GM Trent Baalke gets love for helping Jaguars turn things around

Trent Baalke, General Manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Trent Baalke, General Manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Just one year ago, it was hard to find a more disliked person in Duval than general manager Trent Baalke. Fans made their disdain for him known and called on Jaguars owner Shad Khan to fire him. However, Khan was unfazed and chose to keep Baalke around.

Although it wasn’t a popular move at the time, it looks better with the benefit of hindsight. After all, Baalke was aggressive in free agency and most of the players he signed have gone on to play a big role in the Jags’ amazing turnaround. Kay Adams of FanDuel has taken note of the general manager’s impact and recently talked about it.

“Trent brough on a bunch of guys who were written off elsewhere to rewrite their narratives”, Adams say. “How much do we love this on the show? Evan Engram, how much hate and venom did Evan Engram get for being the draft choice of those Giants. Zay Jones… Arden Key, they’ve all had career years in Jacksonville. He made the sneaky little deadline situation for Calvin Ridley happen. These are the J-Villans”.

“While I can’t give him too much credit for picking Trevor Larwence No. 1 overall, he did land key pieces like Travis Etienne, Devin Lloyd in that draft as well to make things happen. So these additions, the Kirks, the Ingrams, the Joneses of the world, they all found the end zone during the Jags’ come back on Saturday night and I cannot imagine how that must’ve fell for him, watching all of it come to fruition after facing so much scrutiny”, Kay said.

Just for clarification, Travis Etienne was drafted in 2021 and linebacker Devin Lloyd in 2022 but the point remains. Baalke was under pressure to deliver and passed the test with flying colors. Last offseason, he was questioned for giving wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones (guilty as charged) top-market contracts.

In retrospect, the criticism looks silly given how much of an impact Kirk and Jones have had. As a matter of fact, you could make the case that both have exceeded expectations. The same is true for tight end Evan Engram, who broke several team records this past season. There’s also right guard Brandon Scherff, who’s become a mainstay of the Jaguars’ offensive line.

Similarly, cornerback Darious Williams, defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and defensive end Arden Key all have become important pieces in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s puzzle. Here’s a clip with Adams’ comments.

GM Trent Baalke has replenished the Jaguars roster over the last 2 years

Calls for Baalke to get canned following the Urban Meyer era made sense. Even though Meyer was the main culprit for turning the Jaguars into arguably the most dysfunctional team in the NFL. However, Baalke didn’t do much — at least from a public perception — to put out the proverbial fire.

Hindsight is 20/20 but it looked like the Jaguars would benefit from a fresh start following the dismissal of Meyer. The fact that he wasn’t a particularly popular figure in the league didn’t help matters. In fact, he might have been a big reason Byron Leftwich withdrew his name from Jacksonville’s coaching search.

But in spite of Baalke’s rocky reputation, Khan didn’t give in to public pleasure and kept him around. Following the hiring of Doug Pederson. Kahn said that he retained Baalke because he wanted the best people to help him turn things around. Looking back, the Jaguars owner got it right.

Baalke’s 2022 free-agent class has certainly played a huge role in the Jags’ turnaround but his class from the year before has also come through. For example, safety Rayshawn Jenkins was underwhelming in 2021 but has bounced back and has gone on to have a career season.

Similarly, defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, tight end Chris Manhertz and wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. have been key contributors in 2022. While none of them will make the Pro Bowl any time soon, they all have filled in important roles at their respective positions.

Does Baalke deserve to be the NFL’s Executive of the Year? Maybe not but his work shouldn’t go unnoticed either. While there weren’t any signs he was on the hot seat, his contributions over the last two years have most certainly solidified his position with the Jaguars. If he can keep replenishing the roster in upcoming years, there’s no reason to think he won’t remain in Jacksonville for a long time.

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