After their fourth consecutive losing season in 2014 (3-13), the Jacksonville Jaguars made some big moves in the offseason. The team drafted Dante Fowler Jr and TJ Yeldon and landed Julius Thomas and Jared Odrick, among others, in free agency. The additions were deemed a giant leap in the right direction. What followed, however, was yet another losing season (5-11).
That was followed by a second busy summer of transactions in 2016. Jacksonville acquired Tashaun Gipson, Chris Ivory, Malik Jackson, and Jalen Ramsey, and many pundits declared that the Jaguars had ‘won’ the offseason. They were widely considered the dark-horse of the AFC. What followed was yet another losing season (3-13), their sixth consecutive.
Now, ahead of the 2017 season, the team has spent big in free agency again, acquiring Calais Campbell, AJ Bouye, and Barry Church, and brought in another top draft pick in the form of stud running back Leonard Fournette. But there is some hesitancy to board the Jags’ hype-train. Optimism has been tamed because we’ve seen this movie before.
Bovada and other Vegas books have Jacksonville 2017 over/under at a very modest six wins. If you’re going to capitalize on the bonuses available at Bovada sportsbook, you need to figure out if this team is finally going to turn a corner and win seven-plus games (-150), or whether we’ll see the same old underachieving Jaguars team in 2017 (+120).
If you blindly buy into the buzz out of the team’s OTAs and minicamp, you’ll be hopping on the Jaguar wagon faster than John Ross running the 40 at the Combine. The key questions then become: should you believe the hype? And, if not, is there another reason to believe in Jacksonville?
Don’t Buy Into the Offseason Hype
Jacksonville has spent a lot of money and used many early first-round picks over the last few offseasons to upgrade certain positions, yet one name has always been there to hold the team back: Marcedes Lewis.
I’m joking, of course. The real anchor weighing this team down is quarterback Blake Bortles, and all joking aside, he has to be on a short leash. The former third-overall pick has only led the team to 11 wins in three seasons; he’s thrown just as many pick-sixes in his career. Last year proved that it doesn’t matter how much talent the Jags accumulate, with Blake Bortles at the helm, turnovers will occur.
The buzz out of OTAs and minicamp suggests Bortles is sporting much better mechanics than what he showed in the second half of last season. But the fourth-year QB has been provided with a lengthy to-do list from the team over the summer, which tells me he still has a long way to go. At some point in the season, every QB has to go out and win his team a game; history has shown Bortles is incapable of that. And every year we hear stories of how great players look in OTA and minicamps, and most of those stories don’t amount to much when the pads go on and real games start.
As Cleveland’s All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas just rhetorically Tweeted, “You have to feel sorry for NFL beat writers who have to come up with these meaningless offseason articles. Ever heard of a ‘bad’ off-season?”
To answer his question: no, you haven’t. All teams pump up the tires of their key players at OTAs and minicamp. What you’ve heard about Bortles may have no bearing on what takes place during the regular season.
Do Buy Into the Changes at the Top
The main reason for optimism around this Jacksonville team is that significant changes are actually being made, even if not at QB. More importantly than the Jaguars ditching the ‘LEO’ term, they finally fired head coach Gus Bradley (14-48) after four dismal seasons. The organization is now headed by new VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin – who won two Super Bowls as head coach of the New York Giants — and head coach Doug Marrone, who served as the Jags’ interim coach for two games in 2016.
Both Coughlin and Marrone have a history of running the ball. The two have been adamant that Bortles will not be asked to throw 40 times per game anymore, instead opting to pound the rock with Leonard Fournette, with a bit of help from Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon. Adding linemen Branden Albert via trade and Cam Robinson in the draft are more telling signs of what the Jags want to do on offense.
The player generating the most attention out of camp plays on the defensive side of the ball: Calais Campbell. The long-time Cardinal has wasted no time in impressing his new team, both on and off the field. While Thomas is right that we never hear about “bad” offseasons, Campbell’s performance actually does provide some confidence. We’ve seen defensive players start to slack off after inking big-money deals (see Albert Hainsworth); Campbell is evidently not doing that. And — unlike Bortles, he has a proven track record as a run-stuffing, QB-hunting interior lineman. If he’s giving his all, he’ll be a force for Jacksonville’s D.
Campbell may be the piece that takes the Jaguar defense from good to great. And if the 2015 Denver Broncos taught us anything, it’s that a great defense allows you to take the ball out of your QB’s hands, which may be necessary for Jacksonville to end its horrific run of losing seasons.
What’s the verdict?
While I’m not buying into the Bortles hype out of OTAs and minicamps, and I’m hesitant to put too much emphasis on flashy signings, the sea-change in Jacksonville at the top gives me confidence that this team will finally turn it around to some extent, and the addition of a motivated Campbell looks like a temperature-changing move.
In essence, there’s just too much talent on the roster to keep losing at this rate. And the Jaguars finally have the leadership in place to use that talent to generate wins. In other words, they have a VP and head coach who won’t let Bortles weigh down the team like he used to.
Featured image of Coughlin + Marrone courtesy: blackandteal.com