JACKSONVILLE – It started with the foundation.
That’s a logical place to start, and when David Caldwell took over as the Jaguars’ General Manager 365 days ago, the foundation indeed was the beginning point.
That was what mattered, far more than the memorable introductory press conference, far more than the four-word quote that blew up Twitter and made headlines ...
More than all of that, Caldwell had basic, fundamental work – building work – to do when he assumed control of the football operations of a franchise that had finished 2-14 the season before. He had a foundation to build, a culture to establish.
One year in . . .
So far, so good.
We won’t say, “Mission accomplished” here, not only because Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley doesn’t believe in that phrase but because Caldwell wouldn’t tell you the big-picture mission is accomplished, either.
But with Caldwell being hired as the Jaguars’ General Manager exactly a year ago Wednesday, if the mission hasn’t been accomplished, steps have been taken. Progress has been made – even beyond the improvement seen on the field in the second half of a 4-12 2013 season.
Caldwell, speaking to the media last week with Bradley at a dual, season-ending press conference, talked about he and Bradley’s mission for the first year, how it involved building a foundation, identifying strengths and weaknesses, setting a standard of acceptability and basically figuring where the franchise stood among the NFL’s 32 teams.
“I feel like we’ve made good headway with that,” he said on New Year’s Eve.
Caldwell’s first step came immediately. He and Jaguars Owner Shad Khan moved quickly, hiring Bradley nine days after Caldwell’s hiring. Caldwell said at the time Bradley’s passion, energy and attention to detail made him an obvious choice, and when speaking shortly after the 2013 season, Caldwell emphasized the close alignment in philosophy and belief of Khan, Bradley and himself as being key in their first year together and beyond.
That philosophy and belief focused first and foremost on daily competition, something Bradley preaches daily to players and to media. They are principles to which Caldwell adheres, too.
Bradley and Caldwell, too, spent the season in lockstep in the belief that competition was key, with the idea of improving the bottom of the roster.
It was expected that that would mean significant roster turnover, and significant transactions toward that end, in Year One, and indeed it did. Bradley before the season talked of the possibility of a year similar to the one he saw first-hand as defensive coordinator in Seattle in 2010, a year when the Seahawks under first-year Head Coach Pete Carroll made 284 roster moves.
The Jaguars didn’t reach that number in 2013, but they made 231 roster moves from the time of Caldwell’s hiring until the end of the regular season.
The result, Bradley said last week, was that the bottom of the roster was significantly better at the end of the season than at the beginning.
The next step: improving the roster as a whole, particularly at the top.
A year ago, Caldwell said that would be done primarily through the draft, and as Year One of the current regime turns into Year Two, there’s little to indicate that approach will change. Caldwell said shortly after the season he was pleased with the early development of a 2013 draft class that produced at least five key contributors as rookies – left tackle
Caldwell also said the Jaguars likely wouldn’t be significantly more active in free agency this offseason, and said the concern wouldn’t be as much big-name players as ones who can contribute.
How much different will Offseason Two look compared to Offseason One?
That remains to be seen. Much of Caldwell’s focus, as was the case a year ago, will be determining the direction of an early first-round draft selection. A year ago, he used the No. 2 selection on Joeckel, opting to not address quarterback because of a belief there wasn’t a franchise player available there.
The Jaguars hold the No. 3 selection this season, and as Caldwell prepares for the Senior Bowl later this month, and for the NFL Scouting Combine and Pro Day season after that, questions of quarterback versus pass rusher, and quarterback versus nearly every position of need, will be foremost when he speaks publicly.
But those are questions for the coming months, and while they’re crucial questions, today is about looking back on what was accomplished under Caldwell in Year One.
When speaking eight days ago, Caldwell discussed the rookie class, and he discussed the progress made on the field. He said he was proud of how the team fought through the adversity of a 0-8 start, saying the improvement shown after that was rewarding “because of the people we brought into the organization.”
Those people form the football leadership of the Jaguars, the foundation on which Caldwell began working a year ago today.
One year in ...
So far, so good.