It’s officially the off-season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. With coach Doug Pederson previously completing his end-of-season media availability, fans and media were finally granted access to the ‘head chef’, general manager Trent Baalke, with his Wednesday press conference.
Since the disappointing end of the season, this is his first availability. Baalke met with the media to answer all things Jaguars football in the lead-up to perhaps the most important free agency and draft of his tenure as the team’s GM.
Hats off to the local beat for asking some hard, quality questions for the 31-minute presser.
No Regrets (re: roster construction):
When asked if he had any regrets about essentially running the same, or a pretty similar roster back from the 2022 season, Baalke essentially stated that he has none and that this roster was closer than many realized.
I don’t live in with regrets. I don’t that’s not how I operate. You know, are there decisions you look back on and say, what if we would’ve done this? What if we would’ve done that? Shoulder, woulders, and coulders all got beat. You do the best you can. We felt we had a pretty competitive football team coming back. We still feel we had a pretty competitive football team coming back. The season didn’t go our way. You know, there were four teams left a week ago. We beat two of those teams. We lost the one-score game to another one. In another one, we were down by three points with four minutes left in the third quarter. So, we felt we had a competitive football team. We didn’t win the number of games we wanted to win, and that’s on all of us - me included. Look no further than here. But, there’s some things that we have to do. We’ve recognized it, and we’re making those changes as we go.
While I do understand Trent's point here, I do question if this is truly his belief or simple offseason 'coach speech.' The Jaguars, objectively, were destroyed top to bottom by both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. Though, in fairness, the team did beat the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills (during their midseason skid and defensive injuries) and played both the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens close.
My bad. Correction.#Jaguars record vs. 2023 playoff teams: 3-6— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) January 8, 2024
Record vs. non-playoff teams: 6-2
"A Developmental League:"
When asked to grade his past draft classes, a running theme seemed to present itself - a thought process that the team may have been aware of (and potentially in agreement) on some of the team deficiencies entering the season. However, in reading between the lines it would seem that Baalke personally has an underlying belief that had player development and the appropriate coaching occurred, as it should have, the team could have made it work with the surrounding skill group that was provided.
We feel we've got some pretty good football players. Sometimes you gotta execute the vision that you had for for these players. You know, coach and I have talked a lot A lot about, this year's class in particular. You know, the onboarding process of them, getting them up to speed, trusting them. We're we're in a state of development. You're in a developmental league now. You don't have time to say that we can shelve them for a year. We could shelve them for 2 years. You gotta get them up to speed quick. And when you go in and you have as much collaboration as we do because trust me, we have a lot of collaboration on these decisions, it's not one person making these decisions.
So when you look at bringing in a player and the vision you have for him, at the end of the day, you gotta ask yourself, did we execute that vision or didn't we? And, I think if you ask coach, and certainly you're asking me right now, we've gotta do a better job of that vision and executing it. But we feel really good about the young players we got. Have they all reached their potential? Not yet. There's still a lot of growth to be had, but we trust we've got a pretty good nucleus of young players on this football team.
He later followed that statement up (in varying ways, on multiple occasions).
I go back to vision. You know, when you when you set forth and you have a vision for how you’re gonna onboard a player and what that role of that player is gonna be. It’s important to execute it. And I think if you ask coach, it’s certainly - I’m in front of you now - That that didn’t happen the way we need it to happen as we move forward. We’ve gotta do a better job with the vision, better job with the onboarding process, better job of getting these young players up to speed quicker. And because it’s a developmental league and it’s gotta happen quickly.
Trent was later specifically asked about not bringing in additional pass rushers or support where he directly named Dawane Smoot, K'lavon Chaisson, and rookie Yasir Abdullah as players they had a vision for developing and leaning on. It seems that this vision was not realized, based on the on-field results.
We brought Clowney in. He chose to go into another direction. I'm not saying that we got in discussions with him. I'm not gonna talk about what we did or didn't do, but we got into discussions with him and had him on campus. He was here for a visit. Um, you know, again, we felt we had Dawane coming back off injury. We knew he was coming back. We drafted a young man that we've had a vision for. You know, we had Chase on in the last year of his deal. So more so looking back, looking at during the season, what could we have done to upgrade the roster? Are there moves we could have made? Once again, I don't live in the past. I don't live in regret. But, you know, we gotta continue to look at those things. And you you never you never done trying to make your team better, more competitive.
Some would argue this is a failure in player selection or growth. Baalke’s position seems to be that the coaching staff and individual players have either not been developed (by coaches), not worked to develop themselves in the offseason, and/or the staff has not developed a culture of physicality around the team. All of these positions would seem to be true on some levels if we're being honest. The team, across the board (offensive line, defensive line, wide receiver blocking, and even at running back) all give a vibe of finesse, not physicality. Is that on player selection (GM) or development and culture implementation (coaching)?
Trevor Lawrence contract extension?
A conversation that has been going on for months in Duval County was finally asked of the GM when Baalke was asked about the potential of extending Trevor Lawrence. His response was noncommittal on whether the team would have an appetite for extending the quarterback’s contract this offseason, as he prepares to enter his fourth season.
