No, friends, the Jaguars are not intentionally tanking. Should general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone turn in a performance that sees the Jaguars' finish close to the bottom of the league in 2020, I doubt even Shad Khan — who has been incredibly lenient when it comes to keeping unsuccessful coaching staffs and front offices around in Jacksonville — would allow Caldwell and Marrone to keep their current posts.
While the Jaguars ditched a bevy of experienced veterans with hefty price tags this offseason, they also added their fair share of veterans throughout free agency, albeit at a much lower price tag. Signing talented veteran players like Tyler Eifert, Joe Schobert, Rodney Gunter, Al Woods, and Rashaan Melvin, is not indicative of a club that's committing to a losing season in 2020. Neither is placing the franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue, a player that's made his desire to leave Jacksonville abundantly clear.
Adding 12 draft picks, plus 18 undrafted free agents has seen the Jaguars' young pool of talent shift dramatically. But are the Jaguars so young and devoid of premium talent, that they could actually be the worst team in football without deliberately trying to be?
Many talking heads have pegged the Jaguars as the "Trevor Lawrence team." I shouldn't come as a huge surprise, the Jaguars get no love from the national media until long after they've earned it.
I don't believe the Jaguars will finish with one of the five worst records in football. The team has too much depth and ascending talent at too many positions to be one of the very worst teams in the league, barring a major injury to Gardner Minshew. The Jaguars have yet to add a veteran insurance policy at the QB position. But outside of a Minshew injury, there's no visible path to the Jaguars being able to "contend" for the worst record in football.
Minshew won six games in just 12 starts as a rookie. And that was with a squad that had far less talent on the offensive side of the ball. Adding Laviska Shenault, a healthy Tyler Eifert and Josh Oliver, Chris Thompson, and Collin Johnson to the mix, dramatically improves the Jaguars' offensive outlook. Did I mention Jay Gruden? He's had profound success in the NFL as an offensive coordinator. During his last three years in that same role for the Bengals, he helped a young Andy Dalton to 80 touchdown passes and 30 regular season wins. Gruden's scheme should aid the offensive line by getting the ball out quickly and with precision. Getting Jawaan Taylor another year of experience and Cam Robinson another year removed from his ACL surgery should help greatly. Gruden should be able to pull the most out of Gardner Minshew in his second season, and even if Minshew doesn't make a dramatic jump, this is a kid that put up the best numbers of any rookie in football and won six games in 2019.
On the defensive side of the ball, stopping the run will be critical. Adding Al Woods and Davon Hamilton in the middle of the defensive line should aid the Jaguars there. So should plugging Joe Schobert in at middle linebacker and getting Myles Jack on the outside to his more natural WILL position. Having Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson man the edges should also improve the run defense. Having two talented coverage linebackers on the field at all times in Schobert and Jack, should allow the Jaguars' secondary to play more freely. With CJ Henderson, Tre Herndon, DJ Hayden, Rashaan Melvin, Josiah Scott, and Parry Nickerson in the fold at cornerback, they'll have enough depth to compete even if injuries arise. The Jaguars could've used an upgrade at safety, and they may have gotten one in fifth-round pick Daniel Thomas, but their safety play in 2019 generally wasn't prohibitive to playing winning football.
And what if Yannick Ngakoue actually plays? Being able to deploy Ngakoue, Allen, and Chaisson in nickel packages would be downright filthy.
So, to answer the question, do the Jaguars have what it takes to tank in 2020 and guarantee themselves the number one pick? The answer is a resounding no. The only thing the team is missing to ensure that they're closer to the middle of the pack than the back is a veteran backup QB. And just last week, Doug Marrone mentioned that there are a few veteran backups they'd be interested in adding to the mix. Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles (yes, that Blake Bortles), Cam Newton, Josh McCown (who I wanted the Jaguars to sign last offseason), and Matt Moore are all available on the open market. If the Jaguars add one of those veterans to the mix, they'll be just as close to competing for the playoffs as they are to fighting for the number one pick.
Don't get me wrong — I'm not suggesting the Jaguars are going to compete for a division crown in 2020, but I currently have them winning six games. I think their realistic range, as of this moment, is five to seven wins, eight to nine wins if everything goes swimmingly, and four wins if the season really goes south.
I believe Jaguars should be more competitive game in and game out in 2020 than the Redskins, Dolphins, Giants, Panthers, Jets, Raiders, Broncos, and Bengals. Looking at the Jaguars' 2020 opponents, I see 13 "winnable games." The Jaguars always have a shot when taking on a divisional opponent, so that's six potentially competitive contests right there. Home contests against the Steelers, Dolphins, Lions, Bears, and Browns are all within reach. The road slate is much tougher — the Ravens, Packers, and Vikings will be incredibly tough, while road tilts against the Browns and Chargers could be more manageable (although winning on the west coast has always been difficult for the Jaguars).
The Jags should be able to compete for the playoffs by 2021. With all their young talent, plus the 2021 draft in which they currently hold nine picks (two selections in the first and fourth rounds), and the money they'll have to spend in free agency in 2021, the Jaguars are primed to make a playoff run in a year or two. That's quite a ways off still. But it all falls on Gardner Minshew. If he's the guy for the job, the Jaguars are set up for success at QB for at least the next three years. If not, it'll be back to the drawing board at the most critical position in sports.
Something to keep in mind, though: If Gardner Minshew doesn't prove to be "the guy" (I believe he will), and the Jaguars win too many games to land one of the top QBs in the draft — as long as they're still around the range of the top ten picks, they should be able to trade up to land a potential franchise QB.
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