JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the recent Jaguars happenings around the start of the 2020 NFL League Year …
*Oehser … *
1.The right focus. The Jaguars' first major move of 2020 free agency was one of necessity, and it's one that made sense considering how the 2019 season played out: the signing of former Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Joe Schobert to a five-year deal. Why a front-line middle linebacker early in free agency and not a cornerback? Why not an offensive lineman? Because if the Jaguars had to do any one thing to have a chance to be competitive next season it was strengthen themselves against the run. The Jaguars were abysmal there during the five-game losing streak that took them from 4-4 to 4-9 last season, and Schobert's signing was the first of several moves addressing the area. The signing also allowed the Jaguars to move Myles Jack from the middle to the weak side, thus potentially strengthening two positions. They then signed free-agent defensive lineman Rodney Gunter and defensive tackle Al Woods, providing depth on the interior of the line. The guess here is the Jaguars will address defensive tackle early in the draft – quite likely with one of their two first-round selections and/or their second-round selections. That's a ton of offseason equity on the position, but it will not have been too much. Considering how the Jaguars played the run last season, there might not be a thing as "too much" to spend there.
2.Skewing younger. That the Jaguars will be younger and less experienced in 2020 is beyond question. What is a question is how much that will hurt play on the field. That may be one of the more important issues facing this team this offseason. When David Caldwell took over as general manager in 2013, he shed veteran players such as cornerback Rashean Mathis and linebacker Daryl Smith – which contributed to one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL struggling to be competitive at times. This doesn't figure to be nearly as pronounced an issue in 2020. Even with the departures of defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the 2020 Jaguars' roster figures to be more talented than the '13 and '14 teams. Players such as linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Josh Allen, center Brandon Linder, wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. and right tackle Jawaan Taylor – to name a few – form the beginnings of a strong foundation. But the loss of Campbell and Bouye in particular leave a leadership void that players who haven't previously been visible leaders – or go-to players – must fill sooner rather than later.
3.And then there were two. Two – that's the number of quarterbacks on the Jaguars' roster now, pending the trade of Nick Foles to the Chicago becoming official. Gardner Minshew II is the starting quarterback and Josh Dobbs is the backup … for now. What remains to be seen is what the Jaguars will do at the position in the rest of free agency and in the NFL Draft – and the thought here is that a player capable of starting will be brought in by one of these two avenues. The slightly more likely route appears to be free agency/trade, with more high-profile veterans available this offseason than in any in recent memory. While it seems unlikely the Jaguars would invest in the top end in that area, it's not unreasonable to think the Jaguars could sign a player with starting experience to either compete with Minshew – or to be available if he struggles as he did at times as a rookie. More intriguing is what the Jaguars could do in the draft with their 12 selections. Could they package selections to trade up from No. 9 overall for an elite prospect? Could they use one of their mid-round selections on the position? Anything at this point seems possible at the position. While Minshew played well enough as a rookie to give the team hope that he can be the long-term starter, he did not play well enough for them to be certain of it. Until they're certain, the search at the position must continue.
1.Go get your guy. The Jaguars built around the running game and defense in 2017, knowing then it was a short-term proposition. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan was tired of losing, so a team was built that could compete immediately – and if things fell right, could be a contender. That team's window is long since closed – and gone after two losing seasons are the good feelings from that playoff year. What shouldn't be gone are the lessons from that quick build; this team should be focused on finding its long-term quarterback near the top of the draft. Caldwell has done a nice job this offseason amassing draft capital and shouldn't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get the quarterback he believes is the next Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans) or Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens). The Jaguars passed on those two Most Valuable Player candidates – and the one in Kansas City – and will now have to go through them if they're going to compete for a Super Bowl championship. You don't do that in today's game by leaning on your defense or running game; you do that with your quarterback.
2.Go BIG or risk going home. If Caldwell isn't sold on any of the quarterbacks, then the focus should turn to big guys. George Young, who built the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s and constructed championship teams with Bill Parcells in New York in the 1980s, used to call his draft philosophy the "planet theory." Young argued that there were only so many big, athletic men on the planet; while you could find lots of average-sized guys who could play, finding the big guys was so much harder that you couldn't afford to pass them by on draft day. I don't care what you think about the Jaguars' offensive or defensive lines; neither are so good they don't need more big men. Again: if quarterbacks are off the table early, the Jaguars should get the best offensive and defensive linemen on the board in their first two or three picks. You can never have too many big, athletic players for a game that is built on them.
3.No one knows. It certainly feels like the coronavirus (COVID-19) issue should be in the rearview mirror by June, doesn't it? I heard the President say so the other night, but the more you watch and read and listen the more opinions you get. The Olympics have been postponed a year and they weren't scheduled until late July. We know the 2020 NFL Draft is going to happen in late April, but we don't know what it's going to look like. Off-field workouts and on-field activities won't start on time in April; it's anyone's guess when training camps open – and if the season starts in September. The NFL has dealt with disruptions before, though nothing like this. The lockout in 2011, strikes in 1982 and 1987 and of course during World War Two when teams had to combine to keep the league playing because of a lack of players. Anyone remember the Steagles? Sports is the toy department of life and we certainly have more important issues to solve right now, but times like these sure make us appreciate those sunny Sunday afternoons at TIAA Bank Field watching the Jaguars play. Here's to enjoying those together in the fall and perhaps appreciating them and one another a little bit more. Stay well.