For the first time in Jaguars' history, they're counting on a high-priced veteran quarterback in Nick Foles to bring sustained success. He has the pedigree to deliver.
Nick Foles prefers not to get caught up in the ramifications of his first game Sunday as a Jacksonville Jaguar at TIAA Bank Field. A matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs and head coach Andy Reid already stirs up plenty of emotion, for he knows his football career would be dead without a lot of people on the opposing sideline.
Foles often talks about “staying in the moment” on and off the football field. That might be especially challenging against the Chiefs, the team where he served as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith in 2016.
As the Jaguars’ new starting QB begins another chapter of his NFL life -- a journey that already seems to have had three careers rolled into one – it’s fitting the first big test comes against the franchise and coach most responsible for one of the greatest revival stories in recent league history.
Foles has often spoke of being so disillusioned about football after his 2015 season with the St. Louis Rams, he made a decision to retire and go do something else. What made him reconsider, beyond his faith in God and the support of his wife, Tori, was a chance to play again for Reid, who coached him in his rookie season (2012) with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“When I was going to step away from the game, he was someone that was always supportive of me, always there, and that’s something I admired about him even when he wasn’t my coach,” Foles said. “He still looked out and watched for me as I watched his teams as well.
“So, he was a big part of me coming back and playing, and finding the joy of football again was going to play for him.”
That second tour of duty with Reid was three years and one Super Bowl MVP ago. Foles and nobody else could have imagined the Chiefs’ No. 2 QB would become a forever hero in the city of Philadelphia. Or sign an $88 million contract in March to uplift a Jacksonville franchise starving for sustained success, which has eluded the Jaguars for 20-plus years.
Connecting in locker room
Now here comes his first big Jaguars’ moment, and Foles must resist the temptation to get carried away by the presence of Reid, the coach for whom he feels enormous gratitude.
“It’s easy for that stuff to happen, but at the end of the day, I have to take all of that out and just focus on playing, focus on the game,” Foles said. “Take those kind of emotions [out], though I admire [Reid], and I was blessed to play for.
“It will be fun to compete with his team, but all I’m worried about is keeping things simple in my head, keeping things simple in the huddle for the guys and just allowing us to play fast and execute. That’s the football I like to play.”
Even with a Super Bowl MVP on his resume, the Jaguars are banking on, and might ultimately get, the best version of Nick Foles. That’s because few NFL quarterbacks have been battle-tested the way Foles has on the path toward his first uncontested starting job.
If you want to know why Jaguars’ players have bought in to Foles’ leadership qualities, it does start with him making a genuine effort to cultivate relationships throughout the locker room on both sides of the ball.
“This team has come together in a very different way, just the personalities, the way Nick has added a football dimension and how that translates into a belief on the defensive side,” said linebacker Najee Goode, who played with Foles for three years in Philadelphia, including the 2017 Super Bowl title season.
Jaguars’ receiver Dede Westbrook, likely to be Foles’ favorite target in 2019, watched him make a favorable impression quickly in his new environment.
“He’s one of those guys who cares about you outside football,” said Westbrook. “It’s not just all ball with him. The first thing he says to you is: ‘How’s your family? How are things going at home?’ He wants to get to know you personally so he can go out there to war with you and for you. That’s what it’s all about, building that chemistry outside of football.”
Struggles, then redemption
It’s impossible to discount what Foles went through to reach this point. Whether it’s the high of outdueling Tom Brady in a Super Bowl shootout or the low of wanting to quit football, those moments were necessary for Foles to eventually land with the Jaguars.
“Ultimately, it is my relationship with Christ, my faith in God, that I leaned on in that time,” Foles said of that 2015 season and facing an uncertain future. “My wife was obviously there with me every single step of the way. I had to go through that trial. I learned so much going through it, through the not enjoying football and not having the joy. Not even wanting to touch a football again.”
That’s what should give Jaguars’ fans hope of this No. 7 being far more productive than the other QBs – Steve Beuerlein, Byron Leftwich, Chad Henne – who wore that same jersey. He’s been in a football gutter and came out better for it.
You can’t begin to understand why Foles is equipped to lead this franchise to sustained success without knowing the failure he overcame, the fear he conquered, the life experiences he had to endure.
