JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — YOUR OFFICIAL JAGUARS STATIONS: Find out what having the first overall pick in the NFL Draft means for Jacksonville off the gridiron on the Action Sports Jax Jags Nation Draft Night in Duval special on Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m. on CBS47 and FOX30
ON THE RADIO: Action Sports Jax’s Brent Martineau and Austen Lane talk about the strategy and scenarios for the Jaguars in the offseason every weekday starting at 3 p.m. on ESPN690.
One winning season since 2007. Two owners, five coaches, 12 starting quarterbacks, 143 losses in that span, and just 64 wins.
Let’s be honest with each other – the Jacksonville Jaguars have been a mess. However, they may be in the best position they’ve ever been to resurrect this derelict franchise.
Fixing the Jaguars is paramount, but it’s not simple. I think there are seven things the Jags have to fix if they are going to win.
What the heck is the Jaguars’ identity? It’s not a physical, violent brand of football like you might find in Baltimore or Pittsburgh. It’s not a throw it all over the yard mentality like Kansas City. It certainly isn’t winning. In reality, it doesn’t really have to be a brand; many times, it is one man.
Jags owner Shad Khan entered the NFL world with a bold vision, which included the Jags being the hottest ticket in town, renovations of the stadium, London as a sister city and now, development of downtown Jacksonville. When it comes to football, we think he’s hands off and we know he’s patient with his front office.
His vision of football in Jacksonville is yet to come to fruition – but in 2017, we did get a taste of his ultimate goal. This city was electric, but only for that one year.
While the identity starts at the top, we don’t associate organizations with owners by general rule. Sure, there are exceptions like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but that’s not common. We associate identity with head coaches – Patriots’ Bill Belichick, Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid, Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Baltimore Ravens’ John Harbaugh – they are the architects of identity in a team and in a franchise.
Mike Mularkey, who was coach for the 2012 season, didn’t have long enough to build an identity. Gus Bradley, the head coach from 2013 to 2016, had an identity based on defense, but the Jags really didn’t build the defense until he was in his last year as head coach. Doug Marrone’s identity is … we really have no idea. I’m sure Marrone has one, but in four years how often have we said, “now that’s a Doug Marrone football team?”
During the Shad Khan era, the one time this organization had an identity – like it or not – was 2017 and Tom Coughlin, who was VP of football operations from 2017 to 2019, owned it. We knew what Coughlin was all about, we knew he would never change and we knew he was going to play physical football, good defense and run the ball. Sure, Marrone deserves credit for that season, but every move had Coughlin’s fingerprints all over it. But, the Coughlin way faded away and couldn’t be sustained for myriad reasons.
The Jaguars need an identity. They need to hire a head coach who has a clear identity, and his football team, in wins and losses, needs to personify that identity.
UPDATE: Shad Khan hired Urban Meyer and will be drafting Trevor Lawrence so it is safe to say the identity of the Jacksonville Jaguars will be Urban and Trevor. There is more to identity and that is style of play and culture. It’s clear Meyer is building a player’s first culture and the identity of this team is going to be built around playing fast and an offense that can score. We still have to wait to see what that looks like and how it’s executed, but the building blocks are now in place.
WHO’S THE BOSS
Who’s making the decisions? Whose fault is it? Who should be held accountable? Outside of 2017 and part of 2018 with Tom Coughlin, these are questions that have been tough to answer in the Jags building.
While everyone has earned the blame, shouldn’t fans be able to point to a person in charge of football decisions? Shouldn’t people in the building be able to look at one person who has the most control of the football side? When the Jags do anything with tickets, make renovations to the stadium or propose Lot J/Daily’s Place initiatives we know who is taking the lead – Mark Lamping.
We should be able to do the same with football operations. Even with Tom Coughlin in charge, some wondered how much he was impacting the team on the practice field or who had final say on draft decisions. Who selected Leonard Fournette fourth overall and passed on Patrick Mahomes? Who decided to give Blake Bortles an extension? Was it Coughlin? Recently fired general manager Dave Caldwell? Khan? Marrone?
The Jags need a football boss and if you look at the most successful organizations in the NFL, that boss is the head coach. Could we say that about Mike Mularkey, Gus Bradley or Doug Marrone? I don’t think so. In New England, it’s Bill Belichick; in Kansas City, it’s Andy Reid; in Seattle, it’s Pete Carroll; in Pittsburgh, it’s Mike Tomlin. Sure, others are part of the decision process, but the successful teams seem to have the head coach as the compass of the operation.
UPDATE: This might be the most clear fix for the Jaguars in the Shad Khan era. Urban Meyer is the boss of this franchise right now. Khan introduced a coach-centric model with the hire of Meyer and all the credit and blame will be on the shoulders of Meyer during his tenure.
Oh boy. It sure feels like communication has broken down over the years inside the Jaguars’ building. Is it the reason Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue are no longer here? Is it the reason the NFLPA scolded the Jaguars last year? Again, this piggybacks on the above. The one issue that creates a communication breakdown is the lack of a clear leader and too many people doing the talking. In the middle of the Jalen Ramsey saga, Doug Marrone, at multiple news conferences said -- and I’m paraphrasing here -- “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them down the hall.”
It appeared as if Marrone was separating himself from the front office and the alignment was off in the front office. Marrone obviously noticed a communication barrier in the building. When Marrone’s return was announced on December 31, 2019, he claimed he was going to get everyone in the building on the same page moving forward. The pandemic makes it harder to know if that happened, but the point is, it’s been an issue.
UPDATE: It’s pretty amazing how many of the fixes Urban Meyer’s hire seems to solve. Meyer is a brilliant communicator. He is a culture builder and one of the best leaders the college game has seen. The key will be translating that to the NFL level and communicating with professionals, but the ability to communicate is a staple of Meyer’s regime.
