This is one of the most important seasons in recent memory for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It may not seem like it. They’ve got a young roster, a franchise quarterback in just his second season, and a brand new coaching staff being led by newly appointed head coach Doug Pederson. There are no expectations this team should make the playoffs. No delusions of grandeur. I think we’d all be satisfied with six or seven wins this year.
But that’s what makes this season so crucial.
This time last year, Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence were the future of this organization. Shad Khan was the talk of the town after bullying the rest of the league into having the best offer —and most attractive destination — for an accomplished college football head coach to take his first step into the NFL.
After a sustained period of being one of the least talented, least competitive teams in the NFL, they were throwing the kitchen sink at the problem. If this didn’t work nothing would work.
Fast forward a few months and Meyer was unceremoniously fired, Trevor Lawrence was left out to dry, and even a petty victory that kept the Indianapolis Colts out of the playoffs wasn’t enough. Not in the long run, at least.
The Jaguars were at the bottom of the NFL totem pole once again. They had effectively wasted Lawrence’s rookie season and were running out of time to right the ship.
That’s why this year is paramount. If they don’t turn a corner soon, the team will once again fall on hard times — sliding into another era of unwatchable football.
Enter Doug Pederson
The long and frustrating coaching search finally come to an end. Jacksonville hired Doug Pederson as the franchise’s seventh full-time head coach and ninth overall (including two interim head coaches).
“Doug Pederson four years ago won a Super Bowl as head coach of a franchise in pursuit of its first world championship,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a statement shortly after the hire. “I hope Doug can replicate that magic here in Jacksonville, but what is certain is his proven leadership and experience as a winning head coach in the National Football League. It’s exactly what our players deserve. Nothing less.”
In late January, Big Cat Country reported that Byron Leftwich was expected to be named as head coach of the Jaguars. However, talks broke down between the parties before the former Jacksonville quarterback officially signed with the team, as Leftwich reportedly did not want to work with current general manager Trent Baalke and wanted to bring his own hand-picked general manager in with Adrian Wilson.
All signs pointed to Pederson being a very good hire for where this team is now and especially for a young quarterback like Lawrence. But they’d need to build around him, and in a hurry.
A new hope in free agency
The biggest splash the Jaguars made in free agency was former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk, signing him to a four-year, $72 million deal that could be worth up to $84 million with $37 million fully guaranteed. In four seasons, he’s accounted for 236 catches, 2,902 yards, and 17 touchdowns — playing primarily out of the slot during his most recent season with the team which was his best, accounting for 77 receptions, 982 yards, and five touchdowns.
Add in fellow wide receiver Zay Jones, offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, and tight end Evan Engram, and you could see an emphasis was placed on giving the offense a shot in the arm. But what about the defense?
Draft on tap
After months of evaluation and research, the Jaguars settled on one guy in the 2022 NFL Draft with the top overall pick: Travon Walker, a versatile player out of Georgia who the team feels has plenty of talent to work with.
Throw in linebackers Chad Muma and Devin Lloyd with a pair of early picks, and it was clear that the team wanted to be better right away on offense and better in the future on defense. But even with just the preseason games under his belt to this point, Walker is looking every bit the part of the “unicorn” moniker he earned in camp.
What are reasonable expectations?
The Jaguars have had the No. 1 overall draft pick in back-to-back seasons. That’s as bad as you can get, and the first goal should be to get out of the NFL basement. Improve upon the 3-14 record from last season. And end the season with clear evidence — both in the box score and in the film room — that Trevor Lawrence is The Man.
DraftKings has the over/under set at 6.5 wins this year for the Jaguars. Get on either side of that line (either six or seven wins) and we’ll be encouraged going into next offseason. Fall short by a game or two and, well, let’s just say this article next year won’t sound so calm.