This isn’t a young gunslinger full of promise. The 30-year-old Foles is a tried-and-tested man of God, a quarterback who talks openly of Tori’s courage in battling a medical condition known as P.O.T.S., as well as questioning whether he wanted to keep playing after going 4-7 as a starter – and losing the job to Case Keenum -- in 2015.
Even after Reid coaxed Foles into giving the game another try in Kansas City, he only did it on the blind faith of wanting to play for his old coach. There was no excitement within Foles when he reported to training camp.
Then on the fourth day of camp, a light went on. For whatever reason, Foles suddenly felt reinvigorated about the game. That moment -- as a backup QB with no idea where his NFL career might go -- started Foles on a course of redemption that led to a Super Bowl championship and then to Jacksonville.
“I knew the fourth day of training camp in Kansas City,” said Foles. “I broke down in tears because I was enjoying it. I was excited to go back to practice and training camp. I was excited to just be with the guys. I wasn’t the starter. I wasn’t the guy that was on the billboards. I was going to be the guy in the huddle with my teammates. It didn’t matter if I ever played again.
“It wasn’t, ‘I’m going to play and win a Super Bowl.’ It was, ‘I’m just excited to be part of a team that cares for one another and loves one another.’ I remember the fourth day of training camp, that’s when everything started changing and that year in Kansas City was a blessing. That is where so much happened in my life.”
Can he be Jaguars’ savior?
In part, Foles has the opportunity he always wanted with the Jaguars, to be a franchise quarterback, because Reid never stopped believing in him.
He threw Foles into the fire as a rookie to replace a concussion-marred Michael Vick. Though Reid was fired after that 2012 season, Foles’ baptism paved dividends over his next two years in Philly under Chip Kelly. Foles went 14-4 as a starter, only to see a promising 2014 cut short by a season-ending collarbone injury.
“[Reid] is the one who drafted me [in third round], so just being with him my rookie year, learning how to be a pro, learning how to be a rookie quarterback and the expectations there is to play in this league and how difficult at the time. . . . Coach Reid was teaching me how difficult it is to be a quarterback in the city of Philadelphia,” Foles said.
Ironically, it was Reid’s decision to draft current KC quarterback and 2018 NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes, that triggered Foles’ return to the Eagles. It turned out to be a lifesaver and made Foles a forever Philly icon.
When starter Carson Wentz was sidelined by a torn ACL in 2017, it was Foles who stepped in and took the Eagles on a Super Bowl ride. Last year, Foles came on in relief again of an injured Wentz and put on a credible show, falling one fourth-quarter drive short of guiding Philly to the NFC Championship game.
The Eagles couldn’t afford to keep Foles, who bought his way into free agency, so the Jaguars swooped him up to replace a slumping Blake Bortles.
Given time, Reid has no doubt Foles will elevate his new team because he’s convinced the Jaguars have a seasoned quarterback who understands all the position’s nuances.
“You not only got a good football player, but you got a good guy in the locker room, a good leader,” Reid said. “I have a ton of good things to say about him, but we probably don’t have enough time.”
So what specifically does Foles’ old coach see in his career trajectory that makes him believe good things are in store for Jacksonville?
“Nick’s got a great feel for the game and he banks on that, he banks on those instincts,” added Reid. “He’s got real good vision. The obvious thing is the more familiar he is with the offense, the more he utilizes all the players. He knows how to play against your weakness and exploit that.”
Nobody questions Foles’ resiliency or intelligence to play the position at a high level. However, doubts remain in NFL circles about whether he can carry an offense like the Jaguars, who don’t have the proven weapons he had in Philadelphia.
Receiver Chris Conley, who played with Foles in Kansas City and is one of his closest friends on the team, adamantly disagrees with that theory.
“I tell people for a long time and I still believe it to this day: Nick is capable of anything that any quarterback is capable of, making any of those throws, engineering any of those drives,” said Conley. “He knows who he is and that’s huge. The peace that he has when he’s out there on a game-ending drive in the fourth quarter and his team is down, that’s something a lot of people don’t have.
“When you have that kind of confidence, it inspires people around you to have confidence. That’s the mark of those true leaders, those quarterbacks they say are great, who have earned the respect of people around them. I see that in Nick as well.”
Nick Foles knows what it’s like to be in a football abyss and find his way to the NFL mountaintop. The Jaguars are counting on that perseverance to pay off, for No. 7 to become that savior he was in Philadelphia.
firstname.lastname@example.org: (904) 359-4540