Sacksonville. What does this nickname symbolize? For me, this symbolizes confusion, disappointment, and a stretch of a wasted opportunity. Sacksonville's Front-7, along with it's potent Rushing Attack, was one quarter away from knocking off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game and punching their ticket to Super Bowl 51. Looking back on this just three years later, you start to wonder how quickly this young, electric core fell apart in just a few seasons. The Jags are currently locked in this downward spiral from being Super Bowl contenders to basement-dwellers in the AFC South. The main problem in Jacksonville’s case was Owner Shahid Khan hiring Tom Coughlin to oversee Football Operations from 2017-2019. This gave Coughlin more authority than Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell, which makes no sense from a fan’s perspective. To truly understand how the Jaguars dreams of Super Bowl contenders to slowly watching their dreams evaporate, let’s take a trip to the jungle.
No, not that jungle!
The Jaguars Franchise was born in 1995 and has suffered a never-ending curse of mediocrity since then. New Hope was born into Jaguars fan when present-day Owner Shahid Khan bought the team in 2012, and things were looking up in Duvall County when they acquired a young Blaine Gabbert at the helm. It turns out that Gabbert wasn’t the answer in Jacksonville, as the Jags would have five straight losing seasons from 2012 to 2016 with a combined 17-63 record in that period. Jacksonville found themselves drafting inside the top 10 once again, and drafted UCF QB Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall pick in 2014. Bortles quickly struggled in his first two seasons under center and was quickly disliked in Jacksonville.
By the time the 2017 season rolled around, it was an understatement to say Jaguar fans had suffered for a while. Owner Shahid Khan decided it was time to make a must-needed change in the Front Office. Khan hired former Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President, who happened to be the Jaguar's first-ever Head Coach in Franchise History (1995-2002). Khan gave Coughlin the final say on all football matters, including Free Agent signings, Trades, and Contract Negotiations. This gave Coughlin more authority than Head Coach Doug Marrone and GM David Caldwell. Coughlin gave his best efforts to try and make the Jaguars a “no-nonsense” team in the NFL, and to say the least, it didn’t work. This created shallow relationships between Coughlin and players such as Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Fournette, and this had major consequences for Coughlin in the future.
Short term, however, this move was genius, as many marquee names in Free Agency were brought to Duvall County such as Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and Barry Church. The Jags also drafted Star LSU RB Leonard Fournette at 4th overall, and the core of this young team was starting to come together. Even though expectations of analysts and Jags fans remained low, Jacksonville had different plans. Jacksonville surprised everyone by finishing the regular season 10-6 and winning the AFC South for the first time since 1999. The Jaguar’s Defensive Line led the way, with a ferocious pass-rush, totaling 55 sacks on the season, with 14.5 of those Sacks belonging to Calais Campbell. Even when the D-Line struggled to do it’s thing, the Secondary picked up the slack and shut down the opposing team’s passing attack week in and week out. The Jaguar’s cinderella season would come to end courtesy of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, but this gave everyone hope that Jacksonville finally turned the corner on terrible seasons based on poor management.
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The magical run that the Jaguars went on in 2017 proved to be a fluke, as Jacksonville would finish at 5-11 next season. The main cause of this was Fournette going down with a hamstring injury, which caused him to miss 7 games that year. In those 7 games, Bortles had to be the Offense’s engine, and that didn’t come close to working. It wasn’t all Bortle's fault though, as the Defense took a big step back as well. Jacksonville struggled to stop the run against teams that had a big, physical runner (Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Marlon Mack). One of the advantages the team had the year before was being able to pound the ball with Fournette, and to control the time of Possession, so they had a big control on how the game was moving. When the opposing team was down so much that they needed to throw the ball to stay in the game, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye would be able to make a play to ice the game in the Secondary. Without Fournette, Bortles was exposed to the point that Jacksonville’s Offense couldn’t move the ball on Offense to save their life! Remember how Owner Shahid Khan hired Coughlin to oversee all Football Operations? Well, this ruined the relationships between the Jag’s organization and star players such as Ramsey, Bouye, Campbell, and Fowler, which led to the organization having to trade all of these bright stars.
Heading into 2019, the team decided it was better late than never to let go of Blake Bortles, and wasted $16.5 million in dead money because of the doomed, 3-year, $45 million extension he signed after their magical playoff run. The Jaguars then proceed to sign former Super Bowl Champion and MVP Nick Foles to a 4-year, $88 million deal to secure that Franchise QB the Jaguars have desperately needed. It turns out Foles wasn’t the answer, as Foles broke his collarbone in week 1 of the season and wouldn’t return until week 11. And when he did, the results were underwhelming at best. The Jags paid Foles $30.5 million for zero wins in four games with the team. Foles and his massive contract would be unloaded on the Bears for a 2019 4th round selection to save money. Yes, the Jaguars have Gardner Minshew who shined in his role last season, but it will be an uphill battle for him to improve with the Offense this season. Jacksonville became the first team since the 1986 Buccaneers to lose 5 straight games by 17+ points, just showing how dismal of a season it was. As a result of this, the Jags finished 6-10 at the bottom of the AFC South.
Entering 2020, we could all agree on one thing: Tom Coughlin was a horrible fit for the Jaguars, and made the Franchise’s Future so much worse. The Jags finally fired Coughlin after the NFLPA came out with a statement that said signing with the Jaguars was a ‘mistake’ and ‘a toxic environment’. Over 25% of grievances filed with the NFLPA over the past two seasons were because of something that the Jaguars were involved in. If that doesn’t sum up the Jaguars, I don’t know what will. Doug Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell are both returning for their 8th consecutive season at their respected jobs, showing that Shahid Khan is not interested in hitting the reset button for a fresh start in Jacksonville. In the Jaguars case, it’s so true that ‘winning cures all’ and when the Jaguars stopped winning, it was revealed how thin and fragile the foundation of their success and organization really was. There is a bit of hope for Jaguar’s fans though. If Minshew can reignite the spark in this team, and the Jags can draft well with their immense amounts of Draft Capital, I think they have a real shot of getting back to the position of where they were just two years. I think the legacy of the past 2-3 years of Jaguar football is cemented into the fact that it is just as easy to stumble into success as to almost ruin it immediately. With the Jaguars 2017 roster all but history, I think the Jaguars Front Office has become the perfect example of that.