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CHESS NOT CHECKERS: A (ridiculous*) plan to make the Jaguars the next NFL Dynasty

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"This shit's chess, it ain't checkers!" - Alonzo Harris

I am not Bobby Fischer. I am not Gary Kasparov. I don't play chess very often. I'm just a dude who's seen Training Day.

I am not Bill Walsh. I am not Bill Belichick. I don't run an NFL team. I'm just a dude who thinks the Jags should, for lack of a better word, "tank" for two seasons.

'WHAT?!' '#U(K YOU, DUDE!' 'How could you think like that?' 'What a loser's mentality.' 'Tanking doesn't work in the NFL.' 'Why would we tank? We might win the division this year.'

Before you scroll down to the comments section and berate me, please lend me your mind for just a moment.

Defining Success

Whatever it is, the Jags ain't it. Entering our 25th season, we have won the AFC Championship zero (0) times and thereby been to the Super Bowl zero (0) times. We also have had just one (1) winning season in the last decade. Perhaps even more alarming, the magical 2017 season was the Jaguars first and only AFC South division title. That's right. Since the AFC South's inception in 2002, the Jags have finished in first place one (1) time.

Sure, we've had some good times (1996-1999, 2007, 2017), but by and large we've been a failure as a franchise. If you define success like I do (division titles, AFC Championship wins, and Super Bowl wins), the level of failure is magnified.

Most fans won't admit it, but in the big picture that's what success is: division titles, AFC Championship wins, and Super Bowl wins.

Best Examples of Success

There are many ways to build a good NFL team, and multiple ways to win. However, in the modern NFL, there has been a trend. In general, you won't compete for championships (at least consistently) without a good passing offense. Don't believe me?

Here's a list of AFC Champions since 2003:

  • 2003 - Brady
  • 2004 - Brady
  • 2005 - Roethlisberger
  • 2006 - Manning
  • 2007 - Brady
  • 2008 - Roethlisberger
  • 2009 - Manning
  • 2010 - Roethlisberger
  • 2011 - Brady
  • 2012 - Flacco
  • 2013 - Manning
  • 2014 - Brady
  • 2015 - Manning
  • 2016 - Brady
  • 2017 - Brady
  • 2018 - Brady
That's friggin' nuts. Fifteen (15) out of the last sixteen (16) to Brady, Manning, and Big Ben. The good news? Manning has retired, Big Ben is thirty-seven (37) years old, and Brady is forty-two (42) years old. Needless to say, the AFC will be a lot different in a few years than it has been for the last two decades. It will be a new era, a post-Brady era without both Roethlisberger and Manning that opens the door for a new potential dynasty. Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs aside, who will be the next AFC contender for years to come?

The Royal Dynasties

  • Bradshaw to Stallworth
  • Montana to Rice
  • Aikman to Irvin
  • Elway to Smith
  • Brady to [Long List]
  • Blake Bortles to Marqise Lee
  • Gardner Minshew II to Chris Conley?
In the modern NFL, those franchises that have consistently competed for championships or won multiple Super Bowls in a condensed period have done so with an elite QB and a good passing offense. Teams in the AFC such as the Chiefs (Mahomes), Texans (Watson), possibly Browns (Mayfield), and maybe the Jets (Darnold) have the potential for sustainable success for an extended period of time right now if they can draft well. Why? They have good (we think) young quarterbacks (jury still out on a few things, but you get the point). So what's the best way to acquire one now?

"Tanking" in the NFL

In general, I'm not an advocate for tanking in that I'm not an advocate for losing on purpose. That's especially true for a team that (I used to think) had an elite defense and that I still pay for season tickets to see.

However, "tanking" is just a dirty word for what can be a reasonable strategy if implemented correctly and in the proper context. At its best, it's not losing on purpose - but rather paring the roster to amass more (higher quality) draft picks and thereby getting more shots at true franchise-changing players.

In the NFL, the only position to even consider in this regard is QB. This isn't like the NBA where one dude can take you from last place to contention in one season usually. However, a true franchise QB could be worth losing for depending on the circumstances. Especially if you feel you have a good young core to build around, but are missing the QB of the future.

There's also an aspect to tanking that's not mentioned enough: you don't have to spend the top pick on 1 player necessarily, especially not every time. If you want to trade down and get more than 1 impact player, you can. The trouble is, it requires a shrewd franchise that's good at evaluating prospects.

So what's the plan? How can the Jaguars be the next NFL dynasty?

