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Caldwell at the Combine: On Bortles, QBs, the future

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The objective this offseason is singular.

"The priority is winning, and winning now," Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said.

That was part of what Caldwell said Wednesday morning during a 2019 NFL Scouting Combine media availability that marked his first public comments since the 2018 NFL Draft – comments in which Caldwell shed light on multiple team-related topics. Among them:

*Quarterback Blake Bortles – and quarterbacks overall.

*Cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

*Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

Caldwell said Bortles remains on the team "right now," and that he is part of the team's overall evaluation of the quarterback position's future. He also said the team will pick up the option on Ramsey's contract for 2020 – a decision the team must make by early May – and that the team has yet to make decisions on contract extensions of Ramsey and Ngakoue, high-profile players who became eligible for extensions following the '18 season.

Caldwell declined to forecast what he called "hypotheticals" regarding Bortles' future with the organization.

"We'll take it day by day," Caldwell said of Bortles. "When that time comes, we'll address it with him and obviously address it with you guys in the media."

Caldwell emphasized that Bortles "ranks" in the Jaguars' quarterback mix "for sure."

"Obviously, his name is in the mix," he said. "He has to be because as of right now he's our starting quarterback."

Caldwell spoke before Philadelphia Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman told media that that team would not be placing the franchise tag on quarterback Nick Foles, meaning he will become a free agent on the March 13 start of the 2019 NFL League Year. Many observers have speculated the Jaguars could pursue Foles as a free agent. Caldwell was asked about this year's free-agent quarterbacks.

"It's probably like your typical free-agency quarterback direction," he said.

Caldwell, who declined to discuss in-depth a rookie quarterback class that includes Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State and Kyler Murray of Oklahoma among others, said the Jaguars have the draft equity to move up from No. 7 overall in the '19 draft if they choose.

"We could be aggressive," Caldwell said, adding that the team is taking a "big-picture" approach to the quarterback position this offseason. "The goal is to put the best team on the field. Obviously, the quarterback is a key part of that, but we have to make sure we have the best team – we have the best offense, the best defense. The quarterback will slide in place when it is time for that player to come in place.

"It may not be 'til the draft, it may be through free agency, but when that time comes we want to make sure we have the best team offensively and defensively around that position."

Caldwell, the Jaguars' general manager since 2013, called the team's 5-11 2018 season the most challenging of his NFL career and said this offseason will be his most challenging offseason because of the number of decisions regarding important, contributing players.

"We feel like we still have a core of players we can win with," Caldwell said. "It needs a little bit of retooling and it needs a little bit of reshuffling and an influx of some talent – whether it's draft picks or free agents. Then, we can hit the ground running come September next year.

"But you don't want to mortgage the future either. When we built it for four years, we wanted it to be something you could sustain for a couple of years and have a window. As you have that group of core players, you're going to always continue to replace them through the draft and new guys come along. We've got guys we now feel like will take a step up and grow.

"Your core is going to change over a period of time, but now we at least have a base level of talent that most NFL teams have and we can win with."

The Jaguars this week reached an agreement to restructure the contract of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, meaning the veteran will return. The team also recently assured defensive end Calais Campbell will remain with the team when it picked up the four-time Pro Bowl selection's option for 2019.

But the team also recently declined the option on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins' contract. While Caldwell said Wednesday that the team remains open to Seferian-Jenkins' return, the team in the coming weeks will face salary-cap related decisions on veteran players such as Bortles, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and others.

"That's a good thing," Caldwell said. "To have tough decisions it means you're probably going to let go of a player who can still play at the NFL level. … Any move that we're going to make, I don't think it's going to surprise people in terms of what we didn't plan for in the previous year."

Caldwell was asked his frustration level last season considering preseason expectations following an AFC South title in 2017 and ensuing trip to the AFC Championship Game.

"It was challenging," Caldwell said. "It was my most challenging year in the NFL. I've been through seasons where you had expectations and they didn't work out, but we had expectations and we were rolling. We were 3-1. … We hit our goals for the first quarter and won the first quarter of the season. Then, to have it just kind of fall off with the injuries and stuff like that ….

"That was the frustrating part, because you saw glimpses of what this team could have done had it stayed healthy."

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