It’s not often that a young quarterback possesses traits that make him so attractive as a backup option around the league. Sure, you have countless examples of quarterbacks who were buried behind starters that deserved a chance to start, but how many times do you recall there being a 25-year-old quarterback who so many fans were rooting for, even when they don’t necessarily want to hand over the franchise reins to him?
There haven’t been many quarterbacks like Gardner Minshew, the quintessential modern meme of a football player who has captured the hearts and imaginations of fans well beyond the borders of Duval.
At a time when people are overly reliant on making references that are 20-plus years old, a mustached, mullet-cut quarterback who has been compared to “Uncle Rico” is the ultimate version of branding that has far outpaced most of his peers. But Minshew is more than a mullet or a mustache and his high school resume is even more glowing than anyone related to Napoleon Dynamite: Minshew led his team to the state championship game during his sophomore year, then went back and won the Mississippi 6A state title two years later. He went barely-recruited though and ultimately chose to play for Northwest Mississippi Community College in 2015.
NMCC won the junior college national championship during his first and only season there.
It doesn't get more Gardner Minshew than this, y'all.— Mia O'Brien (@MiaOBrienTV) August 6, 2021
We went from Hernan Cortes and the Aztecs to talking about to the mullet.
(s/o @ESPNdirocco for questions)#Jaguars | @FCN2go pic.twitter.com/76TuksSnBP
Minshew spent the next two seasons at East Carolina, going 3-14 as a starter for one of the worst programs in the country, but he was productive enough to be able to enroll at Washington State as a grad student in 2018. Playing in Mike Leach’s air raid offense, Minshew likely executed that system better than any other quarterback ever had at Washington State: 468-of-662, 4,779 yards, 38 touchdowns, 9 interceptions in 13 games, leading the Cougars to a 11-2 record and a top-10 finish in the polls.
It’s the only season since 2004 in which Washington State won more than nine games or finished the year in one of the major top-25 polls.
Minshew took on legendary status on his campus, but was still mostly unknown when the Jacksonville Jaguars made him a sixth round pick in 2019. The mere fact that he was drafted less than two years after graduating from East Carolina with a spotty college resume is in itself a Minshew miracle. He entered Jaguars training camp behind free agent signee Nick Foles and 2018 sixth round pick Tanner Lee.
He ended camp as Foles’ backup, but then Foles was injured in Week 1 after only eight pass attempts against the Kansas City Chiefs. Minshew went in against the future Super Bowl champions and finished the game 22-of-25 for 275 yards, two touchdowns, one interception. The Jaguars lost the game 40-26, but Minshew still had one of the best Week 1 rookie QB performances of all-time.
Minshew would start the next eight contests in place of Foles, going 166-of-282 for 2,010 yards, 11 touchdowns, three interceptions, helping Jacksonville go 4-4 in those games. Foles would return and start the next three games, all losses, and Mineshew started the final four contests of the season.
He threw seven touchdowns and one pick in those games, and Jacksonville went 2-2.
The Jaguars traded Foles to the Chicago Bears in 2020, making room for Minshew to start, even if they were not sold on him as a the long-term answer at the position. Minshew went 19-of-20 for 173 yards with three touchdowns in a Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts last season, another stellar season debut.
#Jaguars Training Camp takeaways -— Ashlyn Sullivan (@ashlynrsullivan) August 7, 2021
With six WR out on Friday, @jamalagnew took full advantage of being back at practice. He caught this sideline bomb from Minshew in double coverage, the catch of the day. Agnew creating even more competition at WR.
But Jacksonville would lose his next six starts and when Minshew revealed a thumb injury, the team turned to Jake Luton in Week 9. As the season went on and the losses continued to pile — the Jaguars have lost their last 15 games — there was less and less of a reason for the team to continue to picture Minshew as the quarterback of the future. Mostly because it became apparent that either Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson, the absolute top-two picks in the 2021 draft, would be available to the team in April.
