We’ve now had a few days to sit and stew on the Jacksonville Jaguars decision to retain both head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell. I think we all know that personally, I think it’s a staggeringly bad decision and it was the perfect time for the franchise to kind of hit the “reset” button and clean things up moving forward, however Jaguars owner Shad Khan decided to keep everything as-is.
It’s clear a lot of the blame over the last two years, the 2019 season especially, is going to be laid at the feet of former EVP Tom Coughlin and the toxic environment the franchise operated under, which included a league high NFLPA violations.
So, what is going to happen going forward?
Doug Marrone has the conn
If you watched the joint press conference held by both Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell, it’s hard to not see that Marrone now has the “conn”. He spoke with a lot more assertiveness and confidence than he had the past few weeks when he sounded like a man resigned to the fact he was going to get fired. It certainly seemed like he was going to be with the mix of reporting over the weekend, however from what I had been heard it sounds like Marrone went into the meeting with a plan and some demands not expecting them to be agreed to and he got them, as evidenced to still being employed.
It had been rumored that Coughlin would often undercut Marrone’s authority as a head coach and with Coughlin out of the way, perhaps it will be easier for Marrone to assert what he wants as a head coach without the second guessing. I would presume it would give Marrone a lot more freedom on the rest of the staff, which had been stocked with former “Coughlin guys”.
Coherent team building
One of the few good things about the decision going forward is that it seems both Marrone and Caldwell will have more open lines of communication about building the roster as a whole.
“From our standpoint, we could help the coaching staff by making better decisions, and the guys we bring in for them and also really supporting our players that we have here,” Caldwell said on Tuesday afternoon when asked about how to fix the issues on the field. “Then, I think we’ll help the coaching staff.”
Since the 2017 season, the Jaguars have kind of been disjointed in how they’ve built their roster and that has shown up on the field. Many of you will remember how prior to the 2017 NFL Draft I stated many times Leonard Fournette wasn’t much of a fit for the style of offense the Jaguars had been running, which was a lot of shotgun sets, but Fournette was clearly a Coughlin type of player, so that’s who they picked. Fournette played well as a rookie, but his production out of shotgun was awful and they had to more or less kind of tip their hand and force things, which has showed up in 2018 and at times in 2019.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is, regardless of what the past was, is moving forward, I’m going to have a direct line to Shad [Khan], kind of like I did earlier,” Caldwell said when asked how eliminating the EVP role will impact his job. “And with Doug [Marrone], and the three of us will answer directly to Shad. I think Tom [Coughlin] was great in a lot of aspects for me, both personally and professionally, but this structure here will allow us to communicate directly with the owner and be able to put our plan forward to him with Doug in a collaborative effort.”
Outside of the Fournette example they then went and signed a quarterback who is best out of shotgun and running RPO’s in Nick Foles, which most now believe was a mostly Coughlin decision, and the offense is discombobulated until Gardner Minshew II comes in, who operates well under center.
Those are just two examples off the top of my head, but going forward with what appears to be Marrone having more power, it’s likely they will draft and sign free agents to fit what their vision is, however short-term that may be.
I will be surprised if Nick Foles is back in 2020
I keep hearing everyone on local sports talk radio talk about how there should be a quarterback competition in the offseason and how we can’t judge Nick Foles based on roughly three games of playing time with this poor roster and how he looked so good in training camp... but in my personal opinion, I don’t think that is what is going to happen.
First of all, quarterback competitions are fake and have predetermined circumstances outside of a few rare circumstances. If Foles is on the opening day roster in 2020, it’s because he’s the starter. NFL teams simply just do not have $22 million backup quarterbacks. He is sunk cost at this point and I would expect the team to give Minshew the reins in 2020 and try to dump the salary, even if it means giving up a draft pick.
Then again, 2020 is a “win now” scenario, so perhaps the buck conventional operation and keep both as a hedge, but again I would be surprised.
Also, I’d be stunned if they drafted a quarterback early in the 2020 NFL Draft. They’re in win-now mode and using one of those early picks on a likely sitting quarterback isn’t how you do that.
Yannick Ngakoue is priority
#PayYan has been heard and both Marrone and Caldwell confirmed that bringing back Yannick Ngakoue is their top priority for this offseason, as it should be. It came out after Coughlin was fired that he more or less shut down negotiations with Ngakoue after he declined their initial offer and by the way Caldwell and Marrone spoke, it seemed like they were not in agreement with that and now they’re left trying to repair the relationship and lock up the pass rusher long term.
I think the likelihood is that the Jaguars franchise tag Ngakoue and try to work out a long term deal.
Will there be any staff changes?
The most common thing I have been asked about over the past 48 hours is if defensive coordinator Todd Wash is going to be fired. My answer is simply; “I don’t know.” I certainly think it’s time for the team to go in a different direction at the defensive coordinator spot, but it might prove to be difficult to find an upgrade given the Jaguars coaching situation in 2020. It will be hard to attract a bright young mind in a “win now” scenario because the chances of a one-year flame out are high and that can hurt their career arc.
The most likely scenario if you move on from Wash, or any other assistants for that matter, is finding someone who is trying to rebuild their image and leap to another job, kind of like Marrone did in 2016 taking the Jaguars offensive line coaching position. I could see a scenario where the Jaguars take a shot on Jim Schwartz, who’s contract with the Philadelphia Eagles is allegedly expiring (I have not been able to confirm this, but he has turned down extensions), as the two have a relationship. Schwartz was Marrone’s defensive coordinator in Buffalo before he left and the Jaguars defensive backs coach Tim Walton was recommended to Marrone by Schwartz. They could also sell out for someone like Wade Phillips who seems happy just being a DC, but as I mentioned, there are going to be a lot of DC openings and this one has pretty low job security.
How do they balance win now and the salary cap?
We’ve discussed the Jaguars salary cap situation quite a bit over the last few weeks, including a list of potential cap cuts depending on who the coach and general manager was going forward, but now that they’re exactly the same it’s a little murkier. The Jags salary cap is tight, but exceedingly flexible that can clear a lot of cap room very quickly with some tough decisions.
The real question, and what I am most interested in going forward, is how they manage the salary cap with the expectations of winning now. If they were conceding 2020 with a new staff, I could see gutting a lot of the bloated deals with players like A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell, but now that you need to win now can you afford to do that? You’re going to need to do a few things if you want to re-sign Ngakoue and be active at all in free agency outside of fringe depth players. Do you make those tough cuts and target their replacement as cost-controlled rookies? Do you ask them to re-structure? Do you replace them with Wave 2 free agents?
This again, is part of the issue with keeping the status quo, is that you now have guys trying to band-aid their past mistakes at the likely expense of the long term.
Should you be excited?
I often get asked how fans are supposed to get excited for the 2020 season with nothing really changing and I don’t have an answer for you. You can only get excited about what excites you. For me personally, for the first time I’m on the fence if I want to renew my tickets. Why should I have any faith this group can do anything but be 8-8 at best in 2020 with how everything is structured and what we’ve seen from them in the past?
I do think Marrone having more overall control and a more coherent line of communication is a good thing and something that should have been established a long time ago, so perhaps that’s a silver lining to look at. I’m also sure with free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft there will be an initial level of excitement, but I’m well past cautious optimism currently and in full-on “prove it to me” mode.
As I’ve said in the past, the Jaguars are bad until they aren’t.