PHOENIX – The theme resonated all week, and the theme was good.
Actually, the 2015 NFL Annual Meeting was darned, darned good for the Jaguars and Jaguars fans. Notably so.
It told good things about the present; it foretold good things for the future. And if the week didn't represent a seismic change, necessarily, it certainly could be seen as another step in what appears to be a new direction.
And a fairly remarkable direction at that.
It started with Jaguars President Mark Lamping talking Monday afternoon about perception. Had it ended there, that would have made for a significant theme for the week.
It was clear listening to Lamping, who last week signed a five-year extension, that the league-wide perception of the Jaguars is changing. That change involves franchise stability, leadership quality and how this team is connecting to its fan base. It also involves the league-wide view of the Jaguars catching up with the view of people more intimately aware of the franchise's goings on.
It also involves no one talking about Jaguars-to-Los Angeles anymore.
So, yeah, that was good stuff.
But that wasn't all that was good for the Jaguars.
The good stuff involved on-field stuff, too. There was a buzz nationally after the hiring of Doug Marrone as assistant head coach-offense/offensive line, Greg Olson as offensive coordinator and Nathaniel Hackett as quarterbacks coach. The buzz was that if the hirings early this offseason weren't necessarily headline-grabbing, they were solid moves with potential for real on-field impact. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley this week talked again of the feeling he had during the coaching hiring process that the perception of Jacksonville had changed since he had gone through a similar process two years ago, and that this time around the Jaguars were an easier sell.
That feeling was more evident a couple of weeks back in free agency, when the Jaguars signed tight end Julius Thomas, right tackle Jermey Parnell and defensive end Jared Odrick. Yes, the players were lured with money – lots and lots of money – but money aside, any silly, irrelevant and incorrect perception that players wouldn't sign with the Jaguars suddenly seemed sillier, less relevant and not even close to correct.
Those themes continued this week. The signings of Thomas, Parnell and Odrick may or may not work out; there is risk in any free-agency signing as there is risk in any player acquisition. But league-wide they are considered solid signings with minimal risk and significant upside. People close to the Green Bay Packers, too, speak highly of cornerback Davon House's potential as a press cover guy in a Jaguars defensive scheme that emphasizes his skills.
To hear Caldwell and Bradley talk this week, this is a significantly better roster than the past two offseasons. Not just because of the free-agent acquisitions but because of a young roster that now should start showing signs of growth. This roster was torn down in significant, bold fashion two offseasons ago. It has been a long, sometimes painful process to rebuild. The rebuild is not complete, but there's a feeling that it's close enough to start moving significantly away from 3-13 and 4-12.
There are fans to be sure who will tell you they've heard all of that on-field stuff before. Similar positive talk indeed has been heard the past two offseasons and there are those who legitimately have tired of it. They will remain tired until they see something real on the field and that's fine.
Still, while the things being heard were significant, what you weren't hearing around the Arizona Biltmore this week was even more so.
That's because you weren't hearing Jaguars rumors.
The major talk this week at the meetings is the inevitability of relocation to Los Angeles. Three teams – the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams – are being mentioned, and the feeling is that one or two of those teams will move soon. Very soon.
The Jaguars aren't being mentioned in that talk. No rumors. No whispers. Nothing.
If you're a Jaguars fan, you don't have to be told that's a change. A real, significant change. It's also absolutely the Jaguars' theme for this week, and if the theme began when Lamping spoke Monday, it became even more so when Jaguars Owner Shad Khan spoke to the media the following day.
"It's no accident."
That was Khan's quote this week when asked about the Relocation Silence surrounding the Jaguars, and he's absolutely right it's no accident. He was right, too, when he talked about actions speaking louder than words when it came to his commitment to Jacksonville.
Khan often has talked about that commitment and Lamping has, too, but it's the actions of the pair along with the rest of a revitalized organization that has caused the silence. It's the Shipyards proposal. It's stadium renovations already completed. It's video boards. It's pools. It's planned stadium renovations. It's a fan experience that ranks among the best in the league. It's a daily walk and daily effort that fans in the city and close to the team have growingly felt during the three years of Khan's ownership. That walk is now being acknowledged league-wide.
That acknowledgment isn't fully completed, of course. Full acknowledgment on a national scale of such a thing takes longer than three years, and that's OK.
What we heard around the Biltmore this week was a start, a good start. And for the Jaguars and their fans a good start is really, really good stuff.