JACKSONVILLE – Trent Baalke made his philosophy clear Friday:
The draft will matter very much – well beyond the No. 1 overall selection in the April 2021 NFL Draft. And when drafting, the Jaguars will focus on one thing above all else:
Finding the best players – at the right time, and right cost.
"We're a value-based team – not a needs-based [team],'' Baalke said.
Baalke spoke to the media via videoconference early Thursday afternoon, hours after being named the Jaguars' general manager. Among the topics was his core drafting philosophy – and whether it focused on roster needs or a player's overall ability regardless of position.
This is an age-old debate around the draft: "need" versus "best-available player."
Baalke explained his approach: "We're always going to look at the value of a player, and value matters. It matters in where you draft them, how much you pay them, how much you pay them in free agency. You always have needs, regardless of when you set the 53[-man roster], so the best player available is usually the direction you want to go, yet you have to keep in mind the needs of the organization as well and the team."
Baalke, the San Francisco 49ers' general manager from 2011-2016, left no doubt on Thursday about his philosophy that the draft is the most important element of roster construction.
"The focus is always on the draft and building your team through the draft," he said. "You use your other avenues to supplement your roster, whether that's in big-name free agents, mid-tier free agents, or low-end free agents. Everybody has to be aligned, so that's No. 1.
"Once you get the shared vision and you know exactly what you're looking for positionally – whether it be offense, defense, special teams – then it's the philosophy of the head coach and the coaching staff on how you're going to build that out.
"Then you go into a room and you grind through the tape and you set the board, whether it's free agency or the draft."
Baalke and Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer on Thursday each spoke of the extensive amount of time they have spent together in recent weeks, with Meyer saying he can't imagine spending more time with someone than the two did in that time. Meyer said he first met Baalke when Baalke was with the San Francisco 49ers, who selected Utah quarterback Alex Smith No. 1 overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. Meyer spent 2003-2004 as the coach at Utah. "But really, my experience with Trent has been recent," Meyer said. "I like blue-collar people. Obviously, we got to know each other, about our families. But we're right to work. We've got a job to do for a great owner (Jaguars Owner Shad Khan) and it's a big job. It's a job that's going to take a lot of manpower. Our working relationship, I can't imagine it being better than what we've gone through. I'm knee-deep in hiring a coaching staff and we're right there going at it. It's been fantastic so far. Obviously, when you take over 1-15, the work ahead of is us a tall task. It's certainly one you can't do by yourself, so it's been great."
Baalke on how he has changed since being the 49ers' general manager from 2011-2016: "I think I've grown in a lot of ways. When you're out of the business, you get to look at the business through a different lens. When you're in it, you don't have that luxury. Things are happening a lot quicker and you have to make a lot quicker decisions. This business is a difficult business. You're not always going to be right and you're not always going to be popular. Which I'm totally comfortable with. But you grow with every experience. I grew more from being outside this business looking in than I ever grew inside this business."
Baalke: "You're always searching to build your roster. Whether it's from the top down or the bottom up or somewhere in the middle, your goal is to get the best 53 players you possibly can and go to work. But once that 53 is set, you're still working, you're still grinding, you're always trying to improve. That's the philosophy we'll take. We'll do everything we can within the rules to build the best roster we possibly can."