Jaguars: Looking at what can be done to turn the franchise around

Former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey talks to coach Doug Marrone during a practice. Ramsey was dealt to the LA Rams, one of numerous storylines that have enveloped the Jaguars during another disappointing season.
Former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey talks to coach Doug Marrone during a practice. Ramsey was dealt to the LA Rams, one of numerous storylines that have enveloped the Jaguars during another disappointing season. (George Varkanis)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the Jaguars’ playoff chances nearly over, the News4Jax sports staff took a look on what went wrong and what can be done to address it going forward.

Where did this season go so wrong for the Jaguars?

Cole Pepper: I think you can actually trace the start of the downfall back to the offseason when Doug Marrone really pulled back on the players. The players said they appreciated it, but it didn’t pay dividends. Not playing the starters in the preseason may have avoided injuries, but it didn’t give the Jaguars a true sense of where they stood as the season opened. We still don’t know what their team identity truly is.

Jamal St. Cyr: The Jaguars season started to go off the rails when Jalen Ramsey made his trade demand after Week 2. It’s never a good sign when a star player has lost all faith in an organization’s ability to win, but the real issue is that many of the players in the locker room understood where Ramsey was coming from. A few close wins and Minshew Mania helped to keep things on track for awhile but now the frustrations are becoming more and more apparent.

Justin Barney: Week 9 against the Texans. Sure, the Jaguars had been all over the place up until that point, but that game lit the fuse on the beginning of the end for this season. Jacksonville had put some momentum together going into the Texans’ game. It was 4-4 and had stacked up wins against the Bengals and Jets with two exceptional defensive performances (10 combined sacks, 6 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries). Then the Texans came calling and the season went off the rails. Gardner Minshew II was abysmal in that game (4 turnovers). Things haven’t been the same since.

What can the franchise do to get back on track?

CP: I think they have to start fresh. Since becoming the Jaguars owner, Shad Khan has instituted incremental changes. Start fresh. Find a new top man on the football side of the organization and let him hire the head coach. The two will be tied together for good or bad. Khan also needs to understand the fanbase better. It’s not that there isn’t an appetite for eight home games per year, it’s that there isn’t an appetite for bad football. Jaguars’ fans have been through enough. This will make 18 out of 25 seasons without the playoffs.

JSC: The first step is to clean house in the front office. There will be some difficult personnel decisions to make in the offseason. Marcell Dareus will probably be a salary cap casualty (he’s got a cap number of $22.5 million in 2020) and Calais Campbell’s contract will need to be reworked to create some cap space. Oh, and Pay Yan!

JB: Considering that this season will end with no playoff berth and that is unlikely to fly with owner Shad Khan, then you can assume a reset is in order. It all starts with what this team does from a hiring perspective. Will an entirely new, or almost entirely new, front office keep the same pieces in place? I don’t think we can realistically assess what needs to be done to get the train back on the track until we know who’s driving the train. That’s where it starts. I don’t think Khan can keep the Jaguars’ brain trust of Dave Caldwell, Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone together for another season not have a fan mutiny on his hands.

Is this a full rebuild, or do the Jaguars have a roster and front office that can be tinkered with to change things around?

CP: Obviously you don’t blow out the entire roster, but whoever is running football operations needs to know what kind of pieces he has to work with. Young players like Leonard Fournette, D.J. Chark and Jawaan Taylor are guys you can build with. Then there is the question of the quarterback … see below.

JSC: I wouldn’t call it a rebuild. The Jaguars already have talent. And with four first-round picks over the next two years, the team could find immediate success. Right now, there have just been too many long Sundays so clearly something needs to change. Major upgrades will be needed at offensive line, tight end and defensive back.

JB: I don’t think it’s a complete teardown job. We’ve seen Nick Foles play eight full quarters of football. D.J. Chark has emerged as a star in the making. Leonard Fournette has proven himself as a runner and as a pass catcher. The offensive line isn’t as bad as it was last year and the young tackles should be better. This team right now isn’t Gus Bradley-Mike Mularkey Era bad.

Is the team better with Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew II?

CP: Right now, it doesn’t really matter, because the team isn’t good with any quarterback. Let them battle it out in the preseason. This calls for an open quarterback competition. Forget the money you have invested in Foles. If he gets beat out, you have an expensive backup to a bargain-priced starter.

JSC: When the change at quarterback was made, many people pointed to the fact that Minshew had only won games against sub-.500 teams. Well, football is a team sport. And now that Nick Foles has returned we are all forced to face the reality that the Jaguars as a whole are no better than a sub-.500 team. Foles is a nice guy and a good football player but Gardner Minshew turned into an icon. Minshew Mania galvanized a fan base. There are people driving around with bumper stickers of a 6th round draft pick on their cars. For a franchise that has been searching for a Franchise Quarterback for years to have a guy like that fall into their laps is pure luck! Minshew isn’t a perfect football player! He has to figure out how to control his fumbling but his issues can be corrected with game experience and coaching.

JB: It’s the question that everyone asks. Minshew’s time as the starter was unlike anything this team has seen. As Doug Marrone has said, Foles gives the team the best chance to win now. While that may be true, Minshew is the guy who actually has won games under center (4-4) this season. I understand Marrone wanting to give Foles a shot. But if this season continues to go sideways, I’d

What has been the most disappointing part?

CP: What hasn’t been disappointing? I thoughy this was an 8-8 team when the season began. They might finish a game or two below that. I think the most disappointing part is probably that two players, Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey, had much bigger voices with some of their teammates than guys like Calais Campbell and Nick Foles did. There are some veterans who are true professionals on the roster, but when you are losing, nobody has much of a voice. I’m most disappointed for the fans who bought in after 2017, only to be sold a bill of goods the next two year. Sorry, guys. You’ve endured enough.

JSC: The quarterback situation. $88 million was supposed to fix the QB problem in Jacksonville but it didn’t. Nick Foles was signed in the offseason to be the franchise quarterback. Then in the first game of the season Foles gets hurt. Gardner Minshew steps in and plays well in spurts then his play falls off a cliff in London. The coaches decide to make the switch at QB and go back to Foles after the bye week. Now Foles is 0-3 as a starter in Jacksonville.

JB: Can I have multiple answers? The offense jumps out, but I can’t say that’s been the most disappointing part of this season. Minshew was very good. Fournette has emerged. D.J. Chark has done a 180 from his rookie season. The defense has been in a steady descent. While there have been flashes (Josh Allen, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell up front), the shortcomings for this unit are glaring. The Jalen Ramsey saga hurt the pass defense, but I think the Jaguars are still 4-7 right now even with Ramsey starting. The run defense has been an issue for what feels like a year and a half. How quickly did this defense age? Jacksonville is ranked 18th in yards per game (364.5) and 22nd in points allowed per game (24). Its run defense is 29th (142.3 ypg). The 2017 team reached the AFC championship with a defense that was second in the league in ypg (286.1) and points allowed per game (16.8). Even last year’s defense (311.4 ypg and 19.8 ppg) was leaps and bounds better.

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