1. They're not saying it yet, but …Gardner Minshew II seems the likely starting quarterback entering the 2020 offseason program. Neither General Manager David Caldwell nor Head Coach Doug Marrone specified this at the Tuesday media availability marking the duo's return, and Marrone talked of the value of having two quarterbacks – i.e., Minshew and Nick Foles. But it's hard to imagine Minshew not starting entering the offseason after he went 6-6 as a starter as a rookie, and after the poise and progress he showed during his stint as a starter. The guess here is the Jaguars will explore trading Foles and giving up a late draft selection in the trade to convince a team to absorb Foles' mega 2020 salary-cap figure. Is Minshew a can't-miss franchise quarterback? No, and the Jaguars must consider drafting a quarterback if they believe a franchise-level player at the position is available. But Minshew played well enough as a rookie they may not need to force such a selection immediately, and that's a major accomplishment for the sixth-round selection from Washington State.
2. The biggest way the Jaguars can get better in a hurry is …to improve the run defense. Fortifying both lines must be a major priority, and this thought isn't meant to ignore an offensive line that hasn't been consistent enough in recent seasons. But the weakness on this team that overrode all else was the inability to stop the run. That led to a loss in Carolina early in the season, and it was the unsolvable issue during a five-game losing streak that took the Jaguars from 4-4 to 4-9 and destroyed the team's playoff hopes. The Jaguars must be stouter in the middle of the defensive line, and they'll almost certainly need to replace defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. It seems logical that moving Myles Jack from middle to outside linebacker will be considered. Fixing the run defense won't ensure a playoff appearance, but if the Jaguars improve there, they'll give themselves a better chance in a lot more games.
3. The reason Head Coach Doug Marrone back is …He deserved to be back. Marrone did an admirable job keeping the team together in one of the strangest seasons in franchise history. Foles' Week 1 injury, Telvin Smith's preseason retirement, Jalen Ramsey's forced trade, the Tom Coughlin firing at season's end, Minshew Mania … perhaps no other coach in franchise history dealt with so much in one season. And make no mistake: players wanted him to return. They said as much during the final two weeks of the season, then played perhaps their best game of the season in the season-ending victory over Indianapolis. Marrone pointed the finger at himself after nearly every loss this season. That's admirable and Marrone believes strongly in taking responsibility for all that happens under his watch. But a lot of things happened beyond his control, and he deserved a chance to show what might happen when a few more things are in his control.
1. Turning the ship around is possible in 2020 but it's much more likely to happen in 2021.The salary cap is going to have to be serviced this spring and that means high-priced veterans will leave in favor of less-expensive, less-experienced players. Even if Minshew takes a big jump in his second season, the defense likely will go backward while they figure things out. I've got eight players on offense and six on defense I think they can count on, though maybe their number is different. It's not a total rebuild, but it's not a quick fix unless something unexpected happens. They have the draft capital but not cap room. That leans toward a more patient approach, which to my way of thinking is the right way to attack this challenge.
2. Clarity is key.Ambiguity is the enemy; talking to players and staff it seemed as they didn't always know who was in charge the last few seasons. Now, Marrone runs the football team and Caldwell runs the personnel department. Both men will report to Owner Shad Khan, who will hold them accountable for their responsibilities. The previous organizational structure left way too much room for interpretation; when things went sideways, it was unable to handle the challenges.
3. Marrone should have a strong voice in roster construction.An old NFL adage goes as follows: "Coaches coach and scouts scout." While those words still ring true, you want both sides working in tandem to get the best players – and the best players for how a team wants to play. There were whispers this season of acrimony between the sides over a few players the coaching staff didn't want. That's going to happen in this "crystal-ball" business where you must make an educated guess about how a player will perform. But if you look at Baltimore, Kansas City or San Francisco you find successful teams with head coaches heavily involved in building the roster. Marrone might not get the final say – coaches tend to think "micro," while general managers think "macro;" someone must protect the long-term vision – but if he's on board with the signings or draft picks it puts everyone on the same page. That's critical for the Jaguars to turn this ship around.