JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Now that the Jaguars season has ended with a 5-11 record and truckloads of disappointment, it's time to get the off-season underway. There are four big decisions that Jaguars must make before free agency. Here's how I think they should go, and how I believe they will go:
In my opinion, the Jaguars should, and I believe, will, retain Doug Marrone as the head coach. While Marrone and the players in the locker room can't use injuries as an excuse, the fact of the matter is that the Jaguars were hammered by the injury bug, especially on offense. During the season finale, only three players who were anticipated to be starters on opening day got the start: Blake Bortles at quarterback, right guard A.J. Cann, and wide receiver Dante Moncrief. Fullback Tommy Bohanon was also available, although the Jaguars opened with a two tight end set. The biggest concern going forward is whether Marrone's hard-nosed, old-school approach will bear fruit as it did in his first full season as the Jaguars' head coach. This year, Marrone admitted that at times, his message wasn't landing with the team.
Deciding on the short list of offensive coordinator candidates should already have been made. It's vital that the next offensive coordinator is someone who can develop a quarterback, because its likely the Jaguars will draft one, and perhaps sign another in free agency. While Tom Coughlin believes strongly in a power running game that sets up play-action in the passing game. As long as Coughlin is making the decisions, that's the kind of assistant he'll be looking for. It will be interesting to see how much input Doug Marrone has in the decision. Will they consider former Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy? It would be a big name signing. Or will they look at an NFL quarterbacks coach? How about the college ranks? I would like to see former Texas Tech head coach and current Southern Cal offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury get some consideration, although I don't believe he will.
The quarterback question
It's time to move on from Bortles, who started the final game of the season and led the Jaguars injury-riddled offense to 3 points. Cody Kessler showed that he isn't ready to be a starter, and may not be suited to be a backup. The Jaguars are going to have to make the decision to go after a quarterback in free agency. Nick Foles would fit nicely while the Jaguars develop a young quarterback. Here's the rub: the Jaguars won't know if they will have a rookie quarterback until after the first phase of free agency. So, the Jaguars will need to know how much they can spend on a quarterback, which could influence whether they keep Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus, and whether they will look to sign Yannick Ngakoue or Jalen Ramsey to new contracts this off-season.
There was a troubling shot shown on the broadcast of the Jaguars loss in Houston. In fact, it was shown several times. Leonard Fournette, sitting in a sweatshirt on the bench while the offense was on the field. Fellow running back T.J. Yeldon sat next to him, clearly not looking like he had any interest in playing. Fournette was inactive with a foot injury, but Yeldon was active. While Yeldon is set to become a free agent, Fournette is a team captain. He hasn't acted like it. The second-year running back missed half the games this season and didn't finish two others. He has not shown the kind of leadership expected of a captain. More troubling, he has not performed as well as he did as a rookie, even admitting that he could be in better shape. I'm not sure what Fournette would bring on the trade market, but if the Jaguars can get a second round pick for him, I would make the deal. Chances are, because of the low priority placed on the position and the questions about Fournette's durability and attitude, the Jaguars will not get that kind of return in a trade. They should decide immediately if they are going to shop him. I don't think they'll trade him, but I think they should strongly consider it.
Here's what Tom Coughlin had to say about the two running backs' behavior after the game:
"I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette. They were disrespectful, selfish and the behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player."