Connor Neal | January 27th, 2020
Heading into the 2019 NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ future looked bright. They just signed Nick Foles for $88 million dollars. Foles was expected to be everything the Jaguars needed to make a playoff push and return to their 2017 form. That quickly changed when Foles was nearly immediately injured in week one. After that, rookie Gardner Minshew took over. Although Minshew did very good for a rookie thrown into a bad situation, it still wasn’t enough.
Roughly a month after Jalen Ramsey forced his way out of the Tom Coughlin led Jaguars, a report came out from the NFLPA, stating that the Jaguars were responsible for 25% of the grievances filed, and warned players about coming to play in Jacksonville. The organization had no choice but to fire Coughlin. He was the head of several terrible free agency decisions and draft mistakes. Coughlin forced away Ramsey, Dante Fowler, and shut down contract talks with Yannick Ngakoue early in the season.
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What Went Right
Not much went right for the Jaguars. As I previously stated, the Jaguars were hoping to make a push for the playoffs and be a competitive team. However, both of those goals failed. Even though they failed to make the playoffs, they had DJ Chark break out and have 1,008 receiving yards. That is the first time the Jaguars have had a receiver have over 1,000 receiving yards since Allen Robinson in 2015.
The other bright spot for the Jaguars was Josh Allen, their first-round pick. Allen ended up finishing with 10.5 sacks, which is a rookie franchise record. Allen has a strong case to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, along with San Francisco 49er star Nick Bosa.
What Went Wrong
Nearly everything you could imagine going wrong went wrong. From finishing last in the division to trading away their best player to picking in the top 10 for the 10th time since the 2010 NFL Draft. The Jaguars finished 6-10, at the bottom of the AFC South.
Coughlin’s fingerprints are all over the Jaguars’ 2019 season. He abruptly ended contract negotiations with Ngakoue. Then he traded away Ramsey, only to then publicly shame him. On top of that, his excessive fines for things that weren’t accurately CBA violations, resulted in the NFLPA giving the Jaguars’ organization a black eye.
After the abysmal season, many fans were calling for Doug Marrone and David Caldwell to be fired. However, to everyone’s surprise, that did not happen. Shad Khan, the Jaguars owner, pretty much said this next season is a make or break year for them. Khan decided to give them another shot due to the fact that they were no longer Coughlin’s puppets.
Outlook for the Offseason
Besides Coughlin, the only other staff change that happened was at offensive coordinator. The Jaguars and John DeFilippo decided it was best to mutually part ways. It was an odd decision by the Jaguars, as DeFilippo did very well with Minshew and Fournette this season.
After parting ways with DeFilippo, the Jaguars brought in Jay Gruden to be the new offensive coordinator. Gruden is an intriguing choice as the last year he was the offensive coordinator for the Bengals, they had the sixth-best offense in the entire league. However, the Gruden led Redskins averaged as just the 19th best offense in the league.
The Jaguars are extremely tight on cap space, at just under a projected $2 million dollars available. However, the Jaguars can easily free up another $20 million by releasing the terrible contract of Marcell Dareus.
The Team’s Free Agents
Ngakoue is the Jaguars’ only big time impending free agent. It’s very crucial for the Jaguars to retain Ngakoue as he has shown he is a top 10 defensive end in the league. Although Caldwell said he expects a contract to happen before March, the Jaguars should be fully prepared to franchise tag Yannick if they must.
Open Market Free Agents
The Jaguars have a lot of positions that can be improved, but not much money to work with. If the Redskins aren’t able to re-sign Scherff, the Jaguars should be heavily interested. The Jaguars currently have A.J. Cann starting at right guard and Brandon Scherff would help solidify the offensive line, leaving just left tackle as a need. Scherff will likely be out of the Jaguars price range, but would absolutely be a big fish singing.
The Jaguars linebacking core needed serious help throughout the whole season. Assuming Telvin Smith doesn’t return, the Jaguars must pursue a linebacker in free agency. Some possible free agent linebackers they should go after include, Joe Schobert, Cory Littleton, and Patrick Onwuasor. Of the trio, Onwuasor would be the bargain signing and Schobert or Littleton would be big fish signings.
After trading away Ramsey, the Jaguars could look to sign a corner in free agency, though I would advise them to draft one instead. If they choose to go after one in free agency, they should be interested in, Bradley Roby, Logan Ryan, Kendall Fuller, James Bradberry, or Bashaud Breeland. If the Jaguars aren’t able to retain Ngakoue for whatever reason, they could look at Arik Armstead or Shaq Lawson as possible replacements.
Projecting the NFL Draft
Round 1, Picks 9 & 20: Linebacker & Cornerback
With the Jaguars starting fourth-string linebackers near the end of the season, a player like Isaiah Simmons that can play linebacker, defensive end, safety, or cornerback would make the most sense. If Simmons if off the board they could turn to the wide receiver position but given the depth at the position, they should wait till day two to address this position.
At pick 20, the Jaguars will have plenty of cornerbacks to target. With Ramsey now a Los Angeles Ram, the Jaguars need to fill his starting spot. Two names to keep an eye on are Trevon Diggs and Kristian Fulton. However, if defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is still available, the Jaguars need to consider taking him over either cornerback.
Round 2, Pick 42: Offensive Line
After spending their second-round pick on an offensive tackle last year, the Jaguars need to double down and take another offensive lineman this year. Two names that could be on the board when they pick 42nd overall are Lloyd Cushenberry III and Netane Muti. Both could play either guard spot and would start from day one.
Round 3, Pick 73: Wide Receiver
Chark had a breakout season, while Dede Westbrook had his ups and downs. However, outside of those two, the wide receiver unit is an underachieving unit. Coming off a strong Senior Bowl week, Baylor’s Denzel Mims would be an excellent addition in the third round.
Heading into 2020, the Marrone led Jaguars to have to go at least .500 for the current staff to be retained. There must be a significant enough change from the Coughlin era to the Marrone-Caldwell era to warrant no change. The Jaguars have been stuck in this sub-par performance seasons for the better part of a decade. However, I don’t expect the Jaguars to finish .500 or better, meaning Marrone will be fired in 2020, potentially during the season. If he is fired, here are some possible head coaching options.
Likely Prospects: Robert Saleh, Eric Bieniemy, and Greg Roman
Robert Saleh already has connections to the Jaguars organization as he was the Jaguars linebacker coach before he took the 49ers defensive coordinator position. For this reason, I would expect Saleh to be the front runner for the Jaguars head coaching position next season. Bieniemy would make sense for the Jaguars, because of what he’s been able to do with the Chiefs offense. Roman is another obvious choice because of the development and success of Lamar Jackson.
Dark Horse Prospects: PJ Fleck and Stephen Belichick
Fleck has turned Western Michigan and Minnesota into top 15 teams. Before Fleck got to Western Michigan, they were a 4-8 team. During his three seasons there, he led them to a 13-1 finish, ranking as high as 12th in the polls that year. At Minnesota, he took a 5-7 team the year before and turned them into a very competitive 11-2 team. Despite being Bill Belichick’s son, Stephen hasn’t gotten more credit in coaching circles. However, he has been on the staff for years and played a critical role in the Patriots’ dominant defense this season. Both are outside the box names, but both are excellent options for the Jaguars in 2021.
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