Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell sat down with the local media on Tuesday for his end of the year press conference and gave some hints as to the direction of the team going forward. Caldwell gave some surprisingly candid answers to some pointed questions and revealed where they feel the team is compared to their expectation.
One comment Caldwell made that actually made me laugh while watching was about how the team has won more games than they expected these past two seasons. I'm sure most fans bristled at the comment, but given what Caldwell and staff are trying to do, in hindsight you can understand where he's coming from.
"To be quite honest with you we may have won more games than I anticipated when I first took the job over the two year period. I was very honest with Shad where we were at. He knew even before I interviewed where we were at. When we hired Gus I told him exactly where we were at from a talent standpoint and that we were going to do this with youth," Caldwell told reporters when asked about the win total the past two years.
For me, I took that as the team feels they probably overachieved in 2013 and probably should have won one to two more games in 2014. When you go back and look at it, that's understandable. Three of the Jaguars wins in 2013 were kind of fluky and against some of the worst teams in the NFL. This past season however, the team was in a late more games and it felt like they might have left a win or two on the table.
How will the roster look going forward?
Caldwell also touched on the younger players getting experience these past two years and overall that he feels good about most of them. In not so many words however, he took a bit of a shot at wide receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders, who has been a massive disappointment and who I don't expect to be on the roster for the 2015 season.
Another receiver, who based on Caldwell's comments, doesn't appear to be coming back is veteran Cecil Shorts III. When asked about Shorts returning Caldwell noted that that was going to be up to the coaching staff after they do their in-house reviews, but he seemed very evasive about commenting too hard one way. Contrast that to how Caldwell lit up and quickly answered when asked about bringing back veteran defensive end Tyson Alualu, noting he would like to re-sign him, it's pretty clear the writing is on the wall.
As far as free agency, Caldwell certainly made it seem like they were going to spend money in free agency. Caldwell noted that these past two years owner Shad Khan has backed him if he wanted to spend money, but made a conscious decision to not spend in the first two years and target year three to really make that push.
"I think for us it’s where we have needs and where those players fit in our needs. I think if there was a big-time player there that we have a need for we’ll be aggressive for it," Caldwell said when asked if it's better to target three big-time free agents or six mid-tier. "If there’s a couple of mid-line players like we did over the last couple of years we’ll do that to gain some depth and be bridges until we can fill those through the draft."
Translation: If there is a guy the team really wants, they'll spend the money.
Caldwell also seemed to indicate the team is happy with the running back position and liked their three young wide receivers.
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What's going on with the offensive line?
On the offensive line, the area most want the team to focus on, Caldwell seemed to echo what myself, Jeff Lageman and Tony Boselli have said about the future of the line. Outside of the right tackle position, there isn't really a spot you're going to make a massive upgrade.
"I don’t think it’s very difficult," Caldwell said in regards to addressing the offensive line in free agency. "I think our offensive line needs to be addressed; some of the things we need to do with them probably needs to be addressed. For the most part, we feel good about our center position, our right guard position, our left tackle. The other two positions, they’re going to just get better by just playing another year, another offseason."
Based on Caldwell's answer to that question, I would think the team not only brings back Austin Pasztor this offseason, but target a player who can compete to start at the right tackle spot in free agency. Maybe not someone of the tier of Bryan Bulaga, but more along the lines of someone like Joe Barksdale. I don't have any juice on that, that's just my interpretation of what Caldwell said. I've seen people throw out names like Mike Iupati as a target, but I can't see the team spending that much money on the interior offensive line with Beadles progression and how well Brandon Linder played.
Caldwell admits a mistake
One of the biggest things from Caldwell for me, which caused me to scrap something I was in the middle of writing on the subject saying as much, is that he admitted a big mistake the team made for the 2014 season. The Jaguars defense was good overall and had a nice mix of veteran players and youth worked and mixed in as the season went on. The offensive side of the ball didn't really have that at all.
"Yeah, I think that’s the one thing, and I’ve told Gus this and I’ve told Shad, I probably in hindsight should have added more veteran presence going into this year, where we weren’t so forced to play so many rookies right away," Caldwell admitted when asked about the need to add veterans.
I think the team banked on guys like Zane Beadles, Cecil Shorts and Marcedes Lewis to shoulder a lot of that, but Beadles was a new player adjusting to a new team and the latter two players are wildly inconsistent and battled injuries. That's not necessarily a shot at those players, just a miscalculation on the part of Caldwell and Gus Bradley.
"I think that’s probably the one thing that I probably overlooked was the value of somebody that can just steady the waters in a game where things start to go awry. It probably was a little bit unfair to the rookies and the coaching staff to start so many rookies," Caldwell continued. "Hopefully it pays dividends in year three, four and five but I think hindsight for the success of this franchise this year some veteran presence would have helped everybody out."
It also seemed that a veteran wide receiver will be a target for the Jaguars this offseason, which with the likelihood that Shorts is gone in the offseason, they should absolutely do. I like all three of the Jaguars young wide receivers, but if anyone knows about short-term impact and long-term flame outs at the receiver position, it's Jaguars fans. We've seen it time and time again, so Caldwell should go out and pay for a veteran playmaker at the position. Be it Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree, Torrey Smith or whatever. Go get someone who can come in right away and make plays for you while the young guys continue to grow going forward.
It doesn't sound like the seat is warm at all
Many people have wondered what the temperature of the seat for Caldwell and Bradley is heading into year three. Based off this press conference, it still seems like the seat is ice cold. It seems like Shad Khan understood what needed to be done and where the team was at when Caldwell was hired, which is likely why Caldwell got a five-year deal. The plan seemed to be a three-year rebuild, which doesn't necessarily mean making the playoffs in year three but being a more competitive team that can win games by year three.
"I was very honest with Shad where we were at. He knew even before I interviewed where we were at. When we hired Gus I told him exactly where we were at from a talent standpoint and that we were going to do this with youth," Caldwell explained when asked why Khan seems to patient with the process. "When you do it with youth you’re going to have adversity and you’re going to have a lot of it early on. We said that it’s going to pay dividends and we’re going to build this the right way. We’re going to build it through the draft and we’re going to be wise with the cap until we feel like we can compete. We weren’t going to do it until we felt like we had the quarterback situation resolved."
I know I've kind of been the sunshine pumper this season, but that's mostly because I didn't expect much out of this team and a record with somewhere around 4-7 wins depending on how the ball bounced. Unfortunately it bounced to three wins, but it could have just as easily bounced to five or six wins, in my opinion.
I felt better going forward about the team after Caldwell's press conference, mainly because he seemed to be open about his plan and the status of the process. Caldwell has also been someone who's been able to admit when mistakes have been made and rectify them, which was a massive issue for the Jaguars in the past.