Coach Del Rio (Getty Images)
It’s difficult to say that the Jaguars are officially rebuilding, but maybe that’s because the team has been adamant in its stance that they are not starting over. While Jacksonville hasn’t totally scrapped their team and has started from scratch, it seems that they might be going that direction if this season doesn’t go well, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Just a quick glance at Jacksonville’s offseason moves indicate that there is some sort of rebuilding process going on. The Jaguars waved goodbye to the talented yet troubled receiving tandem of Matt Jones and Reggie Williams while also putting the productive Dennis Northcutt on the chopping, I mean trading block, where the Detroit Lions swooped him up.
Then rather than waiting out free agent busts Drayton Florence and Jerry Porter to possibly get some return on their sizeable investments, the Jaguars released them outright. Veterans Mike Peterson and Khalif Barnes were not retained and it’s a possibility that veterans Tony Pashos, John Henderson and Reggie Hayward will be fighting for spots on the roster through the summer.
Throw in the fact that the team’s two primary free agent acquisitions are a combined 67-years-old and it doesn’t look like the team is necessarily adding a fixture to get the team over the hump. While the team still has enough talent to compete and rebuilding doesn’t always equal a losing season, it would wise for the Jaguars to avoid NFL purgatory.
That doesn’t mean the team should tank games, but realizing which direction to push your team is vital. Coach Jack Del Rio believes in his team and thinks that he can potentially squeeze out a playoff berth with the talent on hand. That’s not necessarily an unreasonable assumption, but Del Rio seemingly knows that he will have to really push this team to get back to the postseason.
“I don’t care what you call it,” Del Rio told Jaguars.com. “I’m not concerned with the label, I’m concerned with the meat, the actual work. Full commitment is what we want. Sometimes that only occurs when you rebuild. We’re going to push each guy to be his best and see if that wins for us in the fall.”
Maybe a white flag of sorts has been waived, although no NFL team, especially a coach, will ever admit defeat when victory is still possible. Again, the team can still put together a solid season, but if the Jags cannot break the .500 mark, completely reloading might be the best way to go. Sometimes starting over is the best way to go and barely competing for a postseason appearance every year could put a team in limbo.
A cautionary sign is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After winning the Super Bowl in 2002, the team went 7-9 in 2003. The Bucs released fan favorites John Lynch and Warren Sapp before 2004 and the team won just five games, but then the rebuilding stopped. Instead of gutting the team, the Bucs leaned on rookie sensation Carnell Williams and found the postseason again, going 11-5 in a very soft NFC. Since then though, the Bucs have been inconsistent and while they’ve found the post season, they never were really considered contenders.
When the Jaguars let go of Tom Coughlin and decided to rebuild, they did it the right way. The team had some good seasons and probably would have found more success if it had hit on first-round picks between 2002 and 2005.
Floating through a sea of mediocrity can kill a franchise and the Jaguars cannot afford to be average for an extended period of time. So if the team goes through 2009 and doesn’t show signs of being and up and coming perennial contender, a full rebuilding mode might be the best way to go.