Sexton-Oehser Quick Thoughts: On Fournette, Minshew and more …

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) throws a pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars as the 2020 offseason continues …

Oehser…

1.The schedule feels manageable … A thing to remember when analyzing NFL schedules is you know little about their real difficulty until five or six weeks into a season; offseason turnover makes that true. But assuming the Jaguars indeed will improve as much as they expect, the 2020 schedule released last week appears at least somewhat "manageable." It features just one stretch of back-to-back road games; while that stretch includes 2019 AFC South Champion Houston on October 11, it also features the following week a Cincinnati Bengals team that went 2-14 last season. The lack of a London trip – originally scheduled to feature back-to-back games – means the Jaguars will be at TIAA Bank Field four times in seven weeks from October 18 through November 22 with two road games in that span. The first three months feature just one stretch of multiple opponents with winning records last season – home against the Texans November 8 and at Green Bay November 15. The toughest stretch appears to come in December: at Minnesota, home against Tennessee and at Baltimore. All three teams made the postseason last season. Which leads to No. 2 …

2. … but the Jaguars better win early. Whatever your opinion of the Jaguars' chances next season, it's hard to not see the first half as far more manageable than the second. The first seven games feature two opponents with winning records last season – at Tennessee in Week 2 and at Houston in Week 5 – while five of the last nine opponents were better than .500 and another two went 8-8. The second half may be "manageable," but no schedule is easy – particularly for a team that went 6-10 last season with improvement needed in multiple areas. If the Jaguars expect to make or even contend for the postseason, the feeling here is they must be at least 4-3 after visiting the Los Angeles Chargers November 1. Week 2 at Tennessee feels particularly important: The Jaguars have been uncompetitive too often in Nashville in recent seasons. A similar showing so early in the season would set an ominous tone.

3.Fournette will be fine. It has been striking in recent weeks the number of questions and comments about just what the Jaguars will do regarding running back Leonard Fournette. These come in the wake of pre-draft reports that the Jaguars considered trading the fourth-year veteran running back – and following news that he now is part of the team's plans for 2020. Many of the questions revolve around whether Fournette will be happy playing for the Jaguars this season considering he will be entering the final year of his contract. We have no way of gauging Fournette's "happiness level," which is OK because there's no requirement that players – or anyone for that matter – be happy to perform their jobs. Fournette is a professional football player and very capable of performing while knowing it might be his last year with a team. Players play in their final years of deals all the time with no ill-effects. He also absolutely understands that the 2020 season will be very important for his NFL future – and his future earning potential. He is in the very definition of a contract year. If he performs poorly in 2020, his value on the open market will severely diminish. If he performs well, he could be one of the higher-paid free agents on the 2021 market. Far from unhappy, Fournette could be excited for the opportunity and highly motivated. The expectation here is he will be both.

Sexton …

1.So now the focus turns to Gardner Minshew II. I get that we can also focus on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue's happiness, Fournette's future or if the run defense will be significantly better. All are credible storylines but, honestly: if Minshew is truly "the man," none of that is even close to being as important. Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell could have moved up for the quarterback he wanted in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he chose to stand his ground and work on the rest of the roster. The Jaguars added talent on both sides of the ball and at nearly every position – and even with the temptation of big-name veteran quarterbacks on the market, Caldwell decided to go with the kid who went 6-6 as a starter as a rookie last season. Now we get to see if Minshew can build on what he did in 2019, shoulder the load and be the franchise quarterback the Jaguars are so desperately seeking. The kid is going to be all kinds of under the microscope and no one can say for certain … except that it won't bother him a bit.

2.Dave's done. The heavy lifting part of the offseason is complete. Caldwell and his team took on a big task, and appear to have completed it. A salary cap that was in real trouble is now on its way back to health, a roster that was getting older and struggled to stay healthy the last two seasons is now younger – and hopefully that means more durable. Mix in a solid draft class with the knowledge that next year has the potential to add another solid draft class and the future looks brighter; that's Caldwell's job, to keep the nose of this ship pointing up. Now it's Head Coach Doug Marrone's turn to take what he has been given – and what he helped design – and turn it into a team that can perform on Sundays. Caldwell's job seemed the more daunting of the two when this offseason began, but with the virus and the virtual world in which we find ourselves I'm not sure that Marrone's isn't just as difficult.

3.We have no choice but to embrace the chaos this fall. Speaking of microscopes, the Covid-19 virus doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon – at least not soon enough to be gone by the time football season arrives. The NFL will have a well-researched plan and plenty of resources stockpiled, but a league used to being in control of everything now is at the mercy of something we can't even see without a microscope. Listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci before the United States Senate this week, and spending a good bit of time reading ideas from experts, has me hoping for the best but preparing for what could be a wild season week-to-week. I would rather just cover a fun and exciting season, but that isn't up to me. I'm getting ready for anything this fall. You should, too.

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