As the regular-season fast approaches, all 32 teams are filled with hope about their 2019 chances. A number of teams are looking to build on a strong season and secure the Lombardi trophy, many teams are aiming to catapult themselves back into relevance, whilst a few teams are trying desperately to recapture the spark that has brought them close to contention in recent years.
The latter applies to no team more so than the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars came so close to the Super Bowl in 2017, a fourth quarter meltdown and suspect officiating unravelled their season during the AFC Championship game.
Dave Caldwell Walking a Nick Foles Shaped Plank in 2019
With a team that’s been so poor for so long, 2017 gave the NFL, and more importantly Jacksonville fans, hope that there was something special brewing in north-east Florida. 2018? Well, no sports team has suffered a hangover like that since the day after the 2016 Chicago Cubs parade. Injuries and poor play saw the Jaguars fall right back into the top-ten of the draft order for the eleventh time in twelve years.
Last year saw the harrowing realisation that much-maligned quarterback Blake Bortles is as much a part of the Jaguars’ future as Josh Rosen is for the Cardinals. The level of production from Nathaniel Hackett’s offense was so lacklustre that Bortles ended the season sharing starts with fellow backup quarterback Cody Kessler.
The quarterback play wasn’t the end of the Jaguars’ woes last season, injuries sent four of five offensive line starters to the treatment table before the year was out. Whilst other offensive starters Leonard Fournette and Marqise Lee saw limited time due to injuries.
With rookie contracts running down on star players Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and recent holdout Yannick Ngakoue, general manager Dave Caldwell decided to make one more splash free-agency signing in the shape of former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
Foles signed a four-year $88m deal this off-season to become Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback. The Jaguars are hoping being reunited with former position coach John DeFlippo propels Foles to the standard that led the Philadelphia Eagles to a victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl 52. If Foles is unable to take the Jaguars any further toward contention than they were in 2018, the bell should soon toll for Caldwell.
Despite signing a contract extension following the Jaguars playoff run two years ago, Caldwell’s record with the Jaguars has been inconsistent to say the least.
Since his arrival in 2013 the Jaguars have made six picks in the top ten of the draft, second year defensive lineman Taven Bryan being the only selection higher than seventh overall.
In his efforts to build a winning roster, Dave Caldwell attempted to draft a franchise left tackle, quarterback and pass-rusher in consecutive years. All three of whom are no longer on the roster. That alone, with most franchises, would be enough to get you fired.
Other first-round selections Leonard Fournette and Taven Bryan have struggled to adapt to life in Jacksonville. Last year’s top pick is still unable to find a starting role on the defensive line, whilst Fournette hasn’t been able to stay healthy or without controversy during his tenure with the Jaguars.
With rookie Josh Allen still waiting to get his first real NFL action, the only first round selection that the Jaguars have found a resounding hit on is Jalen Ramsey. The all-pro cornerback was taken fifth overall in the 2016 draft, that being said, even armchair GMs on twitter were capable of making that pick.
Draft selections aside, Caldwell’s free agent additions are equally inconsistent. For every Calais Campbell there is a Jared Odrick, it seems as though the Jaguars roster moves have been a steady stream of ‘one step forward, two steps back’.
Money Really Talks
The blame for the Jaguars long-standing struggles can’t all be portioned to the general manager, but with sole-responsibility over the roster, mistakes such as signing Julius Thomas to a five-year $46m contract become harder and harder to ignore. Other underwhelming signings like Chris Ivory and Kelvin Beachum are part of the group which saw the Jaguars spend more money than any other team between 2014 and 2016. The result? 11-37.
Patience is scarce in the NFL, it is somewhat staggering that Caldwell is on his second head coach, now his third quarterback and remains in the same job.
For his bosses’ sakes, Foles simply must hit the ground running if the front-office are to remain their jobs next season. If the Jaguars find themselves drafting in the top ten again after the season, the search will surely begin for a new captain of the ship. The Jaguars will either be a winning football team, or massively overhauled going into 2020.