The (Ridiculous*) Plan

1. Tank the 2019 season

2. Fire everyone including Tom Coughlin

3. Trade down in 2020 Draft for Jerry Jeudy and D'Andre Swift

4. Tank the 2020 season

5. Pick/extend the young core moving forward

6. Draft Trevor Lawrence #1 in 2021 Draft

7. Ride the Lawrence/Jeudy/Swift trio to glory for years to come

Tank the 2019 Season

Well we're off to a solid start. Say whatever you want about this team or the Chiefs, or that game, but the fact is we were down 37-13 with 10:56 to go (and 40-19 with 3:41 to go) in our home opener. Our "starting" QB (Nick Foles) is out indefinitely. Despite the grit shown by Gardner Minshew, he's a 6th-round rookie that can't be expected to lead this team to the Playoffs. And our "elite defense" is - in my opinion - not elite anymore. Top 10? Maybe. But the changes since 2017 have been largely underestimated or overlooked, and Todd Wash doesn't appear to be helping matters. Combine that with Foles injury, a few bad drafts (aside from players I'll address soon) and a complete lack of depth and...we suck right now.

Don't waste the suck. What's the best we can realistically expect to finish? Right now, ESPN's FPI has us on average picking 10th. Would you rather go 5-11 again and pick 10th overall, or use this season to acquire the #1 overall pick and trade down for 2 impact players?

Fire Everyone Including Tom Coughlin

How many Jaguars out there on Sunday came from Caldwell’s draft classes from 4 years or more ago? The reason I ask is because it’s directly indicative of how good you are at drafting and developing players (they’re still on your roster after their rookie deal).

  • 2013 – 0
  • 2014 – Marqise Lee (didn't start), Brandon Linder
  • 2015 – A.J. Cann (didn't start)

The Ramsey/Jack/Ngakoue haul in 2016 is amazing, but if me and my friends on a couch were screaming for Ramsey and Jack before they happened, how much credit should the GM get on them? Enter Coughlin, and this duo drafted RB 4th overall when in need of a QB (despite Deshaun Watson and Pat Mahomes). I’m not even going to go into the Bortles contract extension, Taven Bryan, Tanner Lee, Allen Robinson, etc.

We’ve averaged 5 wins per season in the last 6 seasons since Caldwell was hired, and are no closer to having a consistently competitive team, a franchise QB, or a championship. He also missed on 3 consecutive Top 3 picks (Joeckel, Bortles, Fowler) and hired the worst coach in NFL history (Gus Bradley).

We need a clear gameplan and direction for the roster, and nothing that we’ve done from the 2008 Draft to the present makes me think we’re capable of being a consistently competitive franchise with current leadership. It’s a salary cap league, yet largely the same franchises have been consistently competing for championships and we still can’t seem to figure out that it’s the QB position and drafting well that matter most. Despite my love for Tom Coughlin, I don't think he fully appreciates the actual value of a draft pick because he's always in Win Now, Win Lunch mode. Don't believe me? Look at the Joshua Dobbs trade.

Trade Down in the 2020 Draft for Jerry Jeudy and D'Andre Swift

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I'll do a brief summary:

  • Trade #1 pick to whoever wants QB Tua or QB Herbert the most
  • Use your newly-acquired Top 5 or 10 pick on WR Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)
  • Use your other draft capital to grab RB D'Andre Swift (Georgia) where available (hard to say now, but likely late 1st or a 2nd rounder depending on production and if he remains healthy)
If I were building a team from scratch I would start with QB, DE/OLB/EDGE, LT, or in the trenches. But after watching the OL (particularly Will Richardson and Jawaan Taylor) hold their own and believing in Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue for the future, we need to modernize this offense. I don't believe Tua or Herbert will be a franchise QB, but I firmly believe Trevor Lawrence will. So how can I help Trevor Lawrence out in the 2020 Draft? Get him some serious firepower.

Watch Jeudy and Swift's highlights, or watch them play the rest of this season. Heck, watch Jeudy this Saturday against South Carolina and watch Swift next weekend against Notre Dame. Both guys are special. Saquon Barkley said last year before the Draft he thought Swift could end up being a Top 5 pick if he got enough carries. UGA just has so much depth and Kirby Smart likes to rotate them that Swift will come out as an underused (fresh legs) underclassman with loads of talent. And Jeudy is, well, the best college WR I've seen since Justin Blackmon (don't forget how good Blackmon was when healthy and available too, like 289 yards vs Texans good). People compare Jeudy's play to that of Odell Beckham, Jr. only he's taller (6'1) and - by all accounts - a high-character dude, one that Saban relies on as a leader on the team.

The Jeudy/Swift combo at WR/RB instantly makes the offense better and more explosive, and gives any QB of the future two dynamic weapons.

Tank the 2020 Season

With Jeudy and Swift on board, now we need the elite QB prospect. Trevor Lawrence is the target.

