Doug Pederson confident that Jaguars are on the right path after breakout season

Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson speaks during the AFC head coaches availability at the NFL meetings, Monday, March 27, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) (Matt York, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

It’s a far different offseason for Doug Pederson and the Jaguars.

They’re not picking first in the draft. They didn’t empty the bank account in free agency. The coaching staff is settled. There’s no question about the quarterback. For the first time in a long time, Jacksonville is set at the most crucial aspects of the franchise.

Now, it’s about building off that success.

The Jaguars are coming off a season where they won the AFC South title and reached the divisional round of the playoffs. The roster is the best in the division and their marquee players, headlined by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, are still ascending. What have the Jaguars accomplished since that 10-7 regular season ended with a 27-20 loss to the Chiefs in the second round?

On Monday at the NFL owner’s meetings, Pederson said that the Jaguars’ main goal this offseason was to keep as much of the team intact, spot fill in free agency and refine areas that need work. One big area that remains a work in progress is addressing the pass rush, which was anemic at times last season. Pederson is hopeful that Jacksonville will see improvement in that area as players like Josh Allen and Travon Walker develop. Former Jaguars defensive end and current free agent Calais Campbell visited the team last week, immediately drawing thoughts of a reunion in Jacksonville.

“Guys like that, you cannot pass up on an opportunity, at least bring him in and talk to him, see where he’s at, too, right. to See if there’s a fit. And so that’s why we did that,” Pederson said. “We still got some time, and I know he has some opportunities to go and visit some other teams, but we had we had a good day.”

Jacksonville’s minimal activity in free agency was by design.

General manager Trent Baalke said following the season that the Jaguars weren’t in a financial position to be big spenders this offseason. And the blueprint in the modern NFL isn’t kind long term for teams who throw truckloads of money at free agents. Pederson said that Jacksonville’s free agent strategy this year is what he expected.

They team focused on re-signing its value players. Safety Andrew Wingard, cornerback Tre Herndon and defensive linemen Adam Gotsis and Roy Robertson-Harris were among the players Jacksonville elected to re-sign. It put the franchise tag on tight end Evan Engram, ensuring he’d be back.

“This year was about trying to get our guys back, the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) on our roster, to try to get them back. And it’s the hardest thing every year with free agency because you’re going to lose some guys, you’re going to lose some great guys, which we have,” Pederson said.

“But at the same time, we had enough guys still on our roster, you know, you have phases that we got back that still give us that depth we need and still give us that the youth that we need and the competition that we need.”

Among some of Jacksonville’s big free-agent losses were right tackle Jawaan Taylor (Chiefs) and defensive lineman Arden Key (Titans). Taylor’s situation is a blueprint for Jacksonville. He was a second-round pick of the team in 2019 and developed into a very good, albeit not great, right tackle. If the Jaguars weren’t cash strapped, they would have re-signed Taylor to a second contract. The trade-off is that Jacksonville drafted his potential replacement, Walker Little, and it has watched him develop into a potential plug-and-play starter.

To be able to have that success in the draft — something the Jaguars have not had historically — is a must in today’s NFL. Jacksonville has been one of the league’s worst draft-and-develop teams. In two seasons under Baalke and one under Pederson, that is starting to shift. And if the Jaguars hope to sustain that success, drafting, developing and re-signing those players is crucial.

Jacksonville saw significant second-season leaps from Lawrence, a healthy Travis Etienne, Tyson Campbell, Little and Andre Cisco. It’s imperative that Walker, Devin Lloyd, Chad Muma and Snoop Conner make similar or even better increases from their rookie seasons. Center Luke Fortner, a third-round pick in 2022, was a starter as a rookie and was arguably the team’s most consistent of the draft picks.

“If you don’t have to spend a lot of resources in free agency, don’t do it, right. You want to be able to build through the draft and keep your team coming from the draft up,” Pederson said. “So, that was kind of the difference, I think, this offseason than last.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.