JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned at the end of – and immediately after –the Jaguars’ 2018 regular season
1.The leadership is returning. The news overwhelmed all else around the Jaguars in recent days, with Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Doug Marrone all returning in 2019. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan announced the decision at the end of a 20-3 loss in Houston Sunday.
2.Khan’s decision was about stability. Khan said he told Coughlin last week Coughlin would return, and that he told Coughlin at the time he hoped for stability if possible. Coughlin then made the decision to retain Marrone and Caldwell. Coughlin will enter his third season in his position, as will Marrone. Caldwell will enter his seventh season in his position.
3.Leonard Fournette is a major issue … The second-year running back missed a game as a rookie last season for violating team rules and he served a one-game suspension earlier this season. On Sunday, an inactive Fournette and running back T.J. Yeldon showed enough disinterest on the sideline that Coughlin issued a statement calling the duo’s behavior “disrespectful, selfish … unbecoming that of a professional football player.” Fournette played in just half the team’s eight games this season – and as Marrone noted multiple times in the last week, less than 30 percent of the team’s offensive plays. His lack of availability/production and off-field issues were a problem.
4. … and the issue isn’t going away. Marrone on Monday confirmed that the Jaguars had voided the guarantees in Fournette’s contract after his one-game suspension earlier this month. Fournette and the NFL Players Association reportedly can appeal that, but the voided guarantees mean the Jaguars can part ways with Fournette with lighter salary-cap ramifications.
5.Culture is an issue. This was a major topic for the Jaguars throughout the season – and for Marrone Sunday and Monday. He declined to discuss details with the media, but it’s clear it will be a major offseason focus. “I do have some thoughts,” Marrone said. “I’m going to put pen to paper to those thoughts because I have to present them to our owner and management.”
6.Culture could – and must – change from within. Culture wasn’t just a topic for Marrone this week. It was a topic among players, with defensive tackle Abry Jones saying “We need everybody to buy in, but screaming and yelling and telling people, ‘You need to buy in or we’re not going to have a good season …’ that’s not going to help.” Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue talked of his desire to be a captain and to be a force changing the culture. That’s a positive sign.
7.Calais Campbell believes he is returning. The veteran defensive end said Sunday and again Monday he believes he will return. Of all the Jaguars’ offseason salary-cap decisions, this seems among the easiest – if one of the costliest. Campbell has been too good on and off the field to let get away.
8.Others aren’t. While Campbell’s return seems likely, the future of players such as defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, weakside linebacker Telvin Smith, right tackle Jermey Parnell and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus are less clear. Jackson, a Pro Bowl selection last season, moved into a third-down role this season and is unlikely to return. The others will be storylines in the coming months.
9.The defense is still good. The “decline” of the Jaguars’ defense this season was largely a myth. The unit finished fifth in the NFL in yards allowed and tied for fourth in points allowed. The Jaguars’ takeaways dropped from 33 in 2017 to 17 this season – and their sacks dropped 55 to 37; those numbers reflect a lack of opportunity for a defense that rarely played with a lead this season. Even if one or two of the aforementioned veterans depart, this is a strong defense moving forward.
10.The offense has far, far to go. Injuries as much as anything else ruined this season. But the Jaguars still finished 27th in the NFL in total offense and figure to be making major offseason acquisitions at quarterback, tight end, offensive line and possibly running back. They’re also seeking an offensive coordinator, and multiple position coaches including running back and offensive line. Let the overhaul begin.
11.That overhaul likely will begin at quarterback. Quarterback Blake Bortles started the season finale after spending four games backing up Cody Kessler, but the speculation is Sunday may have been Bortles’ final game with the Jaguars. Will the Jaguars’ new direction be a rookie quarterback? An established veteran? Stay tuned.
12.Turnovers remained an issue all season … Takeaway-giveaway ratio keyed the Jaguars’ success in 2017 and it was key to their struggles throughout 2018. After finishing ’17 plus-10 in the ratio, the Jaguars ’18 finished minus-12. They were the only team in the NFL to commit a turnover in every game this season. That goes against everything Marrone preaches.
13. … and drops did, too … The Jaguars’ No. 27 total offense ranking was down from sixth the season before. Much contributed to the decline, but one issue sometimes overlooked was dropped passes. The Jaguars led the NFL in the category with 29.
14. … and so did penalties. The Jaguars’ minus-377 penalties yards was the worst in the league, and they were near the top of the NFL in 15-yard, unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. Marrone again declined to offer details but said on Monday his approach in this area will change. “That has to stop,” Marrone said. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who we are, and it definitely affects winning and losing even though the analytics don’t show it.”
15.The injuries hurt from beginning to end. This became more apparent by the week, with Corey Robinson’s start at right tackle against Houston meaning the Jaguars started their eighth offensive line combination of the season that day. Wide receiver Marqise Lee, running back Corey Grant, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, left tackle Cam Robinson, Parnell, center Brandon Linder, tackle Josh Wells, left guard Andrew Norwell. All finished the season on injured reserve. It was just too much.
16.The Jaguars hold the No. 7 overall in the NFL Draft. Barring an unlikely trade down, they will select in the Top 10 for a 11th time in 12 seasons.
17.The 2019 schedule likely won’t be easy. Aside from the AFC South opponents, the Jaguars play the following teams at home: Kansas City (12-4), the Los Angeles Chargers (12-4), New Orleans Saints (13-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11) and the New York Jets (4-12). They will play the following teams on the road: Oakland (4-12), Denver (6-10), Carolina Panthers (7-9), Atlanta Falcons (7-9) and Cincinnati (6-10).
18.The offseason is upon us. This week’s staff changes are the beginning. Those coaches will be replaced. A new offensive coordinator will be hired. Major decisions will be made offensively and defensively. The coming weeks and months will be busy. Buckle up.