These are tough columns to write because I continue to try to find positives for each of the teams covered. It becomes a difficult task at time. The dream for each of the worst teams in the league is to become the Minnesota Vikings of 2013. The Vikings feat was even more impressive because they did not have good quarterback play and rode the most well-known freak of nature into the playoffs. On the surface, it would seem believable that the Jaguars could be a team that hopes to be the next Vikings. The problem is that the Jaguars continue to fail when they try to fill the holes they do have and have not been a good team since David Garrard got hurt. They now have a new start at GM with David Caldwell and at head coach with Gus Bradley.
Their bowling ball running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, a model of consistency, got hurt. The 2012 season was supposed to be different than 2011 when Blaine Gabbert was thrown into a job he was not ready for. He averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt in 2011 and the team brought in Chad Henne as an insurance policy for 2012. They drafted Justin Blackmon and signed Laurent Robinson to help a receiving corps that had Mike Thomas beat MJD by one catch to lead the team in receiving in 2011.
Mike Thomas was not welcomed back, but the team has a new GM due to a pattern of decision-making based on players once they have outlier seasons. The Jaguars probably should not have skipped the first day of Economics 101. So, Thomas left and the team brought in Laurent Robinson, a player with a significant concussion history who was healthy enough to catch 11 touchdowns in Dallas during 2011. That total was seven more than Robinson had had during his first four seasons combined. The Jags felt that he was worth a 5 year deal valued at more than $30MM. This happened a year after the team rewarded their own Marcedes Lewis with his own five year deal worth over $30MM when he had 10 touchdowns in 2010 after combining for seven previously. At least the bad ideas were consistent.
Once the 2012 season began, things began to go wrong almost immediately. Justin Blackmon and Gabbert were not on the same page. After Gabbert looked like he was turning the corner a bit with his problem of feeling the pass rush too well (scared), he went back to his old ways and the team struggled. MJD averaged 4.8 a carry when he played, which would have been the second best year of his career. Then the 2011 NFL rushing leader got hurt and the real bad times began. Gabbert battled some injuries as well, starting in the same game as Jones-Drew went down. Finally, Gabbert was injured for the final time early in the week 10 match-up against Houston. Chad Henne entered the game and promptly threw for 354 yards and four scores during the rest of the day.
Things changed a bit for the Jaguars offense once Henne entered the fray for good in week 11. They moved the ball better despite a complete lack of a consistent rushing attack (3-100 yard games as a team after week 5), but the problems that Henne had during his final days in Miami returned. After a nice start, Henne produced as many 20 point games as Gabbert did and then threw six interceptions during the final two games of the season. The bad rushing game had 8 games with 69 yards or less. In other words, every defense turned into the best years of the Steeler defense when they played the Jaguars. The Colts held them to a season low 37 yards. For the year, the team finished 30th in scoring at 15.9 points a game.
Robinson, logically, suffered concussions (At least 4 in 2012) and was only healthy enough for 24 catches and no touchdowns. It is time for him to contemplate whether or not he should continue his NFL career. He agrees.
Amazingly, the good news for the team did happen with the receiving corps. Mike Thomas struggled at his new address while Blackmon's production took off after Henne was thrust into the starting role. Second year receiver Cecil Shorts also emerged as a threat. After two catches in 2011, Shorts led the team in touchdowns (7), yards per catch (17.9) and total yards receiving (979). Blackmon led the team with 64 catches and grabbed five touchdowns. Marcedes Lewis had 52 catches to show that he could be a productive tight end, even if overpaid. With Henne, Blackmon had one game where he had less than 49 yards receiving while he had only one game with more than 49 yards receiving with Gabbert.
Okay, so the offense was bad while missing it's leader, but a team cannot finish 31st in point differential without some help from a listless defense. Despite several attempts to address the defensive front seven during the previous five years, the results have not been there. There have been some solid picks over that time period, but not a lot of impact players. One of the solid picks, a selection this writer made fun of at the time, Tyson Alualu "led" the team with 3.5 sacks. The team managed just 20 sacks for the entire season. Heck, they played the Bears and only had one sack in that game.
The Jaguars leader in interceptions was unrestricted free agent Derek Cox with 4. Paul Posluszny was third on the team in sacks, second in interceptions and first in tackles as he finally experienced a healthy season. Basically, the defense could not get off the field or make impact plays to help itself. Twenty sacks and 12 interceptions is just not going to cut it in the modern NFL.
It is not hard to see why the team finished 2-14 and made a promise to become the de facto charter member of the NFL's new Great Britain division. In hopes that American football fans across the pond just like the game and can't read, the Jaguars have promised a home game in London for each of the next four seasons. I guess when a team has to cover seats to make it look like their stadium is more full than it is and there is no draw for domestic fans, the best chance is marketing in a new country. Daft move, Jacksonville, daft move.
WHAT CAN BE DONE:
Teams like the Raiders and Jaguars all get there in the same way. There is a litany of bad luck, bad drafting and poor signings. While the Raiders have a situation so bad it is hard to see how they can be good any time soon, the Jaguars do have some hope.
Offensively, they still have to figure out if they have a quarterback. Other than that, the offensive line still needs an infusion of talent and Eben Britton is a free agent. MJD will be back and healthy while Shorts, Blackmon and Lewis do form a real receiving corps. Defensively, they need guys who can make impact plays every now and then. They need a pass rusher, they need another corner and they need someone next to Posluszny who can open things up for him even more.
The good news is that they have the flexibility to make some moves. They have somewhere around $25MM in cap space and they can help themselves by getting rid of names like Aaron Ross and Guy Whimper. They probably should bring Derek Cox back for a reasonable sum. They could make a move for Alex Smith in hopes that everyone is helped by a lack of turnovers on offense. They have to draft well, but this draft is full of potential at offensive line, linebackers and with pass rush specialists. Gus Bradley helped turn the Seahawks into a feared, physcial unit. There is hope he can do the same in Jacksonville.