It seems inevitable that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be firing head coach Gus Bradley at the conclusion of the 2016 season. It was supposed to be the year the team expected to win ball games, the year after the team was declared “built”, and a year that ended up as an ultimate failure. The ire that was directed at Bradley has now turned to questions about the architect, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell. Early in the season a lot of people assumed that Bradley would guy and Caldwell would stay, because he’s done a good job constructing the Jaguars roster. Through nine games of the season however, even that is legitimately worth questioning.
So do the Jaguars keep Dave Caldwell when they inevitably part ways with Gus Bradley?
The answer isn’t simple.
First you have to factor in the contract Caldwell has. His deal runs through the 2017 season, which means if he’s going to stick around, he’s hiring a head coach as a lame duck general manager. That typically doesn’t end well. I’ve seen a lot of people ask if Caldwell deserves to be fired, but when you look going forward that is the wrong question to be asking, especially considering the dilemma that is there with bringing in a new coach. The appropriate question is actually; Does Dave Caldwell deserve a contract extension?
You ask that question because if you keep Caldwell with whatever new coach you bring in, he’s going to have to be extended and the coach is going to have to be on board with Caldwell as their general manager. This instantly weakens to potential pool of candidates in what could be a competitive open coaching market, especially if a few perennial playoff teams decide they want to go another direction. So, let’s examine exactly what Caldwell has done since taking over as the general manager.
Caldwell’s first draft class was roundly praised in the moment, and it looked good. Three years removed however, it was a total disaster of a draft class. Gene Smith bad. Joeckel was nothing more than a mediocre-at-best left tackle and was forced inside at guard. I’d be surprised if he’s back with the Jaguars next season, even as a backup. Johnathan Cyprien has been a massive failure until this season, where he’s just mediocre. The only other draft pick still on the team after those two is Denard Robinson, who’s just a special teams contributor.
On the free agent side of things Caldwell found some gems in Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, but it’s also likely both of those players are gone after the 2016 season. Miller blew out his Achilles and likely will miss part of the 2017 season and he’s on the wrong side of 30. Marks has come back from two major injuries, but it’s clear he’s not the guy he was two years ago before those issues. He could still be a rotational player, but the Jaguars cup runneth over of interior lineman, young ones too.
The 2014 draft class appeared to be the crown jewel of Caldwell’s rebuild, and entering the 2016 season it was the reason a lot of people thought he was safe no matter what. It appeared he found his franchise quarterback, hit on a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Allen Robinson and flanked him with an undrafted gem in Allen Hurns. Brandon Linder looks to be a long-term solution on the offensive line, Aaron Colvin is an effective nickel corner and Telvin Smith looks like a potential Pro Bowl weakside linebacker. Through nine games of the 2016 season however, there’s a lot of tarnish on this class. Bortles looks to be fast approaching the bust category, going the trajectory or Josh Freeman, completely tanking after his promising 2015 season. Robinson and Hurns production and playmaking have taken a nose dive, but Marqise Lee is finally healthy and contributing to the offense in a positive way. It still looks like an overall good draft class for Caldwell, but if Bortles continues to play the rest of the season like he did the first nine games, it’s going to drag it down. You can’t miss on a Top 5 quarterback.
In free agency it appeared as though the Jaguars were supplementing their youth with some good veterans, but Caldwell completely whiffed on the likes of Zane Beadles and Toby Gerhart. Red Bryant and Chris Clemens were useful for a year as band aids, but the latter ended up being more of a headache than what he was worth.
The 2015 draft class appeared as if it was going to follow the 2014 haul, but it was quickly derailed when Dante Fowler Jr. tore his ACL the first day of rookie mini-camp. T.J. Yeldon showed some ability his rookie year, but it appears he’s not much more than just a change of pace, third down back at the NFL level. Third-round pick A.J. Cann was promising as a rookie and in his second season has been up and down, but overall he looks like at worst very good depth. Outside of that though, it’s a mish-mash of role players. James Sample was hyped but can’t stay healthy. Rashad Greene shows flashes as a returner, but also ended up benched this season for mistakes and never got going as a receiver. The others have been nothing more than just depth role players so far.
On the free agent side, the team appears to have missed big time on tight end Julius Thomas. He hasn’t necessarily been awful like Beadles was, but he’s nowhere near what they signed him to be. It’s irrelevant if that’s because of how they decide to use him or if he’s out of shape and loafing, what matters is that he’s not a main threat in their offenses and teams don’t even seem to be scared of what he brings to the table. Sergio Brown was a complete disaster and Davon House appeared to be a solid signing, but since has found himself benched and barely plays. Dan Skuta has yet to make a memorable contribution to the team and Jared Odrick and Jermey Parnell have been average players at best while here, despite picking up big money deals.
The Jaguars 2016 draft class is really promising, but anyone could have picked Jalen Ramsey when he fell into their lap. Myles Jack is someone I think will end up being really good, but that’s all projection and he struggles to get on the field more than Dan Skuta. Yannick Ngakoue looks like a good building block going forward and there are some interesting players otherwise. Malik Jackson is having a good season despite not picking up the sacks, Chris Ivory is finally healthy and Kelvin Beachum seems a good solution at left tackle, but it’s been too little too late. The team is still 2-7 on the year and a lot of those players Caldwell brought in over the first three seasons, especially draft picks, are in need of being replaced or relegated to depth roles.
Overall, I wouldn’t say Caldwell has been a poor general manager, but he certainly hasn’t been a good one. He’s been average, at best, if some of the other players end up panning out. I’d say he’s about on the same spectrum as Shack Harris as a general manager. He’s missed on first round picks, found mid-round gems, and been spotty in free agency. That’s good enough to get you fired, not extended.
The overwhelming point is, based on what Caldwell has done during his tenure as Jaguars general manager isn’t enough to potentially hamstring your new head coaching hire. The team needs a clean reset from what’s happened over the past four years.