JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, in Week 7 of the 2019 regular season
1.So unfortunate. Tuesday's trade of cornerback Jalen Ramsey ended perhaps the most bizarre story in Jaguars history – and in retrospect, perhaps it was the only way this sad story could end. It had become apparent he was not willing to play for the Jaguars again and it became just as apparent his relationship with the team and teammates wouldn't work going forward. I am on record saying I wouldn't have traded Ramsey, instead telling him "We have you under contract through at least 2020 – and we can use the franchise tag on you after that; you play here or nowhere." Would that have been detrimental to the team? Perhaps, and the Jaguars chose instead to get as much value as possible from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a player who should have been remembered as one of the franchise's all-time great players. Instead, Ramsey will be remembered as a player who gave up midseason on the teammates he publicly proclaimed to love. Whatever the real story of his back injury, giving up on his teammates is what he did by requesting the trade and sticking to the request during the past month. That's reprehensible within the context of this sport, but it's the path he chose. And that's about as unfortunate as it gets.
2.It's time to pump the brakes – not crush them. OK, so it's time for many people – including this writer – to admit they maybe leaped a little too quickly when proclaiming Jaguars rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II "The Guy" the past several weeks. But remember: While Minshew indeed struggled against the New Orleans Saints last week, that performance didn't show he can't be a franchise quarterback moving forward any more than his performance in his first four starts showed he was going to be a perennial Pro Bowl selection. Rookie quarterbacks have games in which they look overmatched, particularly against defenses as good as that of New Orleans. Minshew's body of work over five starts shows he can play well in this league for a long time, and there's no reason to think he won't have more good games than bad ones. So, yes … pump the brakes on Minshew being the franchise guy because he still must prove that. But don't slam on the brakes. There's no reason to give up on the 'Stache just yet.
3.It's time for the offensive line to be a strength. We've heard for the better part of three seasons that this Jaguars' offensive line is a team strength, one capable of being one of the NFL's better units. That largely hasn't been the case; even when the Jaguars led the NFL in rushing in 2017, the team too often couldn't run in important situations. Fast forward to 2019, and there is no reason on paper this area shouldn't be the core of the team. Center Brandon Linder and guard Andrew Norwell are among the NFL's highest-paid players at their positions, and tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson were early second-round selections. Head Coach Doug Marrone early this week said he feels the group is blocking for the run better than early in the season. The feeling is that when the group struggles now it's more about one or two missed assignments more than a complete breakdown. Those are good signs. The line needs to take those good signs and start being a team strength.
1.Straight facts. The Jaguars won't be better on defense without Ramsey. He's a generational talent at a position with great value in today's game. His ability to shut down DeAndre Hopkins in Week 2 in Houston kept the game close; he's a great player. No disrespect intended to A.J. Bouye or Tre Herndon, but Ramsey is gifted physically in a way I've never seen in a cornerback. He's highly intelligent and a top competitor. We just saw Saints corner Marshon Lattimore last week – if you've watched any of the Packers this season you've no doubt seen Jaire Alexander. Don't forget Casey Hayward in San Diego – also one of the league's best young corners. I would pick Ramsey over them all.
2.Straight facts 2. The short-term pain of losing Ramsey can be overcome with the proper perspective. Removing him from your salary structure frees up at least $13.7 million on the 2020 cap and frees tens of millions in future earnings that would have choked future caps. General Manager Dave Caldwell and his cap team also now have the luxury of extra first-round picks which – if converted properly – will become front-line players working at a fixed cost for three to five years. That kind of maneuverability lets you keep some guys you might otherwise have had to let walk: end Yannick Ngakoue, end Calais Campbell and Bouye come to mind. Now, start thinking about how to get a player or two in free agency that might otherwise have been unaffordable. You'd rather have a great player and figure out how to pay him, but this isn't a consolation prize. This is a gift to the Jags future, provided they pick the right players with the haul from Los Angeles.
3.Culture cannot be overstated. In the days that followed Ramsey's childish outburst in Houston, I was told repeatedly that the Jaguars didn't have a bad locker room as much as a bad culture. If the Ramsey saga teaches us anything it's that character builds culture – and a few of the Jaguars best players were culture killers. Ramsey was always "me first." Despite all the hype around linebacker Telvin Smith, he showed us he wasn't the high-character leader that linebacker Paul Posluszny was before him. Philadelphia has a great culture; New England has a culture that always puts team before individual and Baltimore has long had a high standard in its locker room. The Jaguars have a lot of high character, good culture guys but they were drowned out at times by the flamboyant, quotable, followable, shareable antics of guys like Ramsey, Smith – and last year, running back Leonard Fournette. The removal of Ramsey and Smith – and Fournette's apparent conversion – should help clean up a locker room that wasn't cleaning up after itself. That's the end goal: a locker room where the players set the standard of how Jaguars football is played.