Pick/Extend the Young Core Going Forward

This part is perhaps the most important. You use these 2019 and 2020 seasons to evaluate all of your young talent and decide who will be a part of the revamped roster moving forward. Pick 5 to 8 players on each side of the ball as your possible building blocks. You won't be able to extend all of them, but you pick your building blocks as you go. Here are the candidates as I see it on the roster today:

OFFENSE

  • RB Leonard Fournette
  • WR Dede Westbrook
  • WR DJ Chark
  • TE Josh Oliver
  • LT Cam Robinson
  • OL Will Richardson
  • RT Jawaan Taylor
  • QB Gardner Minshew II
DEFENSE
  • DE Josh Allen
  • DL Taven Bryan
  • DE Yannick Ngakoue
  • OLB Quincy Williams
  • LB Myles Jack
  • CB Jalen Ramsey
  • SS Ronnie Harrison
  • LB Telvin Smith (?)
We have a potential out with Nick Foles following 2020 season (becomes 2-year deal for $46.625M). We have a potential out with Marqise Lee following this season (becomes 2-year deal for $9.25M). A.J. Bouye's contract offers potential cap savings if his play regresses this season or next. Veteran free-agents aged 29 or older such as D.J. Hayden, Marcell Dareus, and Calais Campbell all would offer huge cap savings. All of these players (Foles, Lee, Bouye, Hayden, Dareus, and Campbell) are also trade-worthy, and the Jags could get draft capital in return for any and/or all of them.

It also ensures we can re-sign / extend both Yannick Ngakoue (24) and Jalen Ramsey (24). And yes, there will be some dead cap space in 2021 season, but from the 2021 season on we would have a young, talent-laden roster that could realistically compete for championships for a decade or more as long as Lawrence is good/healthy.

Draft Trevor Lawrence #1 in 2021 Draft

The best part about any plan is you can change it. If Gardner Minshew II looks like an elite QB for the next 2 years then plans change. You can take a pass-rusher, left tackle, possibly elite corner, or trade down. Heck, another college QB could emerge as the #1 prospect for 2021. But as it stands today, the long play is for Lawrence in 2021.

He's perhaps the most-touted QB prospect since Andrew Luck or Elway/Marino Draft (1983). He's easily researchable, so I leave it to you to scout him as you wish.

Ride the Lawrence/Jeudy/Swift Trio to Glory for Years to Come

Some of the best teams in the history of this sport had a trio at QB/RB/WR. Let's evaluate ours of the future:

  • QB Trevor Lawrence - possibly the most highly-touted NFL QB prospect since 1983
  • RB D'Andre Swift - dynamic running back with speed and power who can catch like a receiver; would potentially be a Top 10 or Top 15 pick but for the depth of UGA backfield and Coach Smart's philosophy; #1 RB for one of best rushing teams in SEC, at a school that has produced 20 NFL-drafted running backs since Herschel Walker including Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, Robert Edwards, Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel
  • WR Jerry Jeudy - possibly the best WR prospect since 2012; his play draws comparisons to Odell Beckham, Jr. but taller (6'1); polished route-runner who looks ready to play Day 1
Combine that trio with a defense that has matured (J. Allen, Ngakoue, Q. Williams, Jack, Ramsey, R. Harrison) and your other draft selections of 2019-2021 (especially at OL, TE, CB, FS) and you're cooking with fire. Could even become the next NFL dynasty.

Conclusion

Take one step back to take two steps forward. You can jump a lot farther if you get a running start. Quit leaping for the ceiling and raise the floor. A good foundation IS the foundation.

Businesses do this stuff all the time. You get lean and mean, and even though you may be reducing total revenue in the short term, you're increasing net profitability in the long term. "Tanking" is a dirty word, but in the context outlined above it shouldn't be.

There is no lottery, we largely can control whether we get the top pick (0-16). First-rounders also essentially are under team control for up to 7 years. If Jeudy, Swift, and/or Lawrence are truly elite - you can build a winning team fairly quickly. The point is the core of your team should be from young, homegrown talent (draft and develop), something the Jags have failed to do for a long time.

* It's only ridiculous if it "doesn't work". I wonder what that would feel like as a Jags fan...

We're going to have to compete with the Deshaun Watson's Texans and Pat Mahome's Chiefs for years to come. We'll have to (probably) get past one or both to win a Super Bowl any time in the next decade. Why not play chess while all the other teams without good, young QB's play checkers?

I am not Bobby Fischer. I am not Gary Kasparov. I don't play chess very often. I'm just a dude who's seen Training Day.

FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of the authors of Big Cat Country or SB Nation.