JACKSONVILLE – If only all of David Caldwell’s decisions are this easy.
That’s maybe the most important thing to know about what Caldwell did Thursday night when he made Luke Joeckel his first major move as the Jaguars’ General Manager.
Yes, it was a critical decision. Yes, it was his first high-profile move in the biggest job of his life.
And yes, it was a decision that will shape the franchise’s future.
But difficult? No, Caldwell said drafting Joeckel was not difficult, and he said this was not a matter of taking the player with the lowest risk. In the end, Caldwell got a rare opportunity – one he hopes he’ll never have again.
He got to take the player he wanted most. He got to take the player he thought was the best player in the draft.
Really, it was that simple.
“I don’t want to say it’s a safe pick,” Caldwell said moments after making Joeckel the team’s earliest selection since the Jaguars drafted linebacker Kevin Hardy from Illinois No. 2 overall in 1996. “Let’s say it’s a good pick.”
If Caldwell, in his first draft as general manager, said that once Thursday night, he said it several times – that he really, really liked a whole lot about Joeckel. He and Gus Bradley each said Joeckel was the highest-rated player on the team’s draft board.
“For us to get him is truly outstanding,” Bradley said.
Caldwell revealed, too, that one of the significant pre-draft themes – that it would be very, very difficult to trade back – came to fruition.
“We got very little play,” Caldwell said, adding that while the team got casual inquiries early in the week “there was very little interest” by draft night.
But you got the feeling that didn’t matter to Caldwell or Bradley.
There were smiles from each as they met the media inside EverBank Field shortly after the selection. Yes, that’s Bradley’s way, and it’s easy to smile at the beginning of a build. But even through the smiles this was a move that made sense, and it was easy to see why the new decision-makers were happy.
There was more to that good feeling than getting the player they felt was the draft’s best player. They also got him at a position they considered a need.
Caldwell and Bradley have spent the last three months breaking down the Jaguars’ roster, analyzing what went wrong during 2-14 and what must get fixed to improve. One thing that stood out quickly was the need to improve an offensive line that allowed 50 sacks last season, third-most in the NFL.
“We needed to correct that,” Caldwell said.
The selection of Joeckel figures to do that immediately. The question is, “Which side of the line will he play?” The Jaguars moved quickly to answer it.
Joeckel will start on the right side of the offensive line, with the plan being to likely leave 2009 first-round selection and four-year starter
“The way the game is now, we play in a division where Houston brings a lot of pressure from both sides,” Caldwell said. “Indianapolis, they have Robert Mathis who I know very, very well and he lines up on the left side all the time. Teams can rush the passer from either the left or right side.
“We feel that they’re both close to being equally as important.”
“I’ve had friends on the Texas A&M coaching staff,” Caldwell said. “Just as late as Monday, I called one of them and I said, ‘What should we do if Luke Joeckel is there?’ He said, ‘Make the card before the pick and turn it in as soon as you’re on the clock.’
“From that aspect it was an easy decision for us.”
Easy or not, there was an element of the selection that seemed fated, in a way. When interviewing for the Jaguars General Manager position in January, Caldwell was asked by Jaguars Owner Shad Khan the best player in the draft. His answer was Luke Joeckel.
“So, 108 days later . . .” Caldwell said, smiling.
So 108 days later, when Joeckel came on the board, Caldwell essentially did what that A&M coach told him to do. Without a trade opportunity, he made the selection and did it happily and quickly. He got a good player, one who he and Bradley believe fits perfectly in the team’s new zone-blocking scheme.
In the end, the reality on Thursday was the Jaguars weren’t in a position where they were going to be unhappy. For all of the pre-draft speculation about Fisher, Dion Jordan, Ziggy Ansah, Geno Smith, Dee Milliner and so on – and for all the speculation about smokescreens and pro day visits – by early in the week, Caldwell was hinting fairly strongly that it was down to two tackles.
In retrospect it was clear that there was no smokescreen, that Caldwell was being honest when he said he had a good idea of the pick and that he doubted there would be action. He seemed OK with that, and seemed certain he would like the selection.
The Jaguars went back and forth on Fisher, Bradley said, and both Caldwell and Bradley said they would have been happy with either player.
But in the end, to hear Caldwell and Bradley say it, they got the guy they wanted most.
They only hope all of their decisions are this easy.