

But you like watching car wrecks…

                                                          

10. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than to be good

Despite the sorry state of the division, whoever wins the NFC East will get a home game against perhaps the Seahawks or the 49ers. That's flabbergasting.

But it's just how the NFL's seeding system functions in rewarding teams that win their divisions over squads that are just plain better. The Cowboys or Eagles would get obliterated by either the Seahawks or 49ers if the home fields were based on records. But if they're at home, the NFC East champs could have a chance. Not a good one but still one they don't deserve.

                                                                                               

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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