Jaguars: Where does this franchise go from here?

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 04: Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, left, talks with Denver Broncos GM John Elway before the game at EverBank Field on December 4, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 04: Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, left, talks with Denver Broncos GM John Elway before the game at EverBank Field on December 4, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

The Jacksonville Jaguars were just a few minutes away from the Super Bowl just two seasons ago, Now the team is in complete disarray.

The question on many Jacksonville Jaguars minds after a pitiful season like this is, “Where does the team go from here? I imagine this question is on a lot of minds of the Jaguars front office, the coaching staff, the players, and the media as well.

Before any of that can be answered, the Jaguars must answer this … “How did they get here?”

We could look at the last 20 years, where the Jaguars have had four winning seasons, two seasons of .500 football, and 14 losing seasons. Or we could start in 2011 and get one winning season, 2017, and seven losing seasons (eight if the team loses one more game this year). Or we could look at the tenure of the front office, but fans won’t see any better numbers.

I often read comments from fans that talk about how bad the Jaguars have drafted in the last few years as a reason for their issues with winning. Lets explore this briefly.

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David Caldwell was hired as the Jaguars General Manager in 2013. His first draft was that same year and the team had eight draft picks. Six of those draft picks played three or more years in the NFL, with Johnathan Cyprien still active. That’s not bad.

2014 was an incredible crop of players for the team, with six players still on NFL rosters – four starting – out of nine draft picks. Those numbers would be even better if Telvin Smith hadn’t retired before this season.

2015 was another good year, with half of the eight draft picks still playing. 2016 was a home run year, with the first three draft picks (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Yannick Ngakoue) being stars. A common theme to Caldwell’s drafts – athleticism.

Enter Tom Coughlin in 2017. The theme changes to one of power, especially in the run game. I remember hoping that the Jaguars would draft Christian McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook. But I wasn’t surprised that they drafted Leonard Fournette. He’s exactly the type of guy Coughlin loves. The Jaguars second-round pick, Cam Robinson, played well his rookie year, but after tearing his ACL early last year he hasn’t played as well this season and has had issues with blocking and being overpowered by defensive ends.

Defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot is a solid backup and Dede Westbrook is a competent wide receiver. But that’s all you get from seven draft picks.

The 2018 draft class has potential, with five of seven draft picks contributing and DJ Chark possibly being the number one wide receiver the team has needed for over a decade. We’ll have to wait and see about the 2019 draft, but defensive end Josh Allen looks like he could be another star in the pass rush.

Doing some research on free agent signings shows more misses than hits, with Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, and A.J. Bouye being the best in the past few years. The team caught lightning in a bottle in 2017, but the defensive talent has been diminished by departures and injuries that have crippled the roster.

2018 started off great. The Jaguars were 3-1 through the first quarter of the season and had beaten the New England Patriots easily. They were headed back to the postseason and among the favorites to represent the AFC for the NFL Championship. Then came the injuries, followed by a seven-game losing streak.

Everything within the organization unraveled.

Robinson was injured in the second game and was lost for the remainder of the year. Fournette was also injured in the game and missed five of the next six games. Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Corey Grant were injured in game five and lost for the year. Josh Wells, the backup at left tackle was also injured in the game and lost for the next eight games.

It became bigger news to find out who was active for games rather than who is part of the injury report. The Jaguars were absolutely decimated by injuries last year, and the person who took the biggest hit for losses and ineffective play was Blake Bortles. The front office made him the scapegoat, released him just before the start of the 2019 league year, and signed Nick Foles to a franchise-quarterback sized contract.

The front office signed Foles believing that he would be the reason this team could make the playoffs. They believed he was the missing piece of a possible Super Bowl run. Unfortunately, Foles was injured on the first series of the first game of the year and since coming back from injury has not played well.

He has been benched in favor of rookie Gardner Minshew.

Minshew’s play has been hot and cold, and his record of 4-5 is indicative of his inconsistent play. He was hot initially and the fans (and media) got swept up in “Minshew Mania” as everyone got behind “The ‘Stache’”. But support for Minshew will only last as long as he isn’t turning the ball over and the team is winning. I expect the euphoria to come crashing down by season’s end.

So. Back to the original question about these Jaguars – “Where do we go from here?”

The Jaguars have had one year (2017) in the last decade where the offensive line play was average. The unit was ranked 15th and they went to the AFC Championship game. For the most part, the line has been healthy this season and looks just as ineffective at times as it did last season.

Another common theme about teams that consistently compete for the playoffs in the NFL? They all have multiple offensive weapons. The Jaguars have Fournette and Chark but lack other components to make them dangerous on that side of the football.

Add to the fact everyone in the media and a majority of the fan base treated Foles like a conquering hero; like he had resurrected a downtrodden team and rescued them from the abyss. He had not played a down of football in Jacksonville.

And, let’s not dismiss that he had better weapons to work with in Philadelphia than he does now here in Jacksonville.

So where do the Jaguars go from here? That’s a question only team owner Shah Khan can answer. Does he stick with Coughlin, Caldwell and Doug Marrone or does he look to change direction? Unless the Jaguars make a drastic improvement on the offensive line, fix the defense and get better offensive weapons, the answer to that question will be – nowhere.

And once again change will be what everyone in Jacksonville is talking about.

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