No surprises here: NFL coaches who go 1-15—after two previous losing seasons in a row—don’t tend to keep their jobs. The Jaguars fired head coach Doug Marrone on Monday, a widely expected move that begins what will be a complete overhaul of the franchise. The team is now looking for a new head coach, a new general manager, and a new quarterback—and the no. 1 pick in April’s draft will help them secure all three.
Marrone’s legacy in Jacksonville will center on the 2017 season, a bright spot in a half decade of mediocrity for the franchise. Marrone came to Jacksonville in 2015 as the offensive line coach under Gus Bradley, and after the Jags fired Bradley in 2016, Marrone took over the head-coaching gig (first as an interim coach and then later as the permanent head coach). The next year, he led the team to what is arguably the most impressive performance in Jaguars history. Jacksonville went 10-6 in 2017 thanks to a dominant defense and a league-average offense led by Blake Bortles. The Jags upset the Steelers in the playoffs and were one pass away from beating the Patriots in the AFC championship game and advancing to the Super Bowl.
But what Marrone built unraveled the very next season. The offense, which was already held together by glue and duct tape, suffered a few injuries and regressed, leading to the midseason firing of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The defense slipped from league-best to a merely top-10 unit. And as a result, a season after finishing 10-6, the Jags went 5-11.
Jacksonville retooled in 2019, adding quarterback Nick Foles in the offseason and moving on from several key defensive contributors (including Jalen Ramsey). Foles got injured in the season opener, and rookie Gardner Minshew II showed flashes of promise in relief, but the results were mostly the same. The Jaguars went 6-10, and were never really in the playoff picture. Across his four-year tenure, Marrone went 25-44 and had just one postseason appearance.
Now, after 15 straight losses this season, the Jaguars find themselves in the perfect position for a complete makeover. The team moved on from general manager Dave Caldwell, who had been in that position since 2013, in November. With Caldwell and Marrone both out of the picture, and Minshew clearly not the future under center, the franchise is looking for a new trifecta—coach, quarterback, and general manager—to lead it.
The Jaguars hold the crown jewel to begin such a process. They have earned the no. 1 pick in the draft, which they will almost certainly use to take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Though Ohio State’s Justin Fields lit Clemson on fire on Saturday in a 49-28 rout to advance to college football’s national championship, NFL scouts have been salivating over Lawrence since the quarterback led Clemson to a national title in 2018 as a true freshman. He’s been one of the sport’s most efficient quarterbacks in the two seasons since, and has the mechanics, talent, poise, and leadership that teams look for in a franchise passer. He’s probably the most anticipated quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012.
Just having Lawrence will help the Jaguars attract coaching and GM candidates, and reports already have linked the team to Urban Meyer, the longtime college coach who won titles at Florida and Ohio State. But the no. 1 pick isn’t the only thing the Jaguars have to jump-start their rebuild. The franchise also has a bunch of other draft picks—including the Rams’ first- and fourth-round picks from the Ramsey trade in 2019, and the Vikings’ second-round pick from the Yannick Ngakoue trade last August—and upward of $77 million in projected cap space next season, the most in the NFL. In other words, whoever takes over the Jacksonville coaching and GM roles will have the perfect blank canvas with which to turn this team around in a hurry.
And while Jacksonville isn’t very committed to any players currently on the roster, it does have a small handful of guys who could stick around for the next era of Jaguars football. James Robinson just had the best season of any undrafted rookie running back in history, rushing for 1,070 yards and adding 344 more as a receiver. Meanwhile, third-year pro DJ Chark Jr., who made the Pro Bowl in 2019, and rookie Laviska Shenault Jr., who finished 2020 with 600 yards receiving, give the Jaguars the beginnings of an adequate receiving corps. The offensive line and defense both need complete overhauls, but that’s what Jacksonville’s cap space and draft picks are for.
Most bad NFL teams aren’t in as good a position as the Jaguars. They might have a good draft pick, but little cap space. Or they might have promising players, but an underwhelming head coach or general manager that they’re still committed to. The Jaguars, though, can tear everything down to the studs and start from scratch. The Doug Marrone era in Jacksonville is over—the next one has plenty of promise.