The Jaguars have had a laundry list of potential candidates connected to their general manager position. Outside the building, execs Jerry Reese, Rick Smith, Terry Fontenot, Louis Riddick, and Ray Farmer interviewed for the job. But one candidate who's named consistently popped up in reports was interim GM Trent Baalke.
Now, according to Ian Rapoport, Baalke is expected to be retained as the full-time GM in Jacksonville. The deal is not yet done, but the two sides are ironing out the details as you read this.
I have a lot of thoughts on this one. So, let's get to it.
The Jaguars NEEDED someone with experience in the role of general manager. Hiring an upstart scout, first time GM type wouldn't have made much sense for Urban Meyer, who has no experience as an NFL coach. Meyer needed a guide through his first year as an NFL head coach. Meyer's never navigated an NFL offseason, training camp, and the like, and he might not be as familiar with the intimate workings of an NFL roster. Someone who had worked as a GM in recent years and found some level of success.
But Trent Baalke, who was the Jaguars' director of player personnel in 2020 before being promoted to interim GM, was not high on my list. Rick Smith and Jerry Reese, both of whom would have brought some diversity to the Jaguars' front office, had more impressive tenures in their most recent stops as GMs.
Rick Smith was my guy. He served as the Texans' GM from 2006-2017 and was also the team's EVP from 2012-2017. The Texans only made the playoffs four times under Smith's guidance, but Smith drafted some outstanding players, including Duane Brown, JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Brooks, Will Fuller, Demeco Ryans, Jadeveon Clowney, Bernardrick McKinney, Kareem Jackson, Owen Daniels, Connor Barwin, and his crown jewel Deshaun Watson. Smith's Texans won at least eight games in eight of his 12 seasons at the helm. And outside of Bill O'Brien, Smith's former colleagues speak glowingly about the long time NFL exec.
Jerry Reese built two Super Bowl champion rosters and drafted many stars during his time in New York. A bad three-year stretch led to his dismissal, but he's done some impressive things in the league and climbed the mountain twice.
Then there's Trent Baalke, who no doubt has some high points on his resume, but also some major question marks littered in there. Baalke was the 49ers GM from 2011-2016. His first draft class included two players that would quickly rise to stardom in Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick. With head coach Jim Harbaugh, who Baalke selected for the job, the 49ers went 13-3 in both's first season, winning their division and making it all the way to the NFC title game. In year two, Baalke's 49ers again won the NFC West and then reached the Super Bowl, falling just short against John Harbaugh's Ravens. in 2013, the 49ers again made the playoffs and lost to the Packers in the conference title game. After a magnificent three year run, the 49ers began to fall apart. Baalke and Harbaugh's relationship splintered as Colin Kaepernick shifted his focus to off-field issues, and Aldon Smith found himself in legal trouble. Harbaugh left the 49ers after the 2014 season. Baalke's next two head coaching hires were unmitigated disasters. Jim Tomsula lasted only one season, and so did Chip Kelly. Baalke was then relieved of his duties in 2016 and didn't reenter the NFL executive world until 2020 with the Jaguars.
Baalke helped assemble a roster that went to three straight NFC title games and one Super Bowl. And he drafted players that are still enjoying success around the league. But his decision making when it came to head coaches was about as bad as it gets. And while some former players and colleagues still vouch for Baalke, many others have less than pleasant things to say about the 56-year-old NFL exec.
Luckily for the Jaguars, Baalke won't be tasked with hiring their next head coach. Urban Meyer is already in place. Keeping a close working relationship with Meyer will be key. But showing Meyer how the NFL operates behind the scenes will be even more critical. Based on everything that's come out of Jacksonville since Meyer's hiring, this football operation is going to be very much controlled by the first-year head coach. I can't help but think back to Carolina last year. The team hired Matt Rhule out of the college ranks but kept GM Marty Hurney around for the 2020 season. After Rhule got his feet wet, the Panthers moved on from Hurney following 2020. Could this be the same blueprint for the Jaguars if they don't find immediate success in 2020?
I'm not patently against the Baalke hire. He's got loads of experience and will help guide Urban Meyer through his first year as pro head coach. And with the Panther's situation from 2020 in mind, it's not like the Jaguars will be tied to Baalke for a long time, should he and Urban not see eye to eye. I get the feeling that Baalke and the scouting department will be there for just that, scouting, but Meyer will have ultimate control of the roster and will be the loudest voice in Shad Khan's ear.
One move does have me a bit puzzled, though. The Jaguars parted ways with special assistant to the GM John Idzik on Tuesday. Idzik was integral when it came to writing contracts advantageously for the Jaguars over the last several years and was one of the big reasons the team always seemed to be able to find salary-cap space.
How will this all work out? Only time will tell. The next step will be filling out the coaching staff/front office and then looking ahead to free agency and the draft, where Baalke and Meyer will need to get some big hits after they select Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick.
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