By: Hays Carlyon
Welcome to Jacksonville, Trevor Lawrence.
The Jaguars have completed the tank. Now, we’ll see if it works.
Cutting running back Leonard Fournette on Monday was the final piece in the strategy.
Again, tanking isn’t deliberately losing games in the season. I don’t believe the Jaguars will do that. Coach Doug Marrone will still play his best players and the players will try their best. There just aren’t that many good players.
Tanking is the personnel decisions made in an offseason. While the other clubs are getting better, you are by choice getting worse. Yes, salaries need to come down some years and rosters need to get younger. But what Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has done is an extreme correction.
That’s tanking. And it’s what the Jaguars have engaged in.
I don’t want to hear any other spin.
There is no justification in cutting Fournette unless you simply aren’t trying to win games this fall. Fournette isn’t in trouble with the law. The Jaguars simply moved on.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone explained the decision by saying Fournette had no trade value and other players had performed better. It’s hard for me to see that having watched every practice.
There have been indications this was about scheme fit. Well, don’t the best coaches tailor their scheme to fit their talent?
That’s not even the biggest question.
How can you cut a player that gained 1,674 yards of offense last season when you are already this talent starved?
How can you give the vast majority of the first-team reps to a player throughout training camp and then cut him two weeks before the opener? Especially when Fournette looked fantastic in camp.
Here are the primary runners with Fournette cut: Devine Ozigbo, Ryquell Armstead, Nathan Cottrell and James Robinson. As a group, they’ve done little to nothing in the NFL. Ozigbo has 27 career rushing yards. Armstead has 108. Cottrell and Robinson are undrafted rookies. Veteran Chris Thompson is here to be the pass-catching, third-down back.
It’s insane. Unless you’re tanking for Lawrence, considered by many the best prospect in the last several years.
Here was the Jaguars tanking plan. Lay out the timeline of the moves Caldwell (38-77 since joining the team) has made this offseason.
If a 6-10 team wanted to tank wouldn’t they follow these steps:
Step 1: Trade the popular and productive veteran
The Jaguars traded defensive end Calais Campbell to Baltimore in March. Campbell played 818 snaps last season, the highest amount of the linemen. He is a tremendous asset in the locker room. Campbell, who turns 34 tomorrow, recorded 56 tackles (10 for loss) with 6 ½ sacks and 25 quarterback hits last season in making a fifth Pro Bowl appearance. Yes, he was expensive but he would still be here if the team was trying to win.
Step 2: Eliminate any veteran threat behind the young starting QB
The Jaguars traded Nick Foles to Chicago in March. That was smart. However, they never acquired any veteran of consequence to seriously challenge second-year veteran Gardner Minshew. Other teams signed Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston.
Minshew was exciting as a rookie, but wouldn’t you have some security in case he struggles? The Jaguars don’t. Mike Glennon doesn’t measure up. The Jaguars are walking the tight rope with no net below them with Minshew.
Step 3: Put everything on that young starting QB
Trading Fournette puts an opponent’s focus solely on Minshew. He has no established ground game to lean on. The opposing defense will focus everything on stopping Minshew. No more eight-man boxes. Until the ground game proves it has a pulse without Fournette, stopping Minshew and receiver DJ Chark will be the top priority.
The Jaguars are treating Minshew the way a team would if they had an elite franchise quarterback.
Step 4: Go ridiculously young
There’s likely going to be 14 rookies on the 53-man roster. That’s 26.4 percent of the team.
I expect eight players in their second season to make the team. That’s 41.5 percent of the roster that are either rookies or in their second year.
Anybody that has purchased Jaguars tickets should be able to write it off as a charitable donation.
This is the team you expect people to pay good money to watch? It’s a bunch of kids.
However, in 2021 the Jaguars will know which of these young players they can truly build around.
Step 5: Give away your strength
The Jaguars team strength was their pass rush. Even with Campbell traded, the Jaguars still had a formidable tandem in Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen, both of whom have made the Pro Bowl.
The Jaguars have agreed to trade Ngakoue to Minnesota with the best piece coming back a second-round pick. That pick will probably be outside of the top 50 in next year’s draft. It would’ve been 54th this past year and the Vikings look better now.
The Jaguars could’ve forced Ngakoue to either sit out a portion of the season or play for them on the franchise tag. Instead, they lost the trade. The odds of that second rounder contributing what Ngakoue will do for Minnesota are low. However, it could be a key piece in moving up in the 2021 draft if needed.
The Jaguars pass rush now consists of Allen and first-round rookie K’Lavon Chaisson. There’s no depth behind them.
Step 6: Cut your most proven offensive player
Fournette will never live up to being selected fourth-overall, the crown jewel of error in Tom Coughlin’s miserable run as executive vice president of football operations from 2017-19.
However, it’s unfair for Marrone to basically paint Fournette as useless. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in two of his three seasons here. He scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie.
He was the best running back the Jaguars had, but he was a headache. A team trying to win probably would’ve tolerated the headache, ran Fournette into the ground in his contract year and then let him leave as a free agent.
A tanking team cuts him and hands the job over to a complete unknown.
I believe Caldwell’s work is now done. I can’t think of Step 7, another move Caldwell could pull off that would further hurt the team’s chances to win this year. Maybe trading center Brandon Linder, who would perhaps have some value and wouldn’t come with a cap penalty.
These six steps indicate a team undercutting their efforts to win now.
The Jaguars are in position to make a quick recovery if the rebuild is done well. There is plenty of draft capital and salary-cap space moving forward.
This is a team with its sights set on the future, with a general manager and coach that know they are coming back.
So, we’ll have to bear it this year watching them likely struggle and hope that the plan succeeds in one of two ways. Either Minshew can thrive despite such little talent around him and prove he’s the longterm answer or the team is so bad that they secure Lawrence.
Just don’t try to tell me Devine Ozigbo has been better than Leonard Fournette.
(You can email Hays at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)