Jacksonville Jaguars: The 7 things the team needs to fix to win next season

Jacksonville Jaguars: The 7 things the team needs to fix to win next season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 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.

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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.

IDENTITY

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?”

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29: Head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons and head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars converse after a preseason football game at TIAA Bank Field on August 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29: Head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons and head coach Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars converse after a preseason football game at TIAA Bank Field on August 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) (Julio Aguilar)

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.

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.

Jaguars move ahead without Tom Coughlin
Jaguars move ahead without Tom Coughlin

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?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell answers questions at the podium during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, 2017 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell answers questions at the podium during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 2, 2017 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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.

Today On The Show: Jaguars are on the clock - National narrative about draft

Today On The Show: Jaguars are on the clock - National narrative about draft If you want to continue listening, you can stream the show at WWW.ESPN690.com

Posted by ESPN 690 on Monday, December 28, 2020

COMMUNICATION

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.”

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars defends against Corey Davis #84 of the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter of a game at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 19: Jalen Ramsey #20 of the Jacksonville Jaguars defends against Corey Davis #84 of the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter of a game at TIAA Bank Field on September 19, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) (James Gilbert)

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.

QUARTERBACK

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.

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks for a receiver during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, file photo, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks for a receiver during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against Notre Dame in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File) (Brian Blanco)

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.

FIRST-ROUND HITS

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.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up before the game against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30: Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up before the game against the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) (Scott Halleran)

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.

CULTIVATE

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.

BOLD MOVE

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.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 27: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter at Lumen Field on December 27, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 27: Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks looks to pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the first quarter at Lumen Field on December 27, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) (abbie parr/Getty Images)

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.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen passes under pressure from New England Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen passes under pressure from New England Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler (70) in the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) (Charles Krupa)

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.

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans walks the sidelines during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 16: Head coach Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans walks the sidelines during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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.

Lot J: Will the Jags Stay or Go?