Throughout the offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars have made a concerted effort to do two things according to general manager Dave Caldwell: field the best team and get the salary cap under control. Many players have since been released, traded or allowed to walk in free agency, giving the team flexibility to make it into the regular season.
While the team has undergone a retooling of sorts, nationally, it has been perceived as tanking, ready to cast this season aside and hope to land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft next year, likely selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. On Saturday, those rumors were still tough to set aside as the team currently has 16 rookies, 12 drafted and four undrafted free agents, on its initial 53-man roster.
Young and inexperienced, the Jaguars can expect some rookie slumps. However, Caldwell doesn’t feel as though tanking or rebuilding is a fair representation of the current landscape of the team, he simply wants observers to “let us play the season.”
“Before we decide where we are or where we stand, let us play some games and let’s see where we are,” Caldwell told members of the media via Microsoft Teams on Saturday, shortly after announcing the team’s initial 53-man roster. “Let’s see how these young guys are and I know the 53 players in this locker room are excited to be here and are excited for their ability to go out there and put a good brand of football out there.”
The Jaguars began the offseason trading away veteran talents such as defensive lineman Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye. The team also decided to part ways with quarterback Nick Foles via a trade with the Chicago Bears - a move that was made to correct a mistake and get a bloated contract off of the future salary cap.
Recently, the team parted ways with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Leonard Fournette and safety Ronnie Harrison. Both Ngakoue and Harrison were traded, while Fournette was surprisingly waived. Every player listed above played meaningful snaps for the team over the past two seasons, starters that no longer were deemed necessary for various reasons.
While the team is young, Caldwell doesn’t feel as though there is inexperience everywhere. The offense, for example, has plenty of veterans as skill positions and along the offensive line.
“I love this team,” said Caldwell. “I love the energy this team brings. I love some of the veteran leadership we brought in with Joe Schobert [and] Tyler Eifert. We’re not that young on offense. You have a guy like Chris Conley. The offensive line has all played a lot of games together. Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, we have guys. DJ Chark Jr. So, don’t count this team out yet and I think they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Asked last week, quarterback Gardner Minshew and head coach Doug Marrone do not feel the team can afford to tank, nor are they in a position to rebuild. The team has to win, and win now, and Caldwell agrees with that sentiment, and is confident in his team’s ability.
“We can’t afford a rebuilding year and that’s not our mindset. Our mindset is to put the best team out there to play, to compete, and to win. We feel like these guys, the guys in this locker room, nobody has seen them play together. Nobody has seen them play a game so, like I said, we’re going to know where we measure up.”
The Jaguars open their season at home against the Indianapolis Colts, a true test to determine where the team is at, even if it is early on in the season. The Colts are slated to be the favorites in the AFC South, and with new quarterback Phillip Rivers, there’s not much reason to question the nod.
Young and determined, the Jaguars will hope it works out, otherwise the tanking theories will continue, and the rebuild, retool, or recycle will become more valid than ever.