OFFSEASON REVIEW: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
By Callum Squires
As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.
In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars:
I’d suggest the best way to describe the Jaguars’ 2020 season would be “strange.” Sadly, that’s kind of the best way to describe the Jaguars as a franchise too. Since the weird Blake Bortles playoff run (that should have ended in beating New England, might I remind you…) the Jaguars have appeared to be rebuilding by trading away all their best players and embracing the cult heroism of Gardner Minshew. It hasn’t worked.
Week 1 was great for the Jaguars. A 27-20 upset win over the (very good) Colts. But that was it… There’s video evidence of Minshew standing in the Jags’ locker room after beating the Colts and saying “we ain’t done.” Well… they were done. 15 straight losses to end the season, Leonard Fournette gone, flirtations with both Jake Luton and Mike Glennon (seriously?!) as starting QBs again, and the Jags find themselves with the Golden Ticket they don’t really deserve. And with the Number 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft secured, Shad Khan jumped on his private jet and was able to coax the biggest possible name into the vacant hot seat. Un-retiring Urban Meyer stepped up to the plate and is now poised to draft one of the best college Quarterbacks of all time… right?! More on that later.
Anyway, so here we are, looking ahead to 2021. The Jaguars have the highest profile new head coach in the league, Trent Baalke has been promoted to GM and the only way is up from 1-15… well, I for one don’t believe Urban Meyer and Trev-… whoever he has at QB is going 0-16.
As I’m typing this paragraph, Adam Schefter has very kindly tweeted to inform me that the Jaguars have hired Karim Kassam as SVP of Football Operations Strategy. Seriously guys, do we really need job titles with 7+ words in them? Can’t we just say “that guy does the trades, she does the cap space calculations, he chooses the snacks for the media, and this lady is in charge of making sure Urban Meyer’s coffee is always delivered at precisely 7:59am.” Let’s keep it simple. Anyway, Kassam is going to be in charge of “football technology and analytics, …in association with salary cap administration.” Apparently he has a Master’s degree from Imperial College London so I guess I’m kinda cheering for him to be a success just because of that.
Anyway, more importantly, the aforementioned Mr. Meyer is the headline addition to the Jaguars, as the Doug Marrone era fades away into the history books. The Urban experiment is – for better or worse – guaranteed to be must-watch. If, like me, you have a distinct dislike for (the) Ohio State, you might want to see Meyer’s empire crash and burn before it even gets going. Then again, I have a soft spot for the Khan family due to their (strange and mis-placed) desire to bring a team to the UK full-time. I’d love to see it, just not wholly convinced it can work. Which ironically is how many people feel about Urban Meyer in the NFL. The Jaguars instantly become a potential contender for some primetime games, especially when you think about their draft capital (we’ll get to that later). Of course, the abhorrent decision to try and hire Chris Doyle – a man recently let go by the University of Iowa for (fairly widespread) allegations of racist behaviour and bullying – smacks of the dictatorship that is Division 1 College Football. Urban will learn quickly the NFL is not “his world” in the way it was in the NCAA.
One other key addition is Joe Cullen – formerly Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach – as Defensive Coordinator. Cullen was a part of a ferocious Ravens defense that made them a Super Bowl contender late in the year. You can bet he’ll bring that to the Jags as they seek to rebuild the “Sacksonville” image from a few years back.
State Of The Roster
The Jaguars roster is definitely in need of some significant upgrades, but they have some impressive young pieces to build around. The emergence of James Robinson from absolutely nowhere to being one of the hot names in dynasty fantasy leagues this offseason was remarkable. Laviska Shenault Jr. showed he can be a weapon in a number of ways. Those two alone provide significant spark and low prices for this team right now. Myles Jack, Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson lead the defense, which is lacking significant edge rushing consistency, and may need help at defensive back once the dust settles on free agency. The Jaguars are by no means the finished article, but they have a skeleton of hope that they can build around.
Of course, the Quarterback position is the one that stands out above all else. We all know how this one is going… right?
Salary Cap & Cut Candidates
Here’s the really good news for Jags fans: they lead the league in something positive! Yes, Jacksonville leads the NFL in projected cap space with a shade over $77.5million. Only the Jets and Patriots are within $15million of this, and the 4th biggest is the Washington Football Team with just $39mil. So… healthy AND tasty. Baalke and Meyer will surely be looking to maximise and utilise this in attracting a couple of big time free agents to come and join their newly drafted star Quarterback.
As such, Jacksonville can (and should be) very aggressive in pursuing talented veterans that might help this team move forward. Could they tempt Allen Robinson to return from his sabbatical in Chicago? Or how about sneaking impressive Tight End Jonnu Smith away from Mike Vrabel in Tennessee? There are plenty of possibilities. It’s an exciting and intriguing offseason ahead in Duval.
Keelan Cole headlines the skill players who might be leaving Jacksonville this summer, with Dawuane Smoot, Adam Gotsis and Josh Jones the most utilised defensive players set to be unrestricted this offseason. Cole is the clear number two receiver behind DJ Chark (doo doo doo doo doo doo), with Dede Westbrook suffering from injuries, and Chris Conley behind him. That said, ALL of Cole, Westbrook and Conley seem set to test free agency this summer, and it remains to be seen if Jacksonville will see fit to try and bring any of them back.
Cam Robinson seems to be a likely candidate for re-signing, as the Jags lack a lot of depth at left tackle. Thankfully, with the Jags healthy cap situation, they can afford to even consider franchise tagging Robinson if necessary. They’ll certainly want to keep the impressive Alabama product around, to help build a stronger offensive line and hope to avoid a Joe-Burrow style injury for their new QB.
I mean, Quarterback obviously. And – obviously – it HAS to be Trevor Lawrence… BUT WHAT IF IT WASN’T? It remains to be seen… would Urban do the DUMBEST possible thing? Could he be tempted to stick with HIS Buckeye Justin Fields over T-Law? Surely not. But, with the Number 1 pick secured thanks to Marrone’s mediocrity Jacksonville will be welcoming a new star into the fold in late April.
Furthermore, Josh Allen (the other one) needs some help on the defensive side of the ball to generate a more consistent pass rush, plus a couple upgrades at pass-catching positions (WR & TE) would certainly bolster the Jags offensive production. In this division – where you’ve got Derrick Henry running the ball straight at you but a suspect Titans defense, a staunch Colts defense with an unpredictable offensive situation, and whatever that dumpster fire in Houston claiming to be a team is, the Jags need to be consistent on both sides of the ball and they might not be too far away from success! A couple big signings and they could find themselves challenging for division titles before too long.
But the headline is obviously going to be the Number 1 pick. Of course it’s going to be Trevor Lawrence. It’s definitely going to be Trevor Lawrence. BUT I’m really talking myself into the idea that Meyer might consider taking Fields out of blind loyalty and a “I’m doing this MY way” stubbornness and arrogance. He wouldn’t… would he?! He couldn’t… could he!? That’s the sort of uncertainty and excitement that will follow the Urban Meyer roadshow for the next few seasons, until he decides to retire again… (and then un-retire two years later again).