Jaxson, noooo! Photo by Jim Steve-USA TODAY Sports
With Monday's announcement that the Jaguars would be bringing former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin into the front office and closing ranks around interim head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell, Jacksonville became the first NFL franchise to plant its flag in the ground this off-season. That flag reads "This is fine."
Caldwell was given the authority to staff the new hire. That hire, Marrone, parted ways with the Bills under awkward circumstances and found refuge in Jacksonville as an offensive line coach. Coughlin, in an overseer role, has the final say on things. While I'm sure there's plenty of Member Berries to go around about Coughlin's role in building the original Jaguars, this move smacks of having Mike Holmgren helm the Cleveland front office after he was past his prime. It's a move designed to add credibility with a name people trust, but mainly it's just a way to maintain the status quo for its own sake.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan issued a press release claiming that these moves make the Jaguars stronger, and to be fair, Caldwell's 2016 draft class looks like it will be good. Jalen Ramsey appears to be the next shutdown cornerback, and linebacker Myles Jack was a steal. But when Khan claims that Caldwell has done excellent work, he's neglecting the stuff that put the Jaguars in this hole in the first place. You know, the part where they drafted Blake Bortles, Luke Joeckel, and Dante Fowler with three top-five picks. Luke Joeckel's fifth-year option was declined. I can't understand why they would be inclined to pick up Bortles' after this season, and while Fowler isn't dead as a prospect yet, there's not lot to be excited about after one year.
To the extent that Marrone is a better coach than Gus Bradley, maybe the Jaguars can be better in 2017. But it's not like Marrone's time presiding over the Bills was some sort of master course. Nobody is going to make E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton at quarterback a palatable offense. There's really not much in the way of dressing up Bortles at this point, either. You can slap all the excuses you want on his season: Bortles certainly has the talent to play better than he has, but quarterbacks who battle back from being this bad without having to face real adversity (losing their job, finding a new team, etc.) are a pretty rare breed.
And that's the real problem with how the Jaguars are setting up for the near future. There were three spots on this ship that contributed heavily to 2016's poor showing: the quarterback, the roster around him, and the way they all were coached. This wasn't a random fluke year, mind you; this is what the Jaguars have been for four seasons under Bradley. They haven't won more than five games since 2010. Instead of rocking the boat and bringing in new blood, Jacksonville returns two of those factors outright and replaces the third with an insider who watched the whole thing go down.
Stability is an admirable goal for an NFL franchise, and it's easy to see why when you look at how some of the best in the sport—New England and Pittsburgh immediately come to mind—keep the same figures around year after year.
But that kind of stability comes from winning. Stability for the sake of stability, on the other hand? That doesn't end well very often.