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Quick Thoughts: End of the race, a reset and the future

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Dare Ogunbowale (33) is tackled by Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Dare Ogunbowale (33) is tackled by Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday …

Oehser …

1.Thank goodness the "race" is over. The "race" for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft ended Sunday; to the delight of Jaguars fans, the Jaguars "won" it by securing the NFL's worst record with a loss to the Chicago Bears and a New York Jets victory over Cleveland. Fan euphoria is understandable because the No. 1 selection may mean Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who appears to be generational – and therefore franchise-changing – player. Make no mistake: a successful season was the goal in 2020. Still, if the Jaguars had to contend for the NFL's worst record, I'm glad they did it when they did and that the intrigue didn't linger longer than it did. The "race" for No. 1 caused the uncomfortable – though absolutely understandable – dynamic of Jaguars fans cheering for the Jaguars to lose, and it also caused the odd dynamic of players and coaches having to defend trying to win. That was awkward and far less than ideal. It's unquestionably good that the Jaguars secured the rights to Lawrence. But it's good for everyone involved around the Jaguars that the "race" ended as soon as possible.

2.Defensive line may be more of an offseason focus than offensive line. While it remains vogue for observers to criticize the Jaguars' offensive line, here's reality: Whoever takes over as general manager in the coming weeks could spend more time addressing the defensive front seven – particularly the defensive line's interior – than the offensive line. The offensive line hasn't been perfect this season, and tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson have struggled in some key situations; the new GM will have a particularly difficult decision with Robinson, who will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. But the line overall has run-blocked well and pass-blocked far better than many observers believe – and a strong argument could be made for returning the unit largely intact, particularly considering the expected arrival of a rookie quarterback. The defensive interior, meanwhile, appears to need multiple front-line players – perhaps as many as three – to fortify a run defense that has worn down each of the last two seasons. Look for a lot of draft and free agent equity spent on the defensive line this offseason – far more than on the offensive side.

3.Here's hoping for a victory. There's a touch of sentimentality in this third Quick Thought, my last of the 2020 regular season. While it is always (or almost always) cool for readers of this website when the Jaguars win, the thought here is it would be really nice for this team – the coaches and players – to beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. The record this season is lousy, and a 14-game losing streak seems likely to force change beyond General Manager David Caldwell's late November dismissal. That could mean coaching changes and almost certainly means massive roster turnover. While it has been an unsuccessful team this season, players and coaches have given everything they have had and never quit. Head Coach Doug Marrone in particular has handled a difficult situation with class. If this is the last game for any of those involved, it would be nice to see them go out with the victory that has eluded them since the first week of what by any measure has been a strange – and unbelievably trying – 2020 season.

Sexton …

1.This season was always about a reset. I don't know for certain what was said between Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, Caldwell and Marrone when they met at the end of 2019 to set the course for 2020. But you'd have a hard time convincing me this wasn't the desired outcome. Trading or releasing defensive end Calais Campbell, quarterback Nick Foles, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and running back Leonard Fournette would almost certainly mean winning fewer games – but it also cleared the salary cap of significant future burdens and add to an already strong collection of draft selections in 2021. They knew they didn't have a franchise quarterback, and we all knew then this was to be the Trevor Lawrence Draft. Absorbing losses this season would be tough week to week, but the long-term gain would much greater than the short-term pain. They couldn't have known then that the 2020 season would be an asterisk in the record books anyway because of a global pandemic. COVID-19 made that decision look even smarter for a franchise that was already focused on 2021 in the last days of 2019. If indeed, that was their plan all along.

2.This is bigger than just the team on the field. Lawrence is a once-in-a-generation talent; it's possible in the coming weeks he will become the most accomplished college quarterback in history. He has everything it takes to succeed in professional football. He's also the kind of star this franchise never has had, the kind of star that attracts people and businesses to a team they never previously considered. It's possible the team will sell suites, signs and naming rights to groups without a huge presence in Jacksonville but want to be associated with a franchise with a national-television presence greater than an early-season Thursday night game against the Titans. Winners make easy partners and healthy revenue streams dilute conversations about heading to greener pastures. I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that if this team was winning and in the conversation in January year in and year out, that more people in Jacksonville would be more amenable to a deal for Lot J and future developments. That's common sense.

3.He must be what we believe him to be for this to transform professional football in Jacksonville. You can't run from the record and bad football has dampened the enthusiasm for the Jaguars. Dampened, but not drowned out. Go back to 2017 when the Jaguars were chasing the playoffs; every school had a Jaguars day, and every Christmas tree was loaded down with Jaguars gear to prepare for the postseason. They hadn't had a winning season in a decade; football passions burned hot and bright for this team. North Florida would be like a Roman candle with a star quarterback playing on Sunday Night Football; this is a great football town, it just never has had its moment. Pittsburgh's came in 1970 when they won a coin-toss tiebreaker with Chicago, which also finished 1-13 in 1969, for the rights to draft Terry Bradshaw. Bradshaw won four Super Bowls and the Steelers went from also rans to an NFL standard bearer that has endured for more than 50 years. Indianapolis' moment arrived in 1998 with Peyton Manning and New England's in 2000 with Tom Brady. Remember when the Patriots were leaving suburban Boston for Hartford, Connecticut? Most people have forgotten, their memory made fuzzy by so many victories. This feels like Jacksonville's moment.

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