Last month, I wrote about how major changes are coming to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The focus was on the logo, the colors and the staff. Now, the Jaguars need to focus on personnel and the product on the field.
Building a winning team is a science, a grueling process that takes a few years to complete, and there are certain ways to go about it. Sometimes, it takes a time to see any results. Get ready Jaguars fans. You are looking at three, four, maybe five years before you have a strong team again.
I say the Jaguars need to focus on personnel now, but really, they should have already been working on making changes—and they have been doing that since David Caldwell took office.
They've been evaluating players on the current roster, going to the Senior Bowl, figuring out the kind of football they want to play and determining who fits their needs among available players. It’s something every team needs to determine when there is a change in leadership.
The Jaguars, like most two-win teams, have a significant lack of talent on their roster. Every position could be upgraded to ensure future success. I’m sorry to be so blunt about it, but it’s hard to argue the facts.
The Jaguars ranked 32nd in the league in total offense and 30th in total defense. Don’t think that it’s close, just because there were two teams with a worse defense. Those two teams were the 7-9 New Orleans Saints and the 9-7 New York Giants. Both of those teams had a top-10 offense, were in the hunt for the playoffs and one of them didn’t even have a head coach.
As I have said, rebuilding the team is a long process that will take several years. That's because, in year one of the building process, there are only so many players who are able to play at a high level. Of those players, most of them are playing for another team.
Year two, you follow the same steps you did in the first year and continue that process until you have put together your team. As you go through the season, there may not be as much player turnover as there was in the first year, but there will always be turnover. You try to hold on to the talent while it is there; when it declines, you break ties and move on.
So what is this process? How do teams build a winning franchise? Well, the accepted way to do this is through the draft and building your foundation. As you do this, you let go of the players who need to be upgraded and slowly put together a strong core of players that will improve your play the following year.
Caldwell has stated that he will build the team through the draft and utilize free agency as a supplement to fill holes. We haven’t seen him draft anybody yet, so we can’t make any judgments. But, he’s going about it in the right way, and until we go through a couple of years of drafts, we won’t be able to make any decisions about him. As a Jaguars fan, you have to trust him.
The Jaguars evaluated the current roster and released several players who played a significant role in the team’s horrid 2012 season, including defensive backs Aaron Ross and Dawan Landry, offensive lineman Guy Whimper and last year’s overpriced free-agent wide receiver, Laurent Robinson. This is a decision that had to be made. You can’t keep everybody from the year before and expect to be any better.
Another means of getting rid of players who need to be upgraded is allowing contracts to expire. The Jaguars had several players enter their contract year in 2012, and at this point, none of them have earned a new contract with the team.
A few of these players are seasoned veterans of the team: Greg Jones, Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith; others have only been with the team for just a couple of years like Terrance Knighton and Derek Cox. All of them are testing the free-agent market, and some of them have played their last game as a Jacksonville Jaguar.
In patching holes in the roster through free agency, you are picking from guys not completely different than those named above—guys whose teams either didn’t want them or did not want to pay the amount the player wanted. Those players who are worth more than their current teams can afford can essentially pick the team they want to play for.
Players tend to go with the team that will offer the most money. You can find quality players through free agency, but you will more than likely overpay for their services, and again, you are picking from a group of players who were not wanted by their previous teams.
Caldwell was just hired by the team, so he doesn’t have a connection with any of the players. He’s in a great position to be unbiased about every player and decide who will help the team succeed in the future and who the Jaguars are better off without. And he has to make the right decision, or the team will see minimal results.
Of course, there is a third way to acquire players—via a trade with another team. In that case, you’ll have to give up something to get the player you want—generally either another player and/or a draft pick.
Giving up a draft pick is counterproductive when you need all the picks you can get in order to build your team. Think of a trade acquisition as a free agent. The other team is not going to give away that player without fair compensation. So what are you giving up to acquire this player?
This year, the Jaguars have seven picks in the draft, one in each round. That's seven opportunities to pick a player who will help the team get back to the playoffs.
The Jaguars won’t go to the playoffs anytime soon, however, and some of the players from this draft may not be on the roster at that time. But, in working toward future goals, they should all contribute in one way or another, until a better replacement is found in another draft class or sometime down the road in free agency.