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Quick Thoughts: Major departures, more with less

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) is seen during an NFL football workout, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) is seen during an NFL football workout, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Logan Bowles via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton with three quick thoughts as the Jaguars move on from 2020 Training Camp and approach the 2020 regular season …

Oehser …

1.Tanking isn't real. The Jaguars earlier this week parted ways with two of their most high-profile veterans, waiving running back Leonard Fournette and trading defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings. The moves understandably spawned talk among observers about "Tanking for Trevor" – i.e., trimming their roster to finish poorly enough to get the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence. That certainly could be a good long-term scenario; Lawrence appears to be a generational talent and the Jaguars never have had an elite quarterback. But the reality is NFL teams don't tank. Head Coach Doug Marrone said this week he doubts he will return if the Jaguars finish 2020 with the NFL's worst record, and players gain nothing by losing to improve draft position. The biggest factor preventing a "tank" may be quarterback Gardner Minshew II. It remains to be seen if he can be a franchise quarterback. But he showed enough as a rookie last season to show he can win. He plays with poise and handles fourth-quarter pressure well. Those traits may not be enough to make him the franchise quarterback moving forward. But they're probably enough to keep the Jaguars from selecting No. 1 overall next offseason.

2.Losing Ngakoue will hurt, but losing Fournette? Losing Ngakoue could well cost the Jaguars a victory or two. While he may not be elite, he absolutely is capable of changing – and winning – a game or two a season with a well-timed sack or forced fumble. And while it remains to be seen if he ultimately receives from the Vikings or any team what he wanted financially from the Jaguars, his big-play knack will be difficult to replace. Fournette's departure seems unlikely to have the same impact. While Fournette had big plays and big moments in three seasons here, he is not a make-you-miss back and his big and memorable plays were rare the past two seasons. The Jaguars' offense has struggled mightily in the last two seasons with Fournette. The guess here is new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's offense will be more productive without Fournette than the team was with him the past two seasons.

3.The core is clear. Actually, this should read "the ideal core is clear." The Fournette and Ngakoue moves indeed mean the Jaguars have parted ways with two more players key to the run to the AFC Championship Game following the 2017 season, and just 12 players remain from a '17 season that is now a distant memory. The moves also made even clearer that players such as defensive end Josh Allen, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and right tackle Jawaan Taylor are the players around whom this team must build. The team absolutely hopes Minshew plays well enough to be considered in that group. Here's the thing: Whatever young players on the roster play well enough to be foundation pieces, the team must hope they are the sorts of "team-first" players they want to retain – and then they must retain them. The '17 core splintered for multiple reasons and left the franchise needing to rebuild its roster and reputation. Having young, talented players continue to develop this season and make this team look like one with a bright future is a step toward that. The next step is ensuring the young players you like indeed become your long-term foundation. That hasn't happened enough in recent seasons. It must happen moving forward.

Sexton …

1.Don't ask Doug Marrone about Trevor Lawrence. Trust me: he doesn't care. Neither do any of his assistants – or for that matter, any of the players. Players and coaches live week-to-week and year-to-year; those men only care about who and what can help them win right now. They're paid to win – and as Marrone said on Monday morning, he probably won't be the head coach if they're picking No. 1 overall next spring. The "Tank for Trevor" conversation drives talk radio and social media. Marrone understands the interest, but unless Lawrence can suit up and play this season he isn't remotely interested in the conversation.

2.The move to release Fournette surprised me. I didn't think he would be here in 2021, but he was either their best offensive playmaker or a very close second on Sunday evening. He stayed healthy in 2019, produced nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage and caught a career-high 76 passes. Plus, for the first time in his career the future was an unknown, and I believed that would motivate him to produce a big season that would translate into a new contract. I thought that motivation would help Minshew keep defenses off balance and give the young quarterback a chance to be effective. The Jaguars didn't think he fit their new offense and didn't think it was worth their time to invest any more time in him.

3.Maybe Minshew will do more with less. It doesn't normally work that way in professional football but that's what he'll have to do to prove he can be the franchise quarterback. He was already learning a new offense and working without an offseason thanks to COVID-19; the shadow of Lawrence hanging over Jacksonville this season just rachets up the pressure. I don't think he is a franchise quarterback, but I was looking forward to watching him try and prove people who think that way wrong. He's a great guy, has a flair for the dramatic and understands how to connect with the fans. If he's going to convince the Jaguars that they don't need to draft a quarterback next spring, he's going to have to do it with one arm tied behind his back. But that's kind of how he likes it, isn't it?

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