The Jaguars finished 1-15, the NY Jets finished 2-14 (in part thanks to the Rams), and Lawrence is now the main attraction in Duval. For good reason too, but in Minshew’s final start for the team, he went 22-of-29 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Baltimore Ravens.
Stats are just stats. They are often misleading and Minshew’s unexpected career numbers — 37 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, some of the best performances in Jacksonville history (context acknowledged) — don’t necessarily tell the picture of whether or not he is a future starter. But the person that he is, the outgoing, charismatic, fully aware dude with a sense of humor and an outsized desire to be the absolute best and to push any and all quarterbacks who challenge his position as the team leader — including Lawrence — is the type of human being that every team hopes they have in the locker room.
Despite being de facto’d into the backup role after the Jaguars drafted one of the most hyped football prospects of the last 100 years, Minshew has insisted that he be considered as Jacksonville’s starter — and the team has actually given in. Somewhat. Minshew and Lawrence have split reps with the 1s and Minshew has noted that when he asked the Jaguars to give him a real chance, they complied and that’s why he’s not disgruntled this summer.
“All I ask for is a chance,” Minshew said. “They said they’d give me that, and they have with the reps I’ve been given. That’s all I can ask for. At that point, it’s up to me.”
He was asked Friday if Lawrence’s presence changed his mindset.
“It doesn’t,” Minshew said. “I can control how I work, how I prepare. I’m trying to get better every day. When you start playing the comparison game, and you’re worried about somebody else and not yourself, it’s only a negative impact.
“I’m really just focused on myself and trying to get better every day – and trying to be the best leader I can be for these guys.”
Minshew with the deep score to Pharoh Cooper as the No. 2 offense gets one over the No. 1 defense. Great throw and even better catch— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) August 7, 2021
Minshew also said that he didn’t request a trade because that’s not his job. His agent can handle that stuff and that he only focuses on what he can control. It’s also hard to imagine why the Jaguars would trade Minshew, given that he must be pushing Lawrence every day with his commitment to winning the job as a starter by any means necessary, as well as his knowledge of how others in history have defied the odds through unparalleled belief in themselves:
“Anytime you go into anything thinking losing or second-best is an option, most of the time that’s what you’re going to get,” Minshew said. “It’s like when Cortez landed in Veracruz with 600 dudes trying to take the Aztec Empire, you know what he said? He said, ‘Burn the boats so we go back in their boats.’ That has stuck with me pretty much since I heard that story.”
Jacksonville is almost certainly going to start Lawrence in Week 1, with Minshew as the backup, but should they decide to trade him, would have former San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard and Luton as choices to replace him as the top reserve. The Los Angeles Rams currently have a pretty good backup in John Wolford, but an emergency appendectomy over the weekend could keep him out for several weeks.
There will be plenty of talk about teams that could trade for Minshew because they want him to start at some point — the Indianapolis Colts will be one of the first teams mentioned because of the injury concerns around Carson Wentz — but the fact that he’s fallen out of favor (more than once) with one of the worst teams in the league may signal that he’s better suited to support than to start. Maybe that’s more of the same rhetoric that has kept the fire under Minshew over the years, maybe it’s the the type of bullshit that he hates to hear, even if it’s what motivates him, but as of now that does seem to be his best role on a team.
But whether it’s as a starter, a backup, a coach, a broadcaster, a podcaster, or as a male model ambassador for the league, I believe that based on everything we’ve heard, seen, and smelled from Gardner Minshew over the last 2.5 years, we will be seeing a lot more of him over the coming decades.
The Rams already traded for one quarterback this year and he’s as much of a “franchise quarterback” as the guy in Jacksonville. There’s no path to the starting role in LA other than injury. But he’s somehow the quarterback that everyone wants around right now. He’s an ingredient that seems well suited for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Does Les Snead have enough room up his sleeve for one more deal?