At a time when many NFL teams were panicking about a perceived quarterback draught leaving them behind, the Jaguars were working to flip the concept of a modern NFL franchise on itself and create a system that was less quarterback dependent.
Jokes were made about Doug Marrone’s love of running the football and what that did to the confidence of someone like Blake Bortles. But Jacksonville was no different than other pioneering teams at different levels of the sport which, when faced with a similar personnel quandary, opted to use available capital to strengthen the best parts of their team instead of spending at the top of the market to recreate the look of other successful teams. Basically, you could get the best defensive ends, tackles and cornerbacks in football for less than middle-tier quarterbacks who wouldn’t markedly improve the offense on their own.
The problem with that theory? What happens when the offense’s buoying factor—in the Jaguars’ case, the running game—slows down? Leonard Fournette, who has not played since Sept. 30, has taken just 19 total carries this year thanks to a nagging hamstring injury.
So here we are, complaining about Bortles as we run headfirst into the trade deadline. Projections have gone from the odd and uninspiring (trade for Sam Bradford, because somehow that will be better!) to the ridiculous (trade for the shell of Eli Manning!). Jacksonville’s big move to this point has been acquiring another running back—Carlos Hyde from the Browns—in order to momentarily fill the void left behind by Fournette and reduce his workload upon return.
Is the answer really that simple for the Jaguars to get back on track? Here are the three scenarios as we see it, ranked from best and most effective to worst and least effective.
1. Best-case scenario: Hyde can help the team reclaim some of their punishing rushing style, swallow more clock and put Bortles into advantageous passing situations that lead to higher-percentage throws. Fournette returns eventually and, at a time when defenses continue to get smaller and quicker, Jacksonville reclaims their place as a pain-in-the-ass opponent who, like an option offense in college, forces teams to prepare differently and use different personnel. The Jaguars can keep their draft capital and continue spending it on complementary parts this offseason.
This feels like the most sustainable route, even if NFL franchises don’t always view things five years down the road. The Jaguars can continue building teams that are good enough to support most replacement level quarterback play, and if the time comes where they dip, they are in a position to acquire another young passer who has a good infrastructure in place and is under team control at a cheap rate for four seasons.
2. Middle-of-the-road scenario: The Jaguars get desperate and make a move to benefit them in the short-term. I don’t understand the Bradford hysteria when he is injury-prone, expensive and less mobile than Bortles. If I were to rank the tradeable quarterbacks that would make sense for Jacksonville and fit their need for a durable, effective, ball-control quarterback, I would rank them as follows:
1. Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns
2. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
3. Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Josh McCown, New York Jets
5. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’d also be interested to hear what kind of shape Matt Moore was in. The 34-year-old was not 100% sold on the retired life the last I checked a few weeks ago and was a capable replacement player in Miami for years.
Why is this less ideal? It’s expensive—Brissett especially—and it saddles the team with the less-than-ideal task of preparing a signal-caller to lead a group of people he doesn’t know in a short period of time. That being said, Jacksonville’s bye week starts after the Eagles game this Sunday.
3. Worst-case scenario: The Jaguars trade for a washed-up veteran with a significant per-game compensation who doesn’t make the team better and gunks up their salary cap configurations. (Cough, Manning or Bradford, cough.)
Hyde gets injured and Fournette continues to take a meandering route back to the field, which forces the Jaguars to juggle Bortles and Cody Kessler for the remainder of the season and throws the opening of 2019 in doubt.
Here’s why I think it won’t come to that: The beauty of Jacksonville’s roster setup is that, like every other team in the NFL, they are one significant injury away from having their season derailed. Unlike every other team in the NFL, that injury is not at the quarterback position. While running backs are more likely to be injured, they are also easier to replace. Hence, a reason to keep the faith in Jacksonville, even if they don’t light it up at the trade deadline.