Whether you are livid with GM Gene Smith right now or you are simply becoming numb to the less-than-exciting product the Jaguars are producing, the fact of the matter is that the Jaguars – a marketable NFL product – simply aren’t producing the wins that a marketable product produces.
The Jaguars are not the Cleveland Browns, they do not have the rich football history to hang their hat on (though in reality the Ravens are the Browns, but that whole thing got mucked up due to Art Modell). The Browns can continue to lose but they will always have a rabid fanbase, even one that stretches beyond Cleveland and outside of Ohio. The Oakland Raiders are similar, no matter how bad it gets there is always the Raiders and the crazy fans. Yet in Jacksonville the most inspiring thing they have done is go to an AFC Championship and a handful of playoff appearances. Even fellow expansion team Carolina has had more success. Now the Houston Texans are emerging as a powerhouse.
So, can the Jaguars become competitive again? Can the team compete for the AFC South crown like they did in 2010?
While the Jags will undoubtedly be a bit further away from the crown than one win over the Colts, the first step to being competitive in the NFL is being competitive in the division. Six games every year, two against the Titans, Colts, and Texans each. The Jags are 1-1 right now, a win against the Colts and a loss to the Texans. If the team even goes 3-3, that’s a big improvement from not fielding a competitive team at all. Keep in mind that even the 7-9 Seahawks were able to topple the mighty New Orleans Saints in the playoffs after winning their division. The Raiders keep some hope alive by toppling their division rivals every so often. In the AFC South, we frequently forget what it’s like to have a shot after the dominance of the Colts in the 2000s.
GM Gene Smith’s team may not be the most competitive team right now, but sometimes people get lucky. Maybe there is more to the “base hit” strategy than we are seeing right now. But then again, we could get impatient and clean house. There haven’t been any exceptional pieces added to the puzzle since Smith’s promotion in 2009, but there have been some solid additions. While focusing on the draft hasn’t yielded some great pieces (I’d argue Eugene Monroe, Tyson Alualu, Terrance Knighton, and Derek Cox as decent additions) for Smith, free agency has been kind – when he’s ventured to use it. Paul Posluszny, Dwight Lowery, Dawan Landry, and Drew Coleman (now cut) have all be very solid parts of this team during their tenure. But what about those “terrible picks” like Blaine Gabbert, and hiring coach Mike Mularkey? While they may be labeled terrible now, I’d argue they are more average than sub-par. Let’s see if they can turn it around.
Alex Smith was the number one pick in the 2005 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was a “terrible” player for years…until he wasn’t last year. Now Smith is a fantasy commodity, a playoff/Super Bowl contender, and leads arguably the top team in the NFL. It took six years for him to put it together and there was a lot of bench riding and bumps along the way, but he’s here and he’s strong. Like Gabbert he was 21 during his rookie season. Like Gabbert he struggled with his completion percentage (until 2009). Unlike Gabbert he didn’t know how to take care of the football(one TD and 11 picks in nine games his rookie season). Similarly, we could look at the horrendous numbers that Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw posted for a number of early years in his career. In a modern immediate gratification NFL we don’t want to wait, but maybe it’s time for some patience.
For Mike Mularkey, let’s look at a coach that changed teams as a head coach, Bill Belichick. Belichick had a losing record in four of his five seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Like Mularkey he is a quieter, more reserved head coach (love his press conferences) who demands perfection from his players. Unlike Mularkey, he was given five years in his first stint, Mularkey only got two (and his first season was 9-7). Five years later and the Patriots struggled the first year under his management. Then came three Super Bowls in four years and a string of dominance that few teams seemed able to challenge. Similarly, we could look at Bill Walsh building his dynasty in San Francisco, having three of his first four years being quite terrible (though his third was a Super Bowl).
I’m not saying that Gabbert and Mularkey couldn’t be busts and a terrible reflection of Gene Smith, but maybe it’s time the Jags tried some patience. They gave Jack Del Rio far more seasons than he was worth, but it’s far too early to say that the team won’t be competitive. Mularkey has had success in the past, Gabbert has shown flashes far better than Alex Smith ever did, and sometimes this team looks like it’s made up of high-motor winners. It may not be this year, but this team can be competitive again. This team is “in the thick of it” with the Titans and Colts in the division, eventually they could emerge as the next Houston Texans of the AFC South.
After all, we don’t want to be one of those teams with tons of new coordinators, coaches, and GMs in successive years. Let’s be patient Jaguar nation. Who knows, it may lead to success.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims