A recent argument has had the Jacksonville Jaguars fanbase divided: Is Dave Caldwell a bad general manager?
There are plenty of takes out there: Some are good and some are — well, I’ll politely say — not well-thought out. People can rationalize that the talent the Jaguars have on their roster right now is significantly better than in 2012. Sure, that makes sense, as there are some play-makers and some exciting youth on the roster, but just because the roster might be in better condition does not mean it’s “good”.
I won’t dive into the mainstream takes on Caldwell — I’ll let everyone else form their own opinions and I’ll hold mine (I don’t think he’s been great, especially due to his draft and free agency busts). Instead, I’ll provide a train of thought that might impact your opinion on Caldwell.
First, I’ll outline his, in my opinion, biggest strength as a general manager vs. his biggest weakness. Caldwell, as we’ve said many times, is an extremely good contract creator. His method in forming contracts is to get the guaranteed money out of the way within the first two-to-three years of a contract that a free agent signs -- therefore allowing the team to move on from players after a short amount of time if they didn’t pan out, without costing the team dead money.
His biggest weakness so far has been talent evaluation. Caldwell has seemed to wing on some of his signings and draft picks in hopes that they’ll grow in the Jaguars’ scheme. This can be seen in two of his four top-5 draft picks, with QB Blake Bortles openly being “not a natural thrower of the ball”, and Dante Fowler Jr. being drafted to be a primary pass rusher when he was never a great, or even necessarily good, college pass rusher. He was known for his run defending as an LB at Florida, and was drafted to be the Jaguars primary defensive-end pass rusher (LEO).
With all of this being said, the talent clearly isn’t panning out well in Jacksonville. Many of Caldwell’s first draft picks, from 2013, may be on their way, or are already, out of the organization, as Luke Joeckel, Jonathan Cyprien, and Denard Robinson will most likely end up on the market in March, and everyone else: Dwayne Gratz, Ace Sanders, Josh Evans, Jeremy Harris, and Demetrius McCray have already been released.
Free agent signings have not been Dave Caldwell’s expertise. In his four years as the Jaguars GM, Caldwell has hit on
- 2013: Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks
- No one from the 2014 class — which included guys that were hyped up like Toby Gerhart, Dekoda Watson, and Chris Clemons
- No one too special from 2015, although I’ll credit Jared Odrick and Davon House for their solid 2015 seasons — only to follow up with disappointing 2016 seasons
- 2016: Malik Jakson, Kelvin Beachum, and Brad Nortman, although I’ll refrain from considering anyone from this class, like Chris Ivory, a bust until they finish their second season, except for Mackenzy Bernadeau, who was cut in the preseason. Players like Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson have given us reasons to doubt, however.
All in all, the Jaguars have signed 27 free agents during the open market period, and five of them can be considered “hits”. That’s awful.
So, where does Caldwell’s biggest strength — creating incredibly team-friendly contracts — factor into this?
Yes, being able to release all of the bust-free agent signings quickly in order to further build the team is a good thing. But, what does that say about Caldwell’s talent evaluation when he’s using that method to the team’s advantage two or three years after signing a free agent?
Heading into the 2017 offseason, the potential for the Jaguars to release Julius Thomas, Davon House, Jermey Parnell, Jared Odrick, Bryan Walters, and Dan Skuta, is high. All of which were 2015 free agent signings — all of which can be cut with their guarantees out of the way and save the team from paying dead money, or simply because their short contracts ran out (Walters).
That’s six out of the seven 2015 signings, with Sergio Brown already gone after being cut last offseason. If those six players are released/don’t return, then the Jaguars will have zero remaining 2015 free agency signings on their roster heading into 2017.
While the team would save a lot of money and not be penalized by dead cap space, the fact that their would be no remaining 2015 signings left completely undermines Caldwell’s extraordinary contract-crafting by his poor talent evaluation.
This can also be seen with the Jaguars’ 2014 free agency class. The team signed guys like Toby Gerhart, Zane Beadles, Dekoda Watson, Chris Clemons, and Red Bryant to all be cornerstone players for the then-young and growing team. These guys, as well as Tandon Doss, Ziggy Hood, and Bradie Ewing, are all off of the roster three years later.
So, whether you factor this train of thought into determining if Dave Caldwell is a good general manager or not, it’s clear and obvious that the benefits of his biggest strength in creating team-friendly contracts are heavily outweighed by the fact that the majority of Caldwell’s signings have ended up not working out.
If Caldwell has to use his own crafty contract method against himself by cutting his free agent signings that were supposed to improve the team... Well, I’ll let you guys dictate whether he’s a good GM or not. You know my opinion.