There are three standards by which we measure the effectiveness of a team's football operations. We judge it according to its won-loss record, its roster and its salary cap.
All right, so what's not to like about the Jaguars? The record is on the high side for the first time in this century, the roster is clearly on the upswing, and the salary cap hasn't been this healthy since the franchise was an infant.
Say what you want about that loss to Houston last December – you know, the one on the day after Christmas – but it's hard to argue against the merits of missing the playoffs by just one more win just one season after this "new era" got off to a 1-7 start.
Complain all you want about Reggie Williams being the ninth pick of last year's draft, but how do you argue with a roster that boasts eight starters from the last two draft classes?
Laugh as you might at what the Jaguars wasted in signing Hugh Douglas, but you'd have to agree they've done something right to be $13 million under the salary cap just two days after signing Reggie Hayward to a rich free-agent contract that assigned $7 million in bonus money directly to this year's cap.
This is some impressive stuff, folks. We're talking about undeniable facts.
If you wish to take stock of where this franchise is just 26 months after Jack Del Rio was named head coach, please make sure you know where it was when all of this began.
Where was it? It was in the first steps of recovery. That's what Tom Coughlin left behind; a start. He left Del Rio a team with two building-block defensive tackles and a salary cap that had just taken its most dramatic steps toward repair.
Yeah, you could say the fix was underway when Del Rio got the job. Paul Vance was burying the team's cap mistakes of the past, and Coughlin kept the team competitive with a masterful job of coaching in 2002. Jaguars fans never fully appreciated how well that team was coached, and never accepted how weak its roster really was.
Along came Del Rio and James Harris and change was everywhere. If you want to get a feel for exactly how much change has occurred in two years, just look at the Jaguars' starting lineup for the '02 season-opener in Carolina. Matt Hatchette and J.J. Stokes were the wide receivers and Mark Brunell was the quarterback. Douglas and Tony Brackens were the defensive ends, Keith Mitchell was one of the linebackers, and Fernando Bryant and Jason Craft were the cornerbacks. Nine starters on that day are not with the team on this day.
Had the Jaguars won that day-after-Christmas game against Houston last year, they would've made the playoffs and we would be celebrating one of the great turnarounds in NFL salary cap history. If you doubt that assertion, then watch how long it takes the Titans to gut their roster, fix their cap and get back into playoff contention. Thank you, Houston.
This turnaround, however, seems to have been lost on a lot of people. In fact, the '04 season ended with a reasonable degree of dissatisfaction among Jaguars fans who, inexplicably, thought the team underachieved.
Hmmm, what is it about this town's inferiority complex that makes it act so darn superior? Losing happens. It happens to the best of them. Chuck Noll once said "geography has nothing to do with losing." It has nothing to do with winning, either.
Yeah, the Jaguars underachieved in that game against Houston; picked a bad day to play bad. But let's be realistic: The Jaguars struggled through the second half of the season for a reason, and the reason was they just weren't that good. They teased us by overachieving on occasion; fooled us into believing they were something more than just a second-year team on the rise.
Most Jaguars fans, however, wouldn't accept that. When the Jaguars finished the season a game out of the playoffs, most fans believed the Colts lost on purpose to the Broncos because the Colts were afraid to play the Jaguars in the playoffs.
Now there's some objective analysis. Never mind that the Jaguars would've been playing without Fred Taylor.
Well, if you're far enough removed from the season that you're actually capable of lucid thought, you might want to form a more rational and clinical opinion of where this franchise is just 26 months after Del Rio became its head coach. Apply the three standards: record, roster and salary cap. It's how you judge the efficiency of a football operation. One game doesn't tell the story.