For the second-straight offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars cleaned up in free agency—but that means nothing if they don”t get results.
One year ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars went on a shopping spree in NFL free agency. Landing Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, in addition to Chris Ivory, they seemingly added pieces to help them improve. What’s more, they came out of the 2017 NFL Draft looking like winners with the additions of Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack in the first and second rounds. Thus, the expectations for the Jaguars to take a step forward in the 2016 season were quite high.
Instead, they again were a proverbial doormat for most of the rest of the league. In fact, they were even worse than the 2015 season as they went a paltry 3-13, firing head coach Gus Bradley along the way. So how did the front office respond in the 2017 offseason?
Again armed with an abundance of cap space, the Jaguars went on a spending frenzy once again. Jacksonville targeted seemingly any big defensive name on the market and ultimately landed a nice haul. They were able to sign the trio of cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church to bolster their defense. Meanwhile, they also traded for Branden Albert to help the offensive line.
What’s more, the Jaguars still have a potentially fruitful 2017 NFL Draft lying ahead. Sitting with the No. 4 overall pick, they could go a number of ways with their selection. Running back Leonard Fournette has been frequently mocked to them at this spot, though there are plenty of other viable options.
On paper, the Jaguars will have a defense that should allow them to compete in the AFC South in the 2017 season. Bouye joining Ramsey, who was sensational as a rookie, forms a potentially lethal cornerback duo that’s anchored by Gipson and Church at safety. What’s more, a defensive front of Yannick Ngakoue, Jackson, Campbell and Dante Fowler is quite fearsome. But again, this all on paper.
This all speaks to the crux of the issue with this team: They can no longer be paper champions. There’s a reason that they consistently “win” free agency and still wind up with a top-10 pick. Consistently, the Jaguars swing big, make contact and fly out to deep center (to mix sports analogies). It’s a systematic plague of not being able to capitalize on the talent that they have in-tow. If this team is ever to shed the label of being a joke or even contend to win the division, they have to start realizing their paper-potential.
Looking into the 2017 season, there is at least a glimmer of hope with that for the Jaguars. Bradley’s dismissal seemed to ignite the team in a way at the end of last season. Blake Bortles looked more like the promising 2015 version of himself than he had all season up to that point. What’s more, a defense that had been passable started improving as well. That was all under Doug Marrone in his interim period, but now he’s the full-time man at head coach. Subsequently, there’s at least a chance that Bradley was a black cloud hanging over this roster and that’s now been lifted.
What’s more, there are new decision-makers in town in Jacksonville, namely the return of Tom Coughlin. Though the previous regime without him may have had faith in some players or aspects of the Jaguars, there’s no guarantee that Coughlin does. The most notable example of that would be Bortles at quarterback.
And really, that could be the most crucial factor in this entire equation. Yes, the Jaguars need to still bolster their offensive line further and need a consistent rushing attack. With that being said, Bortles has to be better. He has to take this offseason to recommit to refining his mechanics under Marrone and needs to became a calmer and better decision-maker. All of this is still possible in theory.
Numerous teams last season displayed that defense alone isn’t enough to be a Super Bowl contender in this league. Teams such as the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans boasted tremendous defenses, but were lacking on offense—specifically in regards to quarterback play. That’s no coincidence; in fact, it’s likely the rule to follow. So even if the Jaguars defense meets high expectations after their free agency additions, it won’t fully matter without Bortles becoming a competent NFL quarterback.
What’s changed, however, is that Bortles’ leash may be shorter than ever before. Bortles is not Coughlin’s guy. The ex-Giants head coach has no ties to the UCF product. So if Bortles continues to not show progress or even regresses again, it stands to reason that Coughlin would have little trouble coming to terms with moving on at quarterback. Perhaps that too could motivate Bortles in addition to playing under Marrone.
Bortles is the key to this team making a giant leap forward. But even then, the Jaguars must find a way to fight their way through the mire of sub-mediocrity. With free agency and assumedly through the draft, this roster might be one of the most talent-laden in the history of the franchise. And it also won’t matter again if the team doesn’t come together, step up and deliver and if their quarterback can’t become the leader the offense needs.
The time for spending year after year with the hope of improving and seeing little results must end. It’s impressive what the Jaguars were able to do in free agency, but they now need to show up for the second half of the battle.