JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For a regime that’s supposedly under a win-or-else mandate, the Jacksonville Jaguars sure aren’t making things easy on themselves.
Three of their best defensive players from last season –- and key pieces of the defense that led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game three years ago -– have been dumped or traded since mid-February. After releasing defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and trading cornerback A.J. Bouye, the latest departure is defensive end Calais Campbell, who is headed to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. There’s no guarantee that defensive end Yannick Ngakoue will be back, either, since he has said he doesn’t want to sign a long-term deal with the Jaguars.
While the moves made since the 2019 season ended save the Jaguars approximately $51.5 million, they also take two Pro Bowl players out of the lineup. There's potentially a third if Ngakoue doesn’t sign or is traded.
Don’t forget, the team traded disgruntled cornerback Jalen Ramsey last October, too.
While free agency and the draft are still ahead, it’s unreasonable to expect the Jaguars to be able to replace all that talent in one offseason, especially considering the franchise’s recent hit-and-miss history of first-round draft picks.
Plus, the quarterback situation isn’t settled. Gardner Minshew had a surprisingly good rookie season, but can he beat out Nick Foles in what the team said will be an open competition in the offseason? Which Foles will the Jaguars get in 2020 -- the one who looked very good in training camp and the first quarter of the season opener or the one who got benched just 10 quarters after he returned from a broken collarbone?
It's also possible the 31-year-old Foles won't be in Jacksonville at all. The cap space the Jaguars have created gives them options -- including the possibility of absorbing the $34 million dead-money hit the team would take if it decided to cut Foles.
Take a look at the Jaguars’ roster. When the Bouye and Campbell trades go through, the Jaguars’ most experienced player in terms of years in the league is offensive lineman Ben Ijalana, who has played 34 games over nine seasons. Then there’s Foles and linebacker Najee Goode, who have played eight seasons.
There are 60 players on the roster who have played four or fewer seasons in the NFL. That includes the leading passer, rusher and receiver from last year’s team. Having a young roster isn’t a bad thing if the team is successful. Having a young roster that won a total of 11 games the past two seasons is a problem.
General manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone said at the combine that they were hoping and expecting players such as tight end Josh Oliver and linebacker Quincy Williams will make the same kind of jump in their second season that receiver DJ Chark did. Chark caught 14 passes as a rookie and played mainly on special teams in 2018. Last season he had 73 receptions and became just the fifth player in franchise history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving.
Oliver played in only four games because of injuries. Williams was a safety at Murray State and moved to linebacker as a rookie. Hoping they improve in 2020 is fine. Counting on them to become one of the best young players at their position in the league is unrealistic.
All that is a pretty long list to overcome, and yet that’s what Marrone has to do to keep his job beyond 2020. Owner Shad Khan never said that the Jaguars had to reach the playoffs in 2020, but he did say that the message he gave after 2019 was that “the time to win is now. We have everything really in place with some of the changes to expect a good season.”
That might be the expectation, but the reality is the Jaguars are shedding salary and trying to fix their cap. That doesn’t say win now. It says rebuild.