JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Cornerback Jalen Ramsey had the potential to be one of the greatest players in Jacksonville Jaguars history. Instead, his departure could change the direction of the franchise for the next decade.
With the addition of the Los Angeles Rams’ first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 as well as a fourth-round pick in 2021, the Jaguars now have 18 draft picks in the next two years — including four first-rounders. Using those picks correctly, whether taking players or packaging them to move up, could set the franchise up for a run of sustained success that hasn’t happened since the late 1990s.
The biggest question: Who will be making the picks?
It’s not a lock that it will be executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell. Owner Shad Khan said after a disappointing 2018 season that ended with a 20-3 loss in Houston he was “far from content with the status quo, and while it’s best to put 2018 behind us, I will not overlook how poorly we accounted for ourselves following a 3-1 start. There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season.”
The Jaguars haven’t exactly hit on their first-round picks under Caldwell and Coughlin. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (2013) is out of the league. Quarterback Blake Bortles (2014) was cut in March, one year after signing a contract extension (he’s costing the Jaguars $16.5 million in dead money this year). Defensive end Dante Fowler (2015) was traded to Los Angeles last season.
Khan hired Coughlin to be the team’s vice president of football operations in 2017 and gave him final say over all football decisions. He selected running back Leonard Fournette fourth overall, and after a rocky sophomore season, Fournette seems to be headed in a good direction. He took defensive tackle Taven Bryan in 2018 and he has made minimal impact.
Plus, there’s this: The Jaguars passed on drafting quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, all of whom are having significant success. Mahomes was the league’s MVP in his first season as a starter.
Though coach Doug Marrone deserves significant credit for keeping the team focused despite a mountain of distractions (Telvin Smith’s abrupt departure, Yannick Ngakoue’s holdout, Nick Foles’ injury, Ramsey’s trade request/back injury saga), the team is 2-4 heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.
After that is a home game against the New York Jets followed by the annual home game in London before the bye week. The Jaguars likely will need to be no worse than 4-5 at that point to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs. If not, the Jaguars could be headed for their 10th losing season in the last 12 years.
That is something that might spur Khan to clean house and jettison Coughlin, Caldwell and Marrone. With all those picks over the next two years, as well as the presence of Foles and a young quarterback to groom in Gardner Minshew, the Jaguars would be an attractive franchise for new leadership — something else that hasn’t been the case in a long time.
The haul from the Ramsey trade could — and should — set up the franchise as one of the best teams in the AFC over the next decade.
But if that draft capital is squandered, the Ramsey deal could be viewed as the biggest lost opportunity in franchise history.