The Jacksonville Jaguars are the team earmarked to potentially move to London one day, already giving up a home game every year for an annual trip to Wembley. The weather over EverBank Field before the final home game of the 2016 season may have been a tribute to that British presence. It was certainly an apt tribute to how murky the team’s prospects look after yet another miserable year.
Can things look up for the Jaguars, or are they going to continue setting themselves up as one of the great underdogs of the NFL as they take aim at the underdog-friendly British sporting fanbase?
Constant Blake Bortles turnovers! Spectacularly bad free agency acquisitions! Even more Bortles turnovers! An absolute hammering at the hands of the Chargers! Everything you’ve come to expect in a Jaguars season was right here!
It began with a tough loss to the Green Bay Packers in which a comeback attempt ended on a failed fourth-down bubble screen that might well have been the worst play call of the season. Then came what is now their annual stomping at the hands of the Chargers – 38-14 this time, and it wasn’t actually as close as that – before the Jaguars picked up what counts for momentum in Jacksonville, with a narrow home loss to the Ravens being followed by a Wembley win over the Colts and a post-bye comeback win over the Bears.
Their next win would be on Christmas Eve against a team who lost their QB to injury. The nine consecutive losses before that was a streak overshadowed by two even longer losing runs (of the Browns and 49ers) that also ended on the same day, but was certainly impressively ignominious in its own right. During this run, the Raiders, Broncos, and Vikings all came to That Stadium With The Swimming Pool and came away with wins by more than one touchdown. Also during this run, Bortles threw interceptions off a receiver’s foot in back-to-back weeks. Think about the level of ineptitude that takes.
Bortles finished the year with 16 interceptions, which is somehow a career low for him, although he did top up that total with six lost fumbles. He was “helped” by Chris Ivory – signed to a five-year $32m contract to be their top running back – missing five games and only reaching 50 rushing yards in a game once.
The Jaguars ended the season with the fourth overall pick. In the last five seasons, they have owned every spot in the top five – except #1. The Jaguars; they can’t even win at losing.
Gus Bradley didn’t even last the season, fired a couple of weeks before the end in favour of the man who left the Bills looking for a better job only to end up failing even to get a coordinator role elsewhere, Doug Marrone.
Marrone is on the record as saying the ideal number of passing attempts per game for Bortles – who has as many pick-sixes as wins (11) in his career – is zero. Judging by the actions of somehow-still-employed GM Dave Caldwell, that might even be the plan, as the team used their #4 pick on running back Leonard Fournette and signed two fullbacks in free agency to presumably compete in camp for one spot.
As usual, the Jaguars lured a bunch of players to Jacksonville by offering them a bunch of money and the ability to keep more of it because Florida has no state income tax. The headliners were all on the defensive side of the ball, with corner A.J. Bouye moving from the Houston Texans, Barry Church adding further backfield help at safety, and Calais Campbell joining a defensive line that’s certainly not lacking in theoretical talent as it is. There’s plenty of reason to believe any or all of them could bust; the Jaguars have a remarkable knack for this, and Bouye in particular has massive bust potential as he was a one-year wonder who’s just got paid $13.5m per year a year after being the fourth corner on the depth chart in Houston. However, you can’t criticise them for not trying.
They even traded one of their prior free agency busts in Julius Thomas to get a much-needed left tackle in Branden Albert to improve their block… wait, he retired a week into training camp? Classic Jaguars.
Believe it or not, the Jaguars have some. Most of them are defensive, and while many of those are mostly theoretical, Malik Jackson actually looked like he was worth something close to the zillion dollars (well, $90m over six years with $31.5m guaranteed) he signed for, picking up 6.5 sacks and plenty of other impact plays.
Besides the aforementioned free agents who may or may not pan out, Myles Jack is another defender who might take the leap, as he was eased into the NFL following his career-threatening knee injury in college but has enormous upside; Marrone says he will be a three-down player in 2017, allowing veteran Paul Posluszny to man the strong side with Telvin Smith on the weak side. That trio could be the best linebacking unit in the league if Jack steps up and Posluszny doesn’t fade away. Throw in Jalen Ramsey – finally ending the Jaguars’ run of amazing top-of-the-draft busts with a great rookie year – and you might just have the makings of an elite defense.
And if Fournette replicates his 2015 college form, and Allen Robinson replicates his 2015 pro form, this team might get things going on offense as well.
Bortles is a turnover machine with more mechanical issues than the McLaren F1 cars, and his 2016 regression is an ominous indication that he’s not 100% committed to getting better – a fatal flaw for any QB.
The offensive line consists of a bunch of question marks and an interior lineman (Brandon Linder) who just got paid, the theoretically loaded WR trio from the legendary Class of 2014 (Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marquise Lee) have never all played well at the same time, and it’s a tough call trusting big-money free agents who join a non-contending team in a city with an appealing climate.
This defense is legit! Bortles really does throw something close to zero pass attempts per game because Fournette is a top-five NFL RB right out of the gate! The free agents actually all look like they care about something other than money! All hail Tom Coughlin, the original head coach and now a quasi-GM whose mere presence gives everyone a rearside rocket! Playoff football is coming to Jacksonville, and with it comes everyone recognising that you can’t possibly move this or any other team to London! 10-6, first in AFC South, lose in divisional round
You may have noticed that last paragraph had an exclamation point in every single sentence. Because that’s how exciting and implausible playoff football in Jacksonville is.
Bortles ruins everything so much that he gets benched, at which point we realise that Chad Henne is no longer a competent quarterback either, and 2016 sixth-rounder Brandon Allen never will be. Fournette becomes the fourth top-five pick in five years to be an outright bust for the Jaguars. Never mind, they’ll get another one in the allegedly loaded 2018 class. They can’t mess this one up, surely? 3-13, fourth in AFC South
This team has so much theoretical talent on defense that they can’t all mess up. Unfortunately, that will merely mean they look like the St. Louis Rams of their final pre-relocation years, rather than the post-relocation LA Rams. The good news is that they manage their least-bad record in seven years and finish ahead of the luckless (and potentially Luck-less) Indianapolis Colts for the first time in six. The bad news? This takes them out of draft position to replace the blundering Bortles. 6-10, third in AFC South