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Sexton-Oehser Quick Thoughts: League poised to lead

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Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell during pregame warm-ups before an NFL game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019 in London. (Rick Wilson via AP)

Oehser …

1.The 2020 NFL Draft won't look the same – and that's OK. Here's what we know about the April 23-25 NFL Draft: It will look different – and weird. The NFL's decision to hold the draft remotely to align with COVID-19 regulations means general managers will work the draft at home alone; personnel officials can't gather at each other's homes away from franchise facilities, so communication will be by phone or internet. The idea is to ensure all equal circumstances for all teams; it wouldn't be fair, for example, for the Jaguars to gather at General Manager David Caldwell's home if California COVID-19 rules prevented from team officials in that state from doing so. The draft therefore will be a communications and logistics challenge – for networks broadcasting to a sports-hungry public and for personnel offices. Networks undoubtedly will create an innovative broadcast. And you know what? Here's guessing general managers and team staffs figure a way to navigate their obstacles, too. The best personnel departments have minimal disagreements during the draft; most major decisions and discussions should be completed long beforehand. Teams will thrive and pick good players. Some players will bust. Some will succeed. That's the percentage-game nature of the draft. Working remotely won't change that.

2.The 2020 season may not look the same – and that's OK, too. Here's what we know about the '20 season: Like the draft, it also could look weird. COVID-19 seems certain to shorten and perhaps negate the offseason – and it very possibly will affect training camp and perhaps the regular season. Fan-less training camps and preseason? A shortened preseason? Even a shortened regular season with games at a remote location, as Major League Baseball reportedly is considering? It's too early for real insight into the possibility any of those scenarios. But remember: the NFL has played in unusual circumstances before. A weekend of 2001 games was moved from mid-September to season's end after the September 11 attacks, and the league played nine regular-season games in 1982 and 15 regular-season games in 1987 because of labor disputes. An emotional Super Bowl was played during the Persian Gulf War. COVID-19's hurdles could dwarf those logistical issues, but history shows NFL seasons can come in unusual lengths and in difficult circumstances. It also shows NFL seasons have succeeded in unusual and even daunting circumstances.

3.The Jaguars may draft receiver before offensive line; is that OK? Here's what we know about the Jaguars' draft plans: Nothing – by design. But if what we've heard from Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone is an indication, the team could look at wide receiver early more intently than offensive line. Caldwell and Marrone throughout the offseason have talked about liking the current offensive linemen, and it wouldn't be a shock if they entered the season with left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann and right tackle Jawaan Taylor starting. Also: Marrone mentioned several times during his conversation with local media last week the need for playmakers offensively. This is a team that needs to score and make more plays. While it wouldn't be shocking if the Jaguars selected left tackle early in a draft with two or three potentially elite players available at the position, neither should it be a surprise if the team uses one of its three Top 42 selections on a receiver.

Sexton …

1.Roster in transition. Caldwell has done a nice job lifting the nose of this franchise out of what seemed a swampy situation in 2020 and beyond. Detractors will remind me he is the one who put it in that situation. That's at least partly accurate, but for a guy whose job security seemed tenuous in December he now appears to be in a strong position. He made some obvious decisions such as letting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus walk, some difficult decisions such as trading cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell and facilitated what looks like an important trade of quarterback Nick Foles to free up the salary cap starting in 2021. He sits with 21 draft choices in the next two years; next spring, the Jaguars will have transformed from one of the worst salary-cap situations into one of the top five thanks to some of those choices. NFL observers outside Jacksonville – and perhaps some here as well – don't hold particularly high expectations for the Jaguars in 2020. But if Caldwell does as well on Draft Weekend as he has since the new league year began – or as well has he did in last year's NFL Draft – there is good reason to believe 2021 could be the start of something different. And maybe big. 

2.This could be anything. The Jaguars are the NFL's most difficult team for mock drafters to figure. From the outside, this seems like a franchise in a rebuild. But Caldwell and Marrone were retained after a 6-10 season and given marching orders to produce a winner this coming season. So no one is sure if they should have them spending draft capital to move up the draft order and go grab one of the franchise quarterbacks – or if using the best-available-player method is the right way to go since it seems they need to win immediately. They need help on both lines and in the secondary; there are going to be good players that can help them immediately at No. 9 and No. 20 and probably at No. 42, so that thinking seems solid. However, this strikes me as 2014 all over again when most analysts had either wide receiver Sammy Watkins or edge defender Khalil Mack as the Jaguars' most likely selection at No. 3 overall. No one, NO ONE had Caldwell taking quarterback Blake Bortles. I just have the sense Caldwell is using the confusion as cover for what he really wants to do. Remember: he kept his choice of Bortles to himself until the very end; not even his scouting staff knew what he was going to do. Don't be surprised by anything on April 23.

3.Helping the country heal. Vic Ketchman said something during our Skype conversation last week that resonates with me. He believes the NFL is best positioned because of the timing of this COVID-19 pandemic – and by the league's position as the market leader in the sports world – to be the absolute center of attention when it returns. It makes too much sense to ignore. Basketball, baseball, hockey, auto racing and even golf will be playing on adjusted calendars; college football has a trickier landscape with more than 100 teams and dozens of conferences to try and pull their season off without a hitch. The NFL is planning for its full season; thanks to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it's in position with the players to have everyone working off the same plan. They're going to go ahead with the draft even though it will be virtual, which will allow them to focus on the field as soon as it's possible for them to open their doors. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is the availability of instant testing to ensure the safety of players and fans. But assuming something comes down the pike this summer that would allow the NFL to play, there exists the possibility for a "Star-Spangled Season" – as Vic so eloquently put it – a kind of healing that football and our shared love of the sport is uniquely capable of providing. One can certainly hope.

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