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“Baalke Master Class.”
That’s the troll, at least. And a common response to Mike Dempsey’s question today asking us to grade how well Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke has done through this offseason.
Spoiler alert. It has not been a master class.
*Stephen A. Smith voice*
*end of Stephen A. Smith voice*
It is a roster that has improved from last year and has the beginnings of some real team chemistry.
The first point is, well, not a very difficult objective but it’s a necessary one for general managers every year. So, the teacher threw us a softball pop quiz and we aced it.
The second point depends almost entirely on this team improving. Not winning the AFC South, not making the playoffs, not ending with a winning record of 9-8 or better... (side note, 17 games makes for an abomination no matter how a team finishes the year) ...but rather if this team, and specifically Trevor Lawrence, show very obvious signs of improving and competing consistently as your average NFL team would.
In short, just be normal and it’ll come.
That said, my grade for Trent Baalke this offseason is a C- and I’ll tell you why.
First, I liked the Travon Walker pick. He has all the physical tools. He was one of the smartest defenders available at the top of the draft. He is a difference-maker and a Day 1 starter. But to be worth the No. 1 overall pick you’ve got to be more than that. You’ve got to be on this team a decade or more, earning Pro Bowl consideration every year, and make plays that you remember long after he’s gone.
(For example, neither were near Travon Walker’s caliber of play, but Telvin Smith’s point before he scored a touchdown in the playoffs at Pittsburgh is a great example.)
Travon Walker ascending to that level is on the coaching staff, but he has the potential. And Trent Baalke’s job ends at turning in the card, so... kudos to him.
And hiring Doug Pederson is a big plus. While Byron Leftwich would have been a good pick, I think he’ll thrive if (or when) he gets a job replacing a coach who has already done the dirty work of rebuilding. Byron Leftwich might be superb at starting from the ground up, but what we’ve seen is that if you set the table for him and give him great players he can get even more out of them than you might guess.
Doug Pederson knows how to squeeze water from a rock and win a Super Bowl with Nick Foles under center. I’m not going to say Doug Pederson suits this team and this situation better, but I will say that Doug Pederson fits this team and this situation... period.
Building up the trenches is also nice, solidifying the offensive line with Cam Robinson’s deal and signing Brandon Scherff while adding size and strength (and a little bit of bully) on the defensive line will go a long way.
What about the negatives?
Letting DJ Chark go in free agency was a real let down. This team still needs a true No. 1 wide receiver to get the most out of all the WR3’s and WR4’s they’ve assembled. And while I don’t think DJ Chark is that guy, he’s closer than Zay Jones or Christian Kirk.
Speaking of the passing game, do we really think Evan Engram, Dan Arnold, and Luke Farrell are going to make up for a lack of difference-makers at wide receiver? In the absence of a true No. 1 receiver it would have been huge to get a solid tight end to take some pressure off and give Trevor Lawrence a safety valve on second and third downs. But, alas.
And, lastly, the secondary is probably one of the biggest (if not the biggest... I’m looking at you, linebackers) question mark on the team. Will an improved defensive line and newfound run-stuffing abilities help out the corners? How will Andre Cisco settle in given a full season this year? These are all the questions that will start to get answered in training camp, but that we won’t truly know until December.
At the end of the day, this team goes as Trevor Lawrence goes. And right now, I don’t think they did enough to get him the help he needs to make as big a jump his sophomore season as he would with a playmaking wide receiver or a dependable tight end.