We’re gonna sit down with ownership in the next several days, sit down with the head coach, sit down with the personnel staff, and really review the roster. You know, we’ve already done it. It sound like we’re starting from scratch. And really just have a heart-to-heart on where we’re at with all the guys that are potentially coming up. There’s some good players on this roster that we’d like to see moving forward.
He later confirmed he would not rule out the possibility of an extension this offseason, however.
Josh Allen will be a Jaguar
While Baalke was clear in stating that negotiations have not started with Allen and his representatives, he was clear in stating that Josh Allen would be a Jaguar in 2024. However, he was noncommittal on whether they would or wouldn't use the franchise tag at this time. They will sit down over the coming weeks to try to hammer things out.
Think Jaguars stance of not negotiating with players during the season is partially an issue but not having started even after the season has ended with Josh Allen feels like a mistake.— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) January 25, 2024
All moot if they get the deal done before deadline ala Evan Engram, but still concerning.
Left Tackle Anton Harrison?
The response on Josh Allen's future was a stark difference from the response on Cam Robinson, as Baalke would avoid discussing the future of the veteran left tackle at this time.
The discussions on who’s all gonna be here, who’s not gonna be here, I’m not gonna commit to anything right now. We got some work to do. We got some hard discussions to be had. But as far as Anton’s ability to play right or left, you look this year, what he did as a rookie coming into the National Football League and going up man to man on some of the best pass rushers. A gauntlet of pass rushers throughout the course of the year, and you look at the pressure rate that he gave up and a guy that wasn’t given a lot of help in terms of chips and double teams and protection. You gotta be nothing but proud of how he handled himself as a rookie.
And he’s only gonna get better. Because there’s another young guy that really loves the game, loves to work, loves to compete. So, we expect great things from him. And do we feel he can play left? Absolutely. We do.
In what was probably the most interesting portion of the press conference for me, Baalke took a moment to discuss his views on the state of the offensive and defensive fronts.
It didn’t seem good enough on a weekly basis. Well, when you can’t run the football, And later in the year, you can’t stop the run. That’s a problem. Sure. In the National Football League, we’ve always prided ourselves on being able to do that. Run the football, stop the run. And, for whatever reason, we weren’t able to do that. I think, there’s a lot of moving parts to that.
I don’t think it’s just player-related. I don’t think it’s just scheme-related. We’ve got to get bigger. We’ve got to get stronger. We’ve got to get more physical in the trenches. And if you wanna compete for championships, you have to do that. So I think we’ve got some good pieces in there. We got some good young players in there, but we gotta get better.
Baalke later provided more thoughts on the state of the offensive and defensive lines.
Well, it's never just one thing. Right? We finished, I believe, 9th in run defense. Again, yielding a little over 100 and some yards, And a big part of that fell apart. If you look at where we were the first 9, 10 games of the year and where we ended up, There was a huge falloff. Why? Lot of lot of things factor into that. You know, players gotta trust one another. When you start to search for plays and you start to search for answers, whether it's coaches searching for answers or players, you know, searching to make plays And not playing within the scheme of the defense. It's all it takes for an explosive play, and we gave up way. Too many explosive plays as the season went on. We didn't protect the ball. We didn't take the ball away. A lot there's there's a lot of things that factor into it. We feel like we have some good players. You know, we feel like and we showed that through through the first ten games.
“I truly believe in Luke (Fortner) as a guy who has what it takes to play the position.”— Juston W. Lewis (@JustonLewis_) January 25, 2024
-Jaguars GM Trent Baalke says it was a systematic problem on the offensive line. Not just on one player.
This was more interesting based on the fact that of the 10 coaches who were fired or whose contracts were not renewed, Jaguars OL Coach Phil Rauscher was not one of them. Yet when asked if there would be a change in the strength and conditioning staff, Baalke also was noncommittal. So, if the scheme is a piece of the pie, and strength and size are another piece, then I'm truly unsure what materially changes outside of just running it back next season (which none of us expect). It seems obvious that personnel changes are coming for the offensive line, whether Baalke can publicly admit it or not. He did state that it all starts with him and to essentially expect competition to be brought in as guys should be scared for their jobs in his response to a Luke Fortner question, though not specifically directed at Fortner.
Collaboration with the coaching staff
When asked about his working relationship with Doug, in comparison to a year ago, Trent doubled down that their relationship has never been better, contrary to a few recent reports.
I think that's a good question. I think it's probably even more so (collaborative). When you go through tough times, you find out a lot about a lot of people, you know? The season didn't end the way we wanted it to. We had some strong conversations throughout the year- kinda where things were at, what we were, and where things were trending. So great communication, great collaboration, and I really respect him and and everything that he does. I don't think there's any, a lot of what's written, a lot of the narratives that are out there are just false. Plain and simple. False narratives.
While we should always believe someone at their word on the inner dynamics of working relationships, we do have a history to pull from to attempt to land closer to the truth.
He was also specifically asked about the power dynamic with the recent hiring of defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. Baalke unequivocally confirmed that the hire was Doug's hire and not him, sort of either overriding or vetoing him in any way.
Coach owns the staff just like they do in most places and it's no different here. And I respect the decisions that he makes. I mean, we collaborate. We work together. I sat in on all the interviews. We shared our thoughts. But at the end of the day, coach owns it. And I respect those decisions.
What were your takeaways from the press conference, Jaguars fans?