Since 2010, David Garrard, Todd Bouman, Trent Edwards, Luke McCown, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Gardner Minshew, Nick Foles, Jake Luton and Mike Glennon. Oof. Starting in 2021: Trevor Lawrence.
Maybe this should have been point number one. If you don’t have a quarterback, you can’t win. The Jaguars might have a generational talent at quarterback as they pick first in the draft. Yes, the Jags got lucky, but you need luck to be successful.
UPDATE: Trevor Lawrence. When I wrote this article back in December we kind of knew this was about to get fixed. It’s a game changer that cannot be overstated and the fortune of having the top pick with Trevor Lawrence available is the ultimate break potentially in the history of the franchise.
The Jaguars have had a bevy of top-ten picks in the last decade and a pile of losses to show for it. While the quarterback might be a savior in 2021, the Jaguars can’t sustain success without first-round draft pick hits. I have argued that picks like Dante Fowler, Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette were not complete busts because they helped the franchise to its third ever AFC Championship Game and ten minutes from the Super Bowl.
While that’s true, those picks didn’t benefit the franchise for sustained success; instead, they eventually set the franchise back. The draft takes good luck, but it also requires good decision-making. The Jags need more of both in the first round.
UPDATE: Here we go. This is where Thursday is important. Trevor Lawrence will hopefully be a hit but what about the 25th overall pick? Can the Jaguars get two studs with their two picks in 2021? The 33rd overall pick and even pick 45 could help the Jaguars turn this thing around quickly if they are the right selections. While Meyer and Trent Baalke didn’t draft last year’s class, the development of 2020 first rounders CJ Henderson and K’Lavon Chaisson is also critical in the turnaround under the new regime.
The Jaguars rebuilt the roster in 2020. They have some nice young talent and the season has been drama-free (despite the record). As that talent blossoms, retention takes on even more importance (see Ramsey, Jalen and Ngakoue, Yannick). While you can’t keep everyone because of big contracts and tough decisions, the Jaguars’ inability to keep Ramsey, Ngakoue and others speaks volumes about the problems of the past. I think Ramsey might have been the best talent to ever wear a Jags uniform and he didn’t want to be here. I think you can make the case from a value standpoint that Ngakoue is one of the best draft picks in team history.
Ngakoue was second all time in franchise history in sacks at just 24 years old. The former third-round pick wanted out and got out. Today’s star athlete is different. Big contracts give them power, but to win, you need to appease them. The next regime must find a way to keep the team’s best players and not serve as a farm system for others.
UPDATE: This is already happening. We have never heard a coach in Jaguars history say “we want what is best for the player” more than Urban Meyer has said that in the first three months on the job. Meyer will demand a lot from the player but he is the catalyst for the Jaguars to build a new facility and also preaches his sports science program. Meyer is trying to turn Jacksonville is a place players want to come play, which is a far cry from the last couple of years when people were asking for plane tickets out of town.
Franchises that have turned things around or elevated their success the most in the last decade have been willing to make at least one bold move. Let’s examine a few of the examples:
Seattle: The Seahawks not only drafted Russell Wilson, but they started him over Matt Flynn, who they had just given a huge payday as a free agent.
Kansas City: The Chiefs had an MVP candidate in Alex Smith, but didn’t think he was good enough. They traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes! In that same draft, the Jaguars essentially said, “we’re good with Blake Bortles,” and drafted Leonard Fournette.
Baltimore: The Ravens have enjoyed success, but they traded back into the first round to get Lamar Jackson in 2018. While that wasn’t a big risk, John Harbaugh revamped an entire offense around Jackson. He won the MVP last year.
Buffalo: The Bills have shown patience with Josh Allen and it’s paying off. He’s certainly one of the reasons why the Bills have been ascending. Buffalo’s bold move, one that may put them in the Super Bowl, was trading for Stephon Diggs. A 2020 first, fifth and sixth-round pick, plus a fourth-round pick in 2021 for the wide receiver looked steep at the time, but Diggs has been unbelievable for Buffalo.
Tennessee: The Titans were essentially the Jags from 2009 to 2015. They stunk. Mike Mularkey got the head-coaching job in 2016 and won nine games and then won nine more in 2017. Those were banner seasons for the Titans. Still, Tennessee wasn’t satisfied with the development of players. The Titans believed another coach could take them closer to the Promised Land than Mularkey. They hired Mike Vrabel. The Titans have won 28 games in the last three years and went to the AFC Championship Game last year.
Are the Jaguars willing to roll the dice and do something bold? And will it work out?
Winning in the NFL isn’t easy, but it also doesn’t seem to be as hard as the Jaguars have made it look. I’m sure Shad Khan has studied what’s worked in other NFL cities. The Titans, Rams, Browns, Bills and now the Dolphins have gone from perennial losers to on the verge of winning and maybe winning in a big way. The Jaguars can do it. They are setup beautifully. They need to hit a home run with both the general manager and head coach hires. They need to find an identity, football boss, get their quarterback, recruit and retain talent and improve communication within the organization. And, of course, they need to get lucky. It’s a complicated combination, but it’s doable, and every Jags fan will tell you, it’s certainly worth the effort.
UPDATE: While I think hiring Meyer was a bold move, that’s a lazy update for this fix. Maybe the Jaguars will package picks and move up to get a player in the draft or make a big trade for a tight end on draft weekend? Maybe the bold move turns out to be hiring Trent Baalke as GM. I don’t think we know the answer to this one just yet – but part of the climb to success will feature a bold move the Jaguars organization made and it worked.