JACKSONVILLE - Despite two consecutive losing seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars are entrusting head coach Doug Marrone with one more bite at the apple.
Jaguars' owner Shad Khan announced Tuesday that both Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell would return in their respective roles in 2020. This comes off of the heels of a 6-10 season in 2019 and a 5-11 record in 2018, leading to many wondering just what Marrone and Caldwell have done to deserve being retained.
There are several arguments to be made on both sides of the coin, especially as it pertains to Marrone. So, why could keeping Marrone as head coach end up being the smart move, and why could Jacksonville potentially falter as a result of the decision?
Why keeping Doug Marrone could be a good idea
1) This is a chance to get an honest evaluation of Marrone
The most obvious argument to keeping Marrone is that the Jaguars have never seen him operate without Tom Coughlin lurking in the shadows and undermining his role as head coach. We have seen Caldwell perform in his role in Jacksonville without Coughlin, but we have never seen Marrone. That is likely a big reason Marrone was retained.
Marrone has also theoretically been given more power now than he had the last three seasons. Khan said Marrone would report directly to him -- not to Caldwell -- after he answered to Coughlin for three seasons. Now, Marrone will be able to be viewed from a more isolated lense and Khan can get a greater feel for his ability to lead.
2) It provides continuity in leadership, a sign of patience from ownership
Like Gus Bradley before him, Marrone is being given a fourth season despite an inability to string together winning seasons. Khan has shown supreme patience in the past and it looks to be he is going back to his typical strategy of not shaking things up too much.
While Khan is likely overly patient with his staff, it probably bodes well for how other coaches view him as an owner. If Khan has to fire Marrone in 2020, he can make an argument to coaching candidates that they will be given as much time as possible to have success.
3) He has the support of the Jaguars' locker room
For the last few weeks, the Jaguars' locker room has stumped for Marrone and sang his praises. Leonard Fournette said he "loves Coach Doug" because of his ability to listen. Calais Campbell said he thinks Marrone can lead Jacksonville to a Super Bowl win. These are two leaders inside TIAA Bank Field, so them sticking up for Marrone means something.
If Marrone didn't have a team that would go to war for him and play hard each week, it is likely that he wouldn't still have a job, and even more likely that he would fail as head coach in 2020.
4) He likely knows he has to make big changes on his end
The way Marrone spoke at press conferences the last few weeks, he seemed like he thought himself he was a dead man walking. It is likely that during Marrone's meeting with Khan, Marrone had to admit there have to be some changes at the top for him to remain. The status quo can't remain.
These changes should come to the rest of the coaching staff, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. If Marrone replacing defensive coordinator Todd Wash is still to be decided, but chances are he knows he has to make some kind of move.
5) Won six games with a sixth-round rookie quarterback and a makeshift defense in 2019
It was a bad season for the Jaguars. There is no questioning that. A 6-10 record can't be deemed a good result by any means.
But, in a way, it was a decent coaching job by Marrone. He won six games, an upgrade from 2018, despite starting a sixth-round rookie quarterback (Gardner Minshew) for 12 games, losing his best player (Jalen Ramsey), and having several other top playmakers leave the team both before and during the season. If Marrone can progress the team in 2020, it will likely be because he was able to build upon the positives he developed in 2019.
Why Marrone and the Jaguars will face challenges