JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for the 2019 offseason
1.Find a quarterback. When quarterback is a need, it trumps all else – and quarterback is the 2019 offseason need that will dictate many of the Jaguars’ other moves. One option: pursue a veteran such as Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles or Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, with such a player likely wanting assurance he will start for the foreseeable future. The Jaguars therefore must determine the role they foresee for a veteran quarterback. While Foles likely will be in high-enough demand to dictate his role, a player such as Flacco possibly could be signed to serve as a so-called “bridge” to an early-drafted rookie. Quarterbacks such as Tyrod Taylor also could play that role. Free agency likely will provide clues to how they approach the draft. If a high-profile veteran isn’t signed, it will raise the likelihood of aggressively pursuing a rookie quarterback such as Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State – who many project as the top quarterback available – or Drew Lock of Missouri or Daniel Jones of Duke. The Jaguars hold the No. 7 overall selection, and many observers believe they would have to trade up for draft Haskins. Will that be their route? Could they stay at No. 7 and take Lock, Jones or a player such as Will Grier of West Virginia? Those questions will dominate conversations around this team in the coming weeks.
2.Rebuild/retool offensively. While quarterback will dictate the offense’s future, it’s hardly the only Jaguars offensive position that must be addressed. The first step: hiring an offensive coordinator, who will take the position with a slew of unknowns – most notably, quarterback. The team also has major questions at running back, tight end, receiver and offensive line. The Jaguars must determine not only running back Leonard Fournette’s future, but the future of reserve Carlos Hyde. Tight end also must be addressed, as must right guard and possibly right tackle. At wide receiver, the Jaguars must determine if the combination of Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and DJ Chark Jr. is enough moving forward. Bottom line: Westbrook, left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell and center Brandon Linder are the only “sure things” for this team offensively. All else is fluid, which makes this offseason fascinating and critical.
3.Maintain the defense. This is doable, though like much else around the Jaguars this offseason it’s not an easy task. The defense ranked in the Top 10 for a third consecutive season in 2018, and enough crucial pieces will return that the unit should be strong again. But defensive tackle Malik Jackson is expected to be released before unrestricted free agency begins March 13, and the team faces salary-cap decisions in the coming weeks on multiple veteran players. Most notable among that group is tackle Marcell Dareus, but linebacker Telvin Smith, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback A.J. Bouye also have cap figures high enough that the team will face tricky decisions about their futures.
1.Keep the cap clean. I’m sure you were expecting “decide who the quarterback is,” and I get that. But I’ve seen this moment in time before and it’s critical long-term best interests outweigh short-term thinking that can gain critical mass in an instant. In 1999, the decision was made to win at all costs and it created salary cap hell in 2001 that plagued the franchise and decimated the roster. Chances are you can’t even remember how bad the roster was from 2001-2003, but the Jaguars were barely competitive … barely. In 2008, the powers that be decided to sell out and build on the promise the 2007 team showed late in the season; they made poor decisions, finished 5-11 and started a decade-long run of non-winning seasons. You must pick the right players, but you also must sign the right contracts and avoid the restructures that push bad decisions into future years. If the Jaguars are going to sell out for anything, it should be the long term and not 2019.
2.Draft a quarterback. For sure, sign a free agent – but also draft one with an eye on the long term. You must have one. That means put in the work on the road, in the meeting and film rooms and come to the best decision you can and select a quarterback in the first round. I know: the 2020 draft is loaded with quarterbacks. I don’t care. If you don’t get the right guy in 2019, you can draft again. Draft a quarterback in the first round in 2019 and let’s get going.
3.Draft more offensive linemen. Did you see what drafting offensive linemen did for the Indianapolis Colts? Andrew Luck went from the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback in 2015 when he last played a full season to the league’s least-sacked quarterback in 2018. He was clean in the pocket and is an MVP candidate with a team playing in the Divisional Playoff round this weekend. Moreover, the transformation impacted the running game and allowed a defense that didn’t have a lot of front-line talent to play at an exceptionally high level as the regular season wound down. The Jags hope to get Robinson back from a knee injury as well as two highly-paid interior linemen in Norwell and Linder. Draft more. Identify the best guys and if you can maneuver to get close, then go and get them. There doesn’t appear to be a lineman on the level of Colts guard Quenton Nelson in this draft – but if you can find a prospect along the lines of Colts linemen Ryan Kelly or a Braden Smith … by all means go and get him.