As the offseason mini camp begins Tuesday for the Jaguars, the built up offseason optimism seems to be slowly seeping out of Jacksonville. After another disappointing season in 2011, the major overhaul of the Jacksonville Jaguars began. Regime change took place across the board, first with the purchase of the franchise by Shad Khan followed by the hiring of head coach Mike Mularkey. Both individuals came to Jacksonville eager to turn around a team that was marred by mediocrity for years. When free agency began, the Jags made sure to retain entrenched veterans like Jeremy Mincey in order to keep the core of the team together. Then in late March, the usually conservative, meticulous general manager Gene Smith shocked many people across the NFL landscape when he traded up to the fifth pick to draft colligate standout Justin Blackmon. Blackmon’s skillset and potential paired with free agent signees Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans likely drastically improve the league’s worst passing team from a year ago.
Since then, however, the Jaguars have slowly regressed to their old ways.
Drafting punter Bryan Anger in the third round was publically scrutinized for weeks, Shad Khan and Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown became involved in a public dispute over potential contract issues, defensive end Aaron Kampman’s underachieving tenure in Jacksonville finally came to a close, and top pick Justin Blackmon was arrested on aggravated DUI charges. While everyone tried to smooth those minor issues over one at a time, Maurice Jones-Drew deciding to hold out could become a major problem for the team.
Gene Smith has publically stated that he will not renegotiate a contract in the middle of the current one. MoJo wants to be paid like the top running back that he is, especially now, while he still has some tread on the tires instead of in two years when his contract is up and the wear on his body increases significantly. The initial appearance of this hold out seems to becoming a game of chicken between Smith and MoJo. Usually in these cases the player folds and returns to the team where a public press conference is held to smooth over any animosity. But the issue isn’t whether MoJo will play for the Jags. The focus needs to be what kind of impact this will have on a team with a young quarterback and a new coaching staff installing a new offensive system with an entirely new corps of wide receivers. The long standing leader of the offense being absent could derail the optimism and promise of the new season.
Some people think it is a good thing, allowing Blaine Gabbert to step up and become the leader of the offense like most quarterbacks. I disagree. That was what the OTAs were for. Blaine had a few weeks to step up and become a vocal leader on the field and in the locker room. It was a nice window of time with no pads and minimal pressure for him to assume the role. But now is business time. MoJo needs to be there so he and Blaine can meld their leadership roles together and lead the team in unison. MoJo needs to be there so he and the coaches can begin to build a report and make strides in the offseason to improve upon a disappointing 5-11 record. MoJo needs to be there.
If I were the GM of the Jaguars, I would give MoJo a long extension to make sure he is a Jaguar for life because I believe he is an intricate part of the franchise becoming a viable asset within the NFL. In a star-driven league, MoJo is our biggest and one that we need for the long haul. But this doesn’t seem to be Gene Smith’s style. So now, we need to just wait it out and see who flinches first.