JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — For a franchise with a relatively brief NFL history, the Jacksonville Jaguars sure have some track record when it comes to receivers.
It’s not an impressive resume, either.
Sure, Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell were a dynamic duo in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But in the decade-plus since, the Jaguars have cycled through more go-to receivers than head coaches and starting quarterbacks combined. They have missed in the draft, whiffed in free agency and spent millions while getting little or nothing in return.
“It’s not bad luck. We’re choosing the wrong guys,” said retired Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli, a five-time Pro Bowl selection between 1996 and 2000. “It’s bad choices.”
Between former head coaches Tom Coughlin, Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey and personnel managers James “Shack” Harris and Gene Smith, the Jaguars failed repeatedly to replace Smith and McCardell. But the Jaguars believe Justin Blackmon, who is coming off a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, and Cecil Shorts III could fill the lengthy void.
“I think we’ve finally got the guys to turn that around,” veteran center Brad Meester said.
If not, Blackmon and Shorts would join a long list of receivers who have unsuccessfully tried to get it done.
The Jaguars looked to the draft, even using four first-round picks at the position, but erred with R. Jay Soward (2000), Reggie Williams (2004), Matt Jones (2005) and maybe even Blackmon (2012). The first three spent time in the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and never played a down in the league outside Jacksonville.
The Jaguars traded up to select Blackmon fifth overall last year, but the former Oklahoma State star was arrested three months later and is now one failed test from missing an entire season.
Blackmon, who had 64 receptions for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, is scheduled to make his season debut Sunday against the St. Louis Rams (1-3).
“I know he’ll compete on the field. I want to see him compete off the field,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “He’s done everything that we’ve asked of him. … He’s in a great frame of mind right now.”
Jacksonville needs Blackmon to be at his best.
The Jaguars have scored a league-low 31 points and could use someone to help take the attention off running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Shorts.
After a breakout season in 2012, Shorts was supposed to be the go-to guy in his third year, especially while Blackmon was on the reserve/suspended list.
Shorts leads the NFL with 51 targets and tops the team with 26 receptions for 337 yards. But he also dropped three passes the last two games, all crucial mistakes.
Shorts has said he might be trying to do too much.
“That’s something I’ll have to sit back and think about,” he said. “I’m not sure. I don’t feel like I’m pressing, but I could be.”
Of course, Shorts’ problems are nothing when compared to all the other issues the Jaguars have endured at the receiver position over the years.
Ernest Givens, Desmond Howard, Bobby Shaw, J.J. Stokes, Sean Dawkins, Matthew Hatchette, Torry Holt and Troy Edwards are just a few of the many receivers who didn’t last long in Jacksonville. None of them, though, cost the team like free agents Jerry Porter (2008) and Laurent Robinson (2012).
Porter signed a six-year, $30 million contract that included $10 million guaranteed. He started the season on the physically unable to perform list following hamstring surgery and ended the year on injured reserve (groin). In between, he caught 11 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown — nearly $1 million a reception.
The Jaguars reached again in free agency last year, signing Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract. The deal paid Robinson $11.1 million in 2012 and included $14 million guaranteed. The team cut him in March after he missed most of last season dealing with concussions.
Now, Robinson is suing the club for $2 million, saying he wasn’t healthy when he was released.
Still, all the recent woes everything since the Smith and McCardell days would become a mere footnote in franchise history if Blackmon turns things around and Shorts continues to develop.
“Jimmy was one of the best receivers of his generation, and Keenan was a very good No. 2 guy and a Pro Bowl player,” Boselli said. “After that, it gets a little lean. But Cecil Shorts looks like a pro receiver, looks like the No. 1 guy. Jimmy and Keenan, great. Maybe now we have Cecil and Justin. In between, let’s just forget about it.”