On November 29th, after being officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Jaguars fired long-time general manager Dave Caldwell. Caldwell had been the team's GM since 2013, and while he did help guide the team to an AFC title game appearance in 2017, his tenure was largely a failure, as his Jaguars made the playoffs just once in his eight seasons with the team. But Caldwell didn't leave the cupboard bare. The Jaguars' next GM will have young talent on the roster, a treasure trove of draft picks, and the most salary cap space in football.
Now, the Jaguars begin their search for the GM of the future. At this time, they can't interview potential candidates that are currently employed by other NFL teams. But that doesn't mean they can't get the interview process going. And that's precisely what they're doing this week. The Jaguars will reportedly interview Louis Riddick, Rick Smith, and Trent Baalke.
Which one of these candidates, if any, make sense for the Jaguars' GM job?
First, we must identify what we're looking for in a GM. Talent evaluation is critical. Adding talent via the draft and free agency is one of the essential aspects of being a GM. Retaining that talent is also crucial. Being a leader who puts in the work and has quality relationship and interpersonal skills is vital. Dave Caldwell was a hard worker and indeed maintained a good working relationship within the organization and around the league, but he missed on too many evaluations and was, perhaps, thrust into some less than ideal situations. Finding someone who can hit on early-round draft picks, reel in some quality free agents, and maintain a professional working environment is what I'm looking for. But a GM can't do it alone. The GM, scouting staff, and coaching staff must all work seamlessly and have the same vision for the culture and roster.
We'll start with Louis Riddick, who was the first name to pop up in the Jaguars' hunt for a new GM. Riddick is currently an analyst at ESPN. He's had various duties at the mothership since 2013, including analyzing the draft and being in the booth for Monday Night Football. Prior to joining ESPN, Riddick was a pro personnel guy for quite a while in the NFL. He was a pro scout and then director of pro personnel for the Football Team from 2001-2007. He then signed on in Philly as a pro scout in 2008 and quickly worked his way up to director of pro personnel and served in that capacity from 2010-2013. His teams made the playoffs in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013. He also played safety in the league for eight seasons in the '90s. Riddick is the most challenging evaluation of the three because he doesn't have any experience as a GM and has been entirely a pro personnel guy, meaning it was never his job to scout college players. The most critical aspect of roster building is the draft, and Riddick doesn't have the type of experience you'd generally look for in that department. During his time at ESPN, Riddick has had some questionable takes, comparing Jalen Ramsey in the pre-draft process with two average at best cornerbacks. He was also clamoring for the Bears to pursue Nick Foles after the 2019 season. Yikes. Everyone has some misses, but those are egregious. I've never interviewed or spoken with Riddick, but on-air he comes off a bit arrogant and seems to have a "smartest guy in the room" mentality. I've never heard any negative chatter about his relationships with co-workers. In fact, many former peers speak glowingly about him. Ultimately, Riddick is not one of the more qualified candidates you'll find, but that doesn't mean he's the wrong guy. I'd probably want someone with more college scouting experience if it were my decision to make. His success as a pro personnel guy is intriguing, and he's a smart football mind that's seen the pro game as a player, executive, and analyst.
Verdict: Keep tabs; maybe the guy
Smith is an executive with loads of experience as a GM and EVP. He's also familiar with the Jaguars' division, having been with the Texans from 2006-2017. He served as Houston's GM from '06-'17 and was also their EVP from '12-'17. Before joining the Texans, Smith was the Bronco's director of pro personnel from 2000-2005. He spent most of the '90s as a coach, first at Purdue and then in Denver from 1996-1999, where he was the assistant defensive backs coach for back-to-back Super Bowl champion squads. Smith had a fair amount of success as Texans' top executive for over a decade. His Texans made the playoffs four times and successfully added talent via free agency and the draft. Some of his biggest hits include Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, JJ Watt, Duwuane Brown, Demeco Ryans, Brandon Brooks, Will Fuller, Bernardick McKinney, Jadeveon Clowney, Kareem Jackson, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin, Owen Daniels, and Whitney Mercilus. A number of his first-round picks became stars, which is encouraging. The Texans won at least eight games in eight of Smith's 12 seasons as GM. Smith had a falling out with Bill O'Brien in Houston, and BOB got his way as the Texans fired Smith in 2018. Outside of that relationship, Smith is highly regarded by his former employees, including his scouts and former head coach Gary Kubiak. Smith is qualified, likable, knows the division, and drafted a superstar QB in Houston.
Verdict: Keep tabs on him throughout the process; my current favorite among named candidates
The Jaguars hired Baalke to be their director of player personnel early in 2020. Previously Baalke served as the 49ers GM from 2011-2016 and had been a scout/personnel guy within the organization since 2005. He also spent time with the Jets and Football Team as a scout. Baalke's 49ers made the playoffs three times, including a Super Bowl appearance and two more conference championship games, during his six years as GM. During Baalke's final two seasons in San Fran, the 49ers went 7-25 and needed a fresh start. But Baalke drafted players like DeForest Buckner, Jaquiski Tartt, Arik Armstead, Mike Davis, Trent Brown, Jimmy Ward, Chris Borland, Eric Reid, Vance McDonald, Aldon Smith, and Colin Kaepernick. Baalke landed some impressive free agents and was able to keep a lot of his homegrown talent around. He had many more hits than misses early in the draft and compiled a record of 57-54-1. The hiring of Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly as head coaches in consecutive years, his rift with Jim Harbaugh, and the handling of the Colin Kaepernick situation are Baalke's most prominent blemishes. He did an adequate job in San Francisco from a talent acquisition/retention standpoint, but with his lack of successful GM-coach relationships, I'd be wary.
The Jaguars will likely interview many, many more candidates throughout the process. Rick Smith would be my leader in the clubhouse among these three and might be the best GM candidate on the market, even after the season concludes. Smith will likely get offers from multiple teams and could be a hard man to land. But the Jaguars have plenty of ammunition and an owner willing to spend.
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