When Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan announced on Dec. 31, 2019, that head coach Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell would return in 2020 despite a 6-10 season (which followed a 5-11 season) and a last place AFC South finish, most reactions were the same.
Why? What could Khan be thinking entrusting his football team to the same regime that had failed for two straight years (and in Caldwell's case, several years before then)?
Well, one year and a 1-10 record, I am prepared to concede. Khan made the right call, even despite the team's putrid record and on-field performance in 2020 ... even if he didn't mean to.
How was it the right move even though the Jaguars are on one of the worst losing streaks in franchise history? How was it right even though he fired Caldwell just 12 games after his December statement endorsing his return?
Simply put, it is more simple than 2020's wins and losses. At the end of the day, the struggles of 2020 were necessary to move the Jaguars toward the future -- and they were struggles that could have potentially scared off some quality candidates to replace either Caldwell or Marrone.
Khan couldn't just fire one of Caldwell or Marrone last season. If he didn't give the franchise a complete clean-sweep, it would have been hard to attract any top coach or executive. But what if Khan did fire both like many expected for him to?
Well, any coach or general manager who would have interviewed for the job would have seen a job that was, frankly, worth more to walk away from than it would be to even inquire about.
Yes, the Jaguars had two first-round picks entering the 2020 offseason. That is obviously huge. But other than that ... what would there have been to like about the Jaguars' job openings last offseason?
The cap? A mess. There were several bloated contracts on the roster that would have to be moved to even give the team a chance to bring in new talent in future seasons. And by doing so, the Jaguars would be made a weaker roster. What general manager or coach wants to walk into a situation where they have to make the team significantly worse the first year they walk in?
The quarterback position? An even bigger mess. Nick Foles was an unmitigated disaster in 2019, being outplayed by a sixth-round rookie and average starter in Gardner Minshew II. Foles had one of the largest contracts on the team, with his cap hit and dead space serving as complete anchors to the team's future.
What about potential solutions at quarterback? Sure the Jaguars could have signed Cam Newton or Jameis Winston, but neither look like long-term franchise quarterbacks. And with the Jaguars holding the No. 9 pick, they had no real chance to pick one of the top three quarterbacks in the draft.
So essentially, a new general manager or owner would have been left to sort out Foles and Minshew in their first year. Caldwell and Marrone were comfortable with rolling with Minshew because they saw what he did in 2019, but would any external candidate truly be excited about the prospects of that position group? The harsh truth is no, they likely wouldn't have.
Then there is the Yannick Ngakoue situation. Dealing with the Ngakoue predicament was hard enough for Caldwell, but any incoming general manager would have had to make the hard decision of franchise tagging Ngakoue or letting the Pro Bowl defensive end walk for nothing. And had they tagged Ngakoue, they would have set the stage for the same battle with Ngakoue that Caldwell and his staff had.
Caldwell eventually was able to trade Ngakoue away for a second-round pick. Had the Jaguars let Ngakoue walk, perhaps they would have gotten a comp pick for him, but nothing near what Caldwell got.
And of course, there was what had to be done about the fractured culture within TIAA Bank Field. The negative ramifications of the Tom Coughlin era were still alive and well at points and some players still had to be moved from the team to create a more positive atmosphere. Any coach or general manager hired in the 2020 offseason would be walking into a hostile situation and an organization on the mend.
But a year later, most of these problems are gone. The Jaguars' cap space? They are set to have nearly $100 million in 2021. The quarterback position? They will likely have the No. 2 or No. 3 pick, giving them a chance to land a franchise passer.
And the issues of negative feelings from the past still manifesting? Those are largely gone as well. Despite the 1-10 record, the Jaguars have clearly brought their level of dysfunction way, way down.
Khan deserves a lot of criticism for his tenure as owner. When you are the second-fastest owner in NFL history to 100 losses and only preceded over one team without a season with double-digit losses, there is little that you should be given credit for.
But in the end, Khan likely knew what is now obvious; the Jaguars weren't a desirable spot at all in 2020. The chances of them getting their ideal choice of head coach or general manager were astronomically low. In the end, it was more worth it to grit one's teeth, duck their head, and force their way through the constant losing that has been Jacksonville's 2020 season.
Perhaps Khan didn't know that, though. Perhaps he genuinely thought Caldwell and Marrone were the best men for the job and deserved one more year at the helm of his ship.
But in the end, the reasons for his decision don't matter as much as the results.
The Jaguars cleaned a lot of things up over the last year, but most of that came at the cost of chances for on-field success. It is much easier to sell that job on a lame-duck coach and general manager who want to stay in their roles than it is to sell on an incoming candidate.
In 2020, the Jaguars have few if any drawbacks in terms of job appeal. The season has been among the worst in franchise history on the field, but they have a future to look forward to for the first time in a long time. They now can attract much better candidates at the two most important roles in their entire organization.
Had Khan fired Caldwell and Marrone in 2019, he would have likely seen a pool of coaching and general manager candidates similar to the weak one the Jaguars saw in 2013 when Caldwell and Gus Bradley were hired (Steve Keim and Greg Roman were other options, to give context for how weak the candidate pool was).
The difference between the appeal of Jacksonville's front office and head coaching gigs now compared to this time last year is insurmountable. Perhaps Khan didn't have that kind of foresight. Perhaps he didn't know the Jaguars would be better off in the long run if they kept Caldwell and Marrone last offseason before replacing them this offseason.
But when it all counts, it was still the right call. Was it the right move for the right reasons? We may never know. What we do know, however, is the Jaguars have a better chance at success because of it.
2020 has been an awful on-field season for the Jaguars, but those struggles were going to happen one way or another. Now, the newest regime can reap the benefits without being scared away by any of the past negatives.