JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If it was supposed to be some kind of secret, it's out there now: the Jaguars don't have to win this year. It's a luxury that GM Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley have for 2013.
But for only one year. And maybe a little of 2014.
There are a few ways to run an NFL team and a couple of ways to rebuild one and clearly the Jaguars have chosen the "building from the bottom up" path. Caldwell has been given the reins of the franchise and he's making football decisions for the long haul. He could have cobbled a team together in 2013 that looked like it was a player or two away, won some games and continued along that grinding path. Instead he's literally gutting the franchise and looking for pillars and stars that he can build a winner on that will last. It's hard to watch George Selvie, Rashad Jennings, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, Montel Owens and now Eugene Monroe go to other teams with productive years left on their NFL careers. Nobody would argue that the Jaguars would be a better team in 2013 with those guys on the roster. But would they be better in 2014 or 2015 if those players were taking up spots and playing time from players you hoped to develop into long-term contributors? Clearly Caldwell, and Bradley for that matter, have told Shad Khan that it's a rebuilding project that will take time. Perhaps three years. And Khan has bought into that, partly because he trusts that those guys are making the right decisions and partly because he can. The Jaguars under Wayne Weaver could never afford to be historically bad as they're threatening to do this year. Weaver's Jaguars had to win some games to keep fans at least mildly interested and as potential season ticket holders. Khan isn't worried about that right now. He's not blacking out games and he's not worried about the percentage of fans that won't re-up next year if the team drops to historical lows in 2013. He's also looking to the future and the long-term possibility of having a solid base to build on over and over. It's easy to pick those franchises out in the NFL. They're the ones who are in the playoffs year after year and are the favorites week after week. That takes some short-term pain in exchange for the hope that there are better days ahead.
Khan wouldn't have minded that last year but since he didn't have much NFL experience he listened to his football "people" Gene Smith and Mike Mularkey. Their thought was that adding a few free agents and a high draft pick would make the Jaguars competitive in the division. So Khan spent the $60 million and for that got two wins. In his world, that means the decision making process is broken so he changed the decision makers.
You could argue that the Jaguars traded their best offensive player for draft picks. If Monroe wasn't the best player on offense, he was at least 1A. So if they're willing to do that, who might be next?
"That thought does run through your mind," said Marcedes Lewis, one of a couple of Jaguars players who might have some trade value this season. "But if you're thinking about that, your mind's in the wrong place."
"I want to stay here," said Paul Posluszny, the most valuable player on the Jaguars roster when it comes to what he would bring on the trade market. There's not a team that wouldn't want Posluszny on their roster. "I hope that doesn't happen. I want to play for Coach Bradley, for these guys. You just have to compete one day at a time and not worry about any of that other stuff." That's the right theory but it wasn't to hard to see the furrowed brows and the worried glances in the locker room as Monroe's departure sent a noticeable ripple from locker to locker.
"It might make the running game better," Bradley said before practice. When pushed on that statement Gus stood by his position. "I have to think that way. That's the way I've been in my life. If something changes, it could make it better. That's the way I think."
Which means with what Caldwell is doing, Bradley is the right man for the job. Any other attitude and they wouldn't take the field.
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