Normally the beginner of the off sesason is an optimistic time to take a look backwards at the year that was and forward at what is necessary to restock and reload the team for next season. I take these months of planning and evaluation very seriously, as long-time readers can attest, Big Cat Country is at its prime during the pre-draft period. Despite the never ending months of inactivity, I find that covering the Jaguars between January and the end of April to be an inexhaustible period of scouting reports, new player biographies, free agent and salary cap speculation, all the good stuff that fans can mull over and debate.
You might have noticed that I've been a little bit aloof over the last two weeks. I've not been quite able to place the reasons why. I've got an article in my head that I swear has gone through five revisions and I just can't spit it out. This might have to do with my recent move to Miami and the subsequent job search, but my head has not been in the right place with the 2009 Jaguars. I'm in a funk, to say the least, and I've not quite figured out what I need to resolve in order to start thinking about 2009 in the right way. Thankfully Collin, Terry, and John are here to cover my slack as I resolve my existential crisis with the Jaguars.
Call me a negitive Nancy, but with the exception of the promotion of Gene Smith to General Manager and the resolving of the team power structure, I've been disappointed in nearly every single thing this team has done since the clock struck 00:00 against the Ravens. Even the resignation of James Harris left a bitter taste in my mouth as it felt more like a "we have to fire someone and Jack has too long of a contract" move rather than a serious attempt to resolve what ails the Jaguars.
Then there's the announcement that the Jaguars will not be firing any coaches, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, other than the fact that it was followed up with the firing of Donnie Henderson. The big picture with our coaching staff gives me chills, having Joe DeCamillis turn down a contract extension from the Jaguars in order to take the same position with the Dallas Cowboys and replacing him with Russ Purnell simply blows my mind.
Then you have Jack Del Rio anointing himself Defensive Coordinator. Or did he, as a few days later Mel Tucker is the defensive coordinator, except that Jack Del Rio will be calling the plays, an arrangement like none other in the NFL. Firing a defensive backs coach while replacing him with a "defensive coordinator in title only", one that is obviously there to coach the secondary alone is upsetting and confusing.
What makes things more clear is that these are exactly the moves you make as an owner if you've lost confidence in your head coach. Wayne Weaver will not find himself locked into long term contracts with expensive coordinators and assistant coaches if he's got any feeling that this may be Del Rio's last chance to turn the Jaguars around. Re-signing a guy like Gregg Williams or going after any top-tier defensive coordinators only to fire the head coach the next season is a senseless waste of money. Stocking the coaching shelves with one-year contracts and short term warm bodies will allow Wayne Weaver to evaluate the 2009 Jaguars without having to worry about paying guaranteed contracts to coaches outside of Del Rio's buyout.
Jack Del Rio will be coachining the 2009 Jaguars with a target on his back. Wayne Weaver is setting up the team with an eye on new leadership in 2010, unless signifcant progress is made with the team that will allow the leash to loosen for Del Rio. This is the most significant challenge Jack Del Rio has faced since he took over the Jacksonville Jaguars. His ability to motivate and lead is being directly challenged as there will be no one else to blame when the 2009 season ends. If the on the field product fails, Del Rio is gone, and Weaver is ensuring that there's no financial concerns to tie him down.
Let me make this clear: I am unhappy with the current direction of the Jaguars, despite having the entire off season ahead of them to right the ship. I feel as though the team is adrift at sea with a questionalble captian and an admiralty focused on building the fleet for a future leader that has yet to be determined. Look at Gene Smith for example, he admits that he's building the team for a long term future rather than the short term. Why resign free agents when you can get compensatory draft picks with an eye on a new administration. By itself, stockpiling draft picks and being careful with free agents is good business, but if you combine it with the recent coaching staff decisions, it looks more like they are cleaning the slate for 2010.
Even the Jaguars draft needs this year are set in such a way that the team can pick players without consideration for the status of Del Rio. Any offensive linemen or defensive linemen will be filling a team hole whether they play for him in 2010 or someone else. Unless, of course, they try and switch to the 3-4 under a new administration, but that's something completely differend.
Now, long time readers of the site know that I'm not a "fire so-and-so" rapid impulse sort of writer. I'd like to think that I consider the bigger picture before rushing to judgement. Just as I was hesitant to join the fire James Harris movement, I am hesitant to dive head first into the idea that the 2009 Jaguars are moving in a good direction. Frankly, I see a problem developing around the future of Jack Del Rio and the amount of freedom he has to lead the team while being on an obviously tight rope. Will he be able to charge the team with a hard-nosed sense of responsiblity to their teammates when it's clear as an unmuddied lake that he's on the thinnest of ice? Will his coaching staff keep their eyes on the ball when they're unsure about the future?
I don't like unclear power structures. I hated the trifecta model and I'm growing to hate the engorging sense of ambiguity surrounding Del Rio. Unfortunatly, there is no clear sign that Wayne Weaver or the Jaguars can give that will relieve this uncertantiy. There is no contract extension or raise, not after doing so at the end of the 2007 season. There's no way now to hire a more serious defensive coordinator, his ability to call the shots on draft day and free agency is gone, and the team is taking a bulid slow approach toward the future. All Del Rio can do is hope his words and approach are enough to bring the team along to a winning season. Will that be enough?
This is the ultimate question of the 2009 off season. Will Jack Del Rio be able to put the team on his back and carry them despite every obsticle being thrown his way?
Only time will tell.