Brad Messter: The only player to play all 10 seasons in Jacksonville
The Jaguars have only one game remaining in the first decade of the 21st century and I felt it was time to look back at what this decade has been for this franchise.
The Jaguars entered 2000 with a seemingly loaded team. The 1999 Jaguars went 14-2 and were one half away from going to the Super Bowl. Golden Era hallmarks like Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli, Jimmy Smith, and Keenan McCardell were still here and it seemed as though the Jaguars were on there way to another playoff appearence. However, injuries, age, and bad free agent signings took their toll on the team and it limped to a 7-9 finish.
The 2001 Jaguars began to see the affects of Salary Cap Hell become apparent, but enough pieces were still seemingly in place for one last run. Instead, the Jaguars limped to 6-10.
The 2002 team may well have been the least talented team ever fielded by any NFL franchise this decade. I'm not talking about strictly results, but in terms of the players. The affects of Salary Cap Hell were felt in full, with the most prevalent example being the Houston Texans expansion draft. The Texans needed to take Tony Boselli, Seth Payne, and Gary Walker just so the Jaguars wouldn't violate NFL salary cap rules. Even then, the Jaguars had so much "dead money" that they could only afford to sign bottom feeder free agents.
The 2002 team went 6-10 that year, losing multiple games in the final minutes. Looking back, I have to give credit to Tom Coughlin for the job he did with that team. It only committed 15 turnovers all year and played well above it's head. However, with attendance sagging and the massive salary cap mess a direct result of Coughlin's actions as GM, he would be released following the season.
In came Jack Del Rio, then a young defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers. Del Rio was coming off being in charge of the NFL's #2 unit that had led the Panthers to a surprise Super Bowl run.
The 2003 Jaguars had to deal with many of the same problems the 2002 team had. The Jaguars still had to deal with salary cap hell, but brought in several pieces that would affect the team for years to come. Mike Peterson, Byron Leftwich, and Rashean Mathis were all brought in via either free agency or the draft.
The 2004 Jaguars were finally free of the salary cap devil and the results showed on the field. The signature win of this season would be a hard fought battle in Green Bay that perhaps, more than any other, empitomized what Jack Del Rio wanted out of this team. However, the very next week was a game that symbolized the worst of Jacksonville this decade. The Jaguars lost 21-0 to the Houston Texans in front of 30,000 fans with the playoffs on the line.
The 2005 Jaguars managed to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The biggest developement of this season would be the beginnings of the two year long Garrard/Leftwich conflict. Leftwich was injured in Week 12 against Arizona. David Garrard would lead the Jaguars to a 4-1 record in Leftwich's absense. However, Leftwich would be given the start against New England in the playoffs, and proceeded to lose 28-3.
The 2006 Jaguars were perhaps the real peak of the Jaguars this decade. The team was powered by a bruising running game featuring Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The defense was a wall that couldn't be broken. However, inconsistent play at QB sealed this team's fate. After a 44-13 thrashing of Indianapolis, the Jaguars lost 3 straight to end the year thanks to David Garrard's inconsistent play.
The 2007 team was the closest the Jaguars have come to recapturing their late 90's glory days. The brusing running game returned, and David Garrard finally unseated Byron Leftwich for good. However, the defense began to decline, but it was masked by an offensive revival. The Jaguars would go 11-5 and gain the signature win of the Decade, a thrilling win at Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round.
The 2008 team had a lot in common with the 2000 team. With expectations high, years of bad free agents and bad drafting caught up with the team. I'll leave it at that.
Finally, the 2009 team reminds me alot of the 2003 team Del Rio inherited. Their is much work to be done, but you can see the future is bright for this group.
Player Of The Decade: Fred Taylor, RB
Despite some, ahem, interesting back and forths with him and Del Rio this week, Fred Taylor defined this decade for the Jaguars. Taylor rushed for 9316 yards and 42 touchdowns between 2000 and 2008.
Dud of The Decade: R. Jay Soward, WR
While Shack Harris gets the brunt of the 1st round hate, Soward is still the reigning king of Jaguar 1st round busts. Soward played just one season in Jacksonville, and even that year was filled with suspesnions, missed practices, and was just a total mess.
Best Trend: The Jaguars discovering the running game
Under Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars were never a running team. The only time the Jaguars had a threatening running game was during the 1996 playoff run with Natrone Means. Other than that, the Jaguars were never known as a physical team. That immediately changed under Jack Del Rio, first with Fred Taylor, than with Maurice Jones-Drew.
Worst Trend: The Jaguars draft really starting in the 2nd round
R.Jay Soward, Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams, Matt Jones, and soon Reggie Nelson
All 1st round picks for the Jaguars that have failed to live up to expectations and are now gone.
Defining Moment: David Garrard's 4th down run vs Pittsburgh
Tnemom Gninifed: Losing 21-0 to the Houston Texans
Best Draft Pick: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, UCLA
MJD has been this franchise's best pick since the last RB they picked early, Fred Taylor. He already holds the franchise single season TD record and will hold the franchise TD record before next season is finished.
Worst Draft Pick: Byron Leftwich, QB
I know most would expect R.Jay Soward here, but Leftwich's pick set off a chain reaction here. Leftwich's pick influenced the Jaguars to take Williams and Jones, along with passing up players such as Terrell Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger. Not to mention the players they did take weren't worth their weight in lead.
Best Free Agent: Mike Peterson, LB
Despite how things ended in 2008, Peterson defined the Jaguars defense under Del Rio's early years. He was tough, hard hitting, and didn't take $hit.
Worst Free Agent: Jerry Porter, WR
I was going to go with Bryce Paup, but he was signed for the 1999 season. Porter defined the 2008 Jaguars fall from grace with his me first attitude and million dollar a catch results.