On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars cutting Ace Sanders isn't a huge deal... at least football-wise.
He was on the outside looking in entering this offseason, as he was disappointing as a punt returner and has been surpassed at wide receiver by Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Allen Hurns. We also saw the Jaguars add another slot receiver and punt returner in Rashad Greene during the 2015 NFL Draft.
There was a lot of confusion over the timing of Ace's release, but it makes sense for both parties. For Ace, he now has a chance to find a new team and stick with them from the start of camp, instead of having to join one halfway through if he was cut during camp.
But with Ace gone, there does seem to be a new vibe around the Jaguars. I don't mean this in a "RAH RAH GO TEAM!" type of vibe that we all love to have in the summer months. The feeling around the team now is that it's time to put up or shut up.
The Jaguars are in the third year of their rebuild. They are patient, but they can't stand around and wait for every player to magically transform themselves. They need to see things to build on. That goes for the entire team, but specifically the 2013 draft class.
Ace was the first domino to fall from the class, but overall Caldwell's first draft has lead to disappointing results overall. Luke Joeckel, the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has been near disaster. I know he was hurt his rookie year and last year was his first full season, but blah blah blah. For a second overall pick, there needs to be more than what they have gotten out of Joeckel. He will not suffer the same fate as Ace this year because of how much more the team has invested in him, but he needs to raise his play considerably this year.
Johnathan Cyprien was Caldwell's second pick in 2013. Personally, I do not have issues with Cyprien as many do. I think he plays well within the confines of his role. But the knock that he has not been a playmaker is a very true one, and one that the Jaguars have noticed and made clear to him. DeWayne Walker, the Jaguars defensive backs coach, even said during the 2015 NFL Draft that it's time for Cyprien to step up.
Dwayne Gratz has gotten opportunity after opportunity, but last year he was outplayed by fellow 2013 draftee Demetrius McCray, a seventh-round pick. The Jaguars also added Davon House in free agency and it is a near guarantee he opens the season starting across from McCray. That leaves Gratz in a depth role, which is okay. He hasn't been a complete disaster, but he has also not developed the way many have hoped. He needs a big camp to prevent getting left behind as the team moves forward
Outside of Denard Robinson and Demetrius McCray, the Jaguars 2013 class has not produced to the level they were expected to. Cyprien has played the best out of the top four picks, but even he is entering a make-or-break year.
The Jaguars do not have time to coddle each player anymore. The last two years have been prime opportunities for the Jaguars young players to learn on the job while the Jags expected not to compete. But in the third year of the Caldwell-Bradley regime, the Jaguars simply can't have that anymore. They need to compete to keep their jobs.
And if the rest of the 2013 class isn't ready to take that step, they may just get left behind like Ace Sanders.