Four Down Territory: How to fix the Jacksonville Jaguars
By David Levin
It’s the first time in 18 weeks there is no regular season Jacksonville Jaguars football to watch. The playoffs have begun without the 2017 AFC South champions. There is plenty of work to do this offseason to produce a winning football team in 2019.
I was watching the AFC wild card game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans and could not help but think how the Jacksonville Jaguars were a forgotten football team. How did this happen? How did a franchise that 18 weeks ago was a Super Bowl favorite plummet to the depths of the abyss? Where did it all go wrong?
These are all questions we know the answers to. Injuries. Poor quarterback play. Undisciplined players. Too many alphas in the locker room. Most off all, bad play calling on offense and a front office that did not create the same magic this past season as it did the offseason before.
Florida Times-Union sports columnist Sam Kouvaris speaks the truth when he says this is an organization that has one shot to fix the issues that surround the organization. It’s not an easy fix. But conceptually, the front office must get this right for the second time in three seasons.
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"“It’s an important year for everybody involved with the football side of the Jaguars, from the top down,” he writes. “While Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone have been given a vote of confidence by owner Shad Khan, another year like this one and they’re all gone.”"
If the Jaguars jump out of the gate in 2019 and have the lack of success in the first half of 2019 as they did this past year (3-5), Marrone may be shown the door quicker than anyone. It’s the nature of this business, where winning means everything. Losing gets you a pink slip and no “thank you” on your exit out of the building.
The Jaguars situation can be fixed. It’s not as desperate in my eyes as some might think. Yes, it’s bad. Teams don’t fall from grace that quickly without a reason. There were a myriad of them over a four-month period.
Here are a few thoughts on how to fix the Jaguars in 2019.
First Down: Change the culture… again – It was a problem when Gus Bradley was head coach of this franchise, with a divided locker room. It has once again become an issue under Marrone, but potentially for different reasons.
It need to be fixed again. It also means veterans like Calais Campbell, Abry Jones and now Jalen Ramsey will need to flex their muscles in the locker room with their words to bring about cohesion.
The thing about this team is there is no vocal leader on offense. Blake Bortles is a respected player and someone his teammates rave about as a “team guy” but he does not strike anyone as the outspoken leader of the franchise. Leonard Fournette was voted a team captain, but he is not one to rally the troops when needed.
Fournette has his own issues to deal with.
"“We need everybody to buy in, but screaming and yelling and telling people, ‘You need to buy in or we’re not going to have a good season …’ that’s not going to help,” Jones said via Jaguars.com."
Jacksonville must find their voice on offense and look to other young players to lead by example. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue wants to be a team captain next season, has the demeanor to set the tone in the locker room and could be the infusion of leadership this roster needs.
Second Down: Take care of the Fournette situation now – It does not serve the organization or locker room any good to let this sit and simmer for four months. Fournette and the Jaguars appear to be at odds and have been the majority of the past season.
The injuries are now an issue as he has missed 11 games in two seasons because of injuries and suspensions. How the team plans to handle it now is a focal point of the offseason. Jacksonville still needs a bell cow back to lead this offense. That’s why I think Carlos Hyde remains on this roster for the time being.
"“Fournette played in just half the team’s eight games this season – and as Marrone noted multiple times in the last week, less than 30 percent of the team’s offensive plays,” writes John Oehser. “His lack of availability/production and off-field issues were a problem.”"
This is still a repairable situation if the second-year running back commits to coming to camp in better shape, has a positive attitude and does what is best for the franchise. There is still a belief he will be traded this offseason. I am among those who think this can happen.
There is a reason why Fournette’s locker is next to Campbell’s. Hopefully the connection means Fournette takes another step in the maturation process of his NFL career. The running back who has been head and shoulders better than most of the players on the field throughout his career may be at a crossroads at an early age.
Jacksonville would lose someone who may go on to be one of the best running backs in the NFL if they trade him. Is the risk worth it? Ultimately, I think he gets one more season to prove he can be a leader on the field. Can he get to 1,400 yards as was predicted for him by myself and others prior to 2018? We all shall see.
Third Down: Find a veteran quarterback as the bridge to the future – I am not completely sold on 2018 being the last year you see Bortles in a Jaguars uniform. But I do think the position changes next year. Like it or not, the $16.5 million in dead cap space is an issue with the front office, the same one that created it in the first place.
There are plenty of variables that go into finding a good fit for life after Blake. As Oehser wrote, there is likely an overhaul about to happen.
"“Bortles started the season finale after spending four games backing up Cody Kessler, but the speculation is [last] Sunday may have been Bortles’ final game with the Jaguars. Will the Jaguars’ new direction be a rookie quarterback? An established veteran? Stay tuned."
There is plenty of speculation about the free agent class and who will be available. Teddy Bridgewater. Joe Flacco. Possibly Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton. There is still Colin Kaepernick and Sam Bradford out there. There are concerns with each of them.
Then there is Tyrod Taylor who offers mobility from the pocket, but he is not a long-term solution. Ryan Fitzpatrick and maybe a trade for Nick Foles. Too many names to assess right now.
The Jaguars may have Bortles on the roster in 2019 as a backup with a veteran signed in free agency and a rookie waiting in the wings through the draft. Besides the issues with Fournette, this will be the most anticipate news coming out of March and April.
Fourth Down: Hit a home run with this draft class and the new coaching staff – It’s paramount the Jaguars use free agency to acquire starters on the offensive line, at quarterback and then use the draft to find skill players with speed.
But it might not be possible if the coaching staff isn’t in place to make their voices heard.
I stand on record saying I think the Jaguars (namely Coughlin) will draft a tackle if the team stays at No. 7 in the Draft. They will trade back into the first round to select a quarterback or pray one falls to them at the top of Round 2.
With Justin Herbert remaining in school, the over-value of the quarterback position just became worse. Four signal callers could be taken who have a higher value on draft boards than they posses in terms of skill and readiness.
Jacksonville must find a “GREAT” offensive coordinator. Darrell Bevell has been mentioned. Maybe Adam Gase gets a look. If he is available, would the team consider Hue Jackson? He did work wonders with Dalton in Cincinnati.
The Jaguars need to move on from Scott Milanovich calling plays and focus on better coaching at the team’s most important position. This is also a chance for Marrone to put more of his stamp on this staff and roster.
Jacksonville has nothing to lose right now. They are one of the worst teams in the NFL if you are what your record says you are. Going into 2018, they were world beaters and a 10-6 football team. This coming season, they are bottom feeders at 5-11.