JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are staying the course, announcing Tuesday morning that they are retaining coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell.
Jacksonville finished 6-10 this season and last place in the AFC South. Owner Shad Khan said that he remains committed to a four-year timetable that he set in 2017 and didn’t intend to deviate from that now.
The role of executive vice president of football operations that had been occupied by Tom Coughlin will not be filled, Khan said.
“We came out of our AFC Championship Game season of 2017 by making a four-year commitment to the collective leadership of our football operations,” Khan said in a statement. “Only two seasons have passed and one change from that leadership team has already been made. I want to see what we produce under a new organizational structure in 2020. Goals have been established. Accountability will be paramount.”
Khan said he spent time with both Caldwell and Marrone, as well as players, since the season ended and came away satisfied with the feedback on what the franchise needs to do to put a dismal 2019 in the rearview. In an afternoon press conference, Caldwell said there’s no doubt about what needs to happen.
“There has to be improvements, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about that,” he said.
Marrone is 22-28 in three full seasons and two games in an interim role. He led the Jaguars to the AFC South title and the AFC championship game in 2017 before losing to the Patriots, 24-20. Since that season, the Jaguars are just 11-21.
Marrone said that he has taken positives from the past two seasons of struggles and hopes to learn from those and become a better coach. He said any staffing changes would be evaluated in the coming weeks.
Caldwell just wrapped up his seventh season as GM. His draft history has been a mixed bag, with numerous first-round misses like Luke Joeckel (2013), Blake Bortles (2014), Dante Fowler (2015) and Jalen Ramsey (2017) no longer with the team. Joeckel, Bortles and Fowler were disappointments. Ramsey was a Pro Bowler before forcing his way off of the team this season through a trade.
His 2018 first-round pick, Taven Bryan, has been underwhelming, although 2019 first-rounder Josh Allen had a stellar season, and 2017 pick Leonard Fournette enjoyed a career season after a forgettable 2018.
Caldwell said on Tuesday afternoon that re-signing defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was “priority No. 1." He added that no decision has been made about the quarterback situation involving rookie Gardner Minshew and disappointing free agent signing Nick Foles.
The team was rocked by turbulence throughout the spring and throughout the season, something Khan alluded to on Tuesday.
“The 2019 season was unacceptable and I’ve made my dissatisfaction clear,” Khan said. “While many unusual circumstances influenced our season, none can fully explain or defend our second-half collapse with first place in the division within reach on Week 9. At the same time, there were positive developments and contributions that should not be overlooked.”
Linebacker Telvin Smith abruptly announced his leave from the team and the Jaguars placed him on the reserve/retired list. The franchise gave Foles an $88 million contract, only to watch him suffer a broken collarbone 11 snaps into his season.
Ramsey’s public demand for a trade took on a life of its own. Then there was a historically bad five-game losing streak — the worst in the NFL since the Buccaneers in 1986 — and a blistering rebuke by the NFL Player’s Association over grievances and fines levied by the Jaguars. That ultimately cost executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin his job.
Marrone said that he’s had a good relationship with the NFLPA and he would reach out to it to see where the Jaguars stood after the very public statement condemning the franchise. Caldwell said that the Jaguars would still actively work to make Jacksonville a destination that players wanted to come to.
Marrone faced the brunt of the criticism each week and stood by his assistant coaches and coordinators. Jacksonville finished strong, winning two of its final three games, including Sunday’s finale in a 38-20 romp over the Colts.
“Finally, I was struck and impressed, but not surprised, by the strong showing of our fans Sunday at TIAA Bank Field,” Khan said. “The euphoria and passion was genuine and appreciated by everyone with our team, and that goes double for me. My sincere thanks to everyone. It was a moment that underlines the fact that nothing beats having a winning football team. It’s my obligation to deliver one to Jacksonville in 2020.”
While the team saw significant progress from running back Fournette and the unexpected success from Minshew, injuries thinned out a roster that had little depth.
Foles missed the bulk of the season on the injured list, and was benched for ineffectiveness two and a half games into his return. Among starters, tight end James O’Shaughnessey played in just five games before he went on injured reserve. Rookie tight end Josh Oliver had all of three catches for 15 yards and missed most of the season before going on IR in mid-November.
Receiver Marqise Lee, who missed all of 2018 with a knee injury, was active for six games and had just three catches before returning to IR. Defensive starters, tackle Marcell Dareus, linebacker Myles Jack and linebacker Quincy Williams all ended the season on IR.
Can the Jaguars get things turned around quickly in 2020?
Minshew went 6-6 as a starter and should at least enter the offseason as the player to beat the the position. While he was a disappointment on the field when he was healthy, Foles is likely too expensive to part ways with in 2020. Spotrac has Foles’ dead cap hit at nearly $34 million should Jacksonville get rid of him.
There are major salary cap issues (Spotrac projects Jacksonville with just a little more than $1 million) although that will increase after players are either restructured or released. Dareus ($22.5 million, Calais Campbell ($17.5 million), A.J. Bouye ($15.5 million), Myles Jack ($15.4 million) and Andrew Norwell ($14.5 million) have the biggest cap hits. Lee, with an $8.75 million cap hit, hasn’t been healthy since signing a contract extension in 2019 and is also a candidate for release.
Caldwell said that the team would work through the cap issues.
The team has a pair of first-round picks (its own at No. 9 and the Rams’ at No. 20 from the Ramsey trade)
What do loyal fans think of the move?
Some fans that spoke with News4Jax reporter Scott Johnson said they believe Marrone should have been let go, but many plan to gear up and support the team in 2020.
Michael Gowdy has been a season ticket holder for 10 years. He had been waffling on an 11th year because of the recent poor performances by the team, and he felt Marrone should have been fired. He was surprised to here the coach would remain.
“A huge shock,” Gowdy said. “Based on the numbers, the guy really shouldn’t be here, but he must’ve sold Mr. Khan on what he was working with before Mr. Coughlin showed back up.”
Although he was on the fence, Gowdy said he will give the coach and GM another year as he sits in Section 202.
“We’re going to give it another shot,” he said.
The news lit up the lines on sports talk radio Tuesday morning at 1010XL with a lot of unhappy fans. Marrone addressed those fans during an afternoon news conference, saying their could be changes with his assistants.
“I think it’s something that’s going to be evaluated,” Marrone said.