JACKSONVILLE – The coming weeks and months will be critical.
That's true of any NFL offseason – and General Manager Trent Baalke said it absolutely will be the case for the Jaguars in 2024.
"This team is going to look different," he said.
Baalke, the Jaguars' general manager since 2021, spoke to the media Thursday during his postseason media availability at the Miller Electric Center. He covered multiple issues, including a 2023 season that ended with five losses in the last six games – as well as the upcoming offseason.
"The easiest thing to do in the NFL is take an average football team, a struggling football team, and make it competitive," Baalke said. "The hardest thing to do is take a competitive football team and make it a championship football team. We're in that phase."
"We have to take a competitive football team and turn it into a champion. That's not easy, but that's our job. It takes good football players, it takes good coaching, it takes good management, it takes great ownership."
"We have everything we need here. Now it's time to go do it."
The Jaguars in 2023 returned 21 of 22 starters from their 2022 AFC South title season. They finished 9-8, missing the AFC South title and the postseason by one game.
The Jaguars entering the offseason face multiple decisions regarding the contract statuses of such outside linebacker Josh Allen and wide receiver Calvin Ridley. They hold seven selections in the 2024 NFL Draft, including the No. 17 overall selection in Round 1, with the potential for perhaps two compensatory draft selections.
“We feel we've got a good nucleus of players,” Baalke said, “but this team is going to look different. When we strap it up in April, when the offseason program gets going, the team's going to look different. Every team in the National Football League's going to look different. Trent Baalke, Jaguars General Manager
"How much different? Depends on a lot of the discussions we're going to have over the next couple of weeks."
Baalke on Thursday emphasized the need to be bigger, stronger and more physical as a team. He also emphasized the need to run and stop the run more effectively, areas in which the Jaguars struggled during the final weeks of the 2023 season.
Baalke opted against discussing specific offseason moves, saying "It's not going to do me any good to sit up here and tell the world what we view as our key needs."
"At the same time, we know what we need to do," he added. "We weren't a team that finished 2-15. We finished 9-8, one game out and not good enough. I get that, but it's not a team that needs to be a total overhaul. There are good players in that locker room. There are good coaches in this building."
"There's good personnel, but we have what we need in this building. We just have to add some more to it. There's still a lot of growth to be had, but we trust we've got a pretty good nucleus of young players on this football team."
- Baalke on Thursday also addressed the recent hiring of defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, saying that although he was present during interviews during the hiring process the hire was the sole decision of Head Coach Doug Pederson. "Coach owns the staff, just like they do in most places, and no different here," Baalke said of Pederson. "I respect the decisions that he makes. We collaborated, we worked together, I sat in on all the interviews, we shared our thoughts, but at the end of the day, coach owns it and I respect those decisions." Baalke added that his relationship with Pederson has solidified over time. "When you go through tough times, you find out a lot about a lot of people," Baalke said. "The season didn't end the way we wanted it to. We had some strong conversations throughout the year, where things were at, what we were, where things were trending. There's great communication, great collaboration and really respect him and everything that he does."
- Baalke: "I don't live in regrets. That's not how I operate. Are there decisions you look back on and say, 'What if we would've done this? What if we would've done that?' Shoulda, woulda, coulda all got beat. You do the best you can. We felt we had a pretty competitive football team coming back. We still feel we had a pretty competitive football team coming back. The season didn't go our way. We felt we had a competitive football team. We didn't win a number of games we wanted to win. And that's on all of us, me included. Look no further than here. There are some things we have to do. We've recognized it and we're making those changes as we go."