We can sit here all we want and utilize Monday’s news that the Jacksonville Jaguars released Leonard Fournette as another launching pad to bang a team that has transitioned into a full-on sprint in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.
Do you remember when they drafted the Heisman Trophy winner over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, with Blake Bortles entering his fourth year as their quarterback? Do you remember Luke Joeckel (No. 2 overall, 2013)? Remember Dante Fowler (No. 3 overall, 2015, now a Falcon)? Jalen Ramsey (No. 5 overall, 2016, now a Ram)? Do you remember budding star Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded to the Vikings over the weekend for a pair of mid-round picks? It’s the football equivalent of an easy, tired punchline. The Have you tried airline food!? of our bizarre world.
But allow me for a moment to challenge those with a vested interest in Jaguars football and ask them the following question: After years of being a perpetually lost and uninteresting franchise after the departure of Tom Coughlin (the first time around), stuck in a place where your most popular players in the mid-2010s were a mascot and punter, would you have taken the peak of this rebuild if offered the chance in 2013?
Would you have taken the chance to have something positive—in this case, Sacksonville—associated with your franchise? Would you have taken the rise of Ramsey and the fistfight with New England in the AFC title game, which, as many of you will eagerly point out, hinged on a bad call? Would you have taken that offseason of chest-thumping and the following training camp, which was one of the most robustly attended in decades? Would you digest the last seven years of highs and (mostly) lows if it meant that the Jaguars might be taken somewhat seriously during the free agent process?
Don’t mistake this as me trying to sway you. It’s merely something to consider when evaluating the last seven years of Jaguars football, a year after Shad Khan took over as the team’s owner and hired Dave Caldwell to spearhead one of the more systematic rebuild attempts in recent NFL memory. That era, for all intents and purposes, officially died on Monday with the ouster of Fournette. Even though there are still talented young players remaining on the roster, this bears not even a distant resemblance to the 2017 team that finished in first place and ended the season as the best defense in football.
What exists now, just as it did in 2013, was some fertile soil. The promise of high draft picks and cap space. This is soon to be someone else’s land. Perhaps the Jaguars will find themselves better suited to contend in the AFC South four years from now. Maybe this time they will nail the quarterback portion of the draft, making all the other orbital pieces fall into line much more easily. But a word of caution: It might just be a rebuild with no payoff, which a few fanbases in the NFL are no stranger to. Something with no stars having come and gone despite all the capital. This era of Jaguars football was weird and strange and ultimately imperfect; however, it was not without its moments. It was not without a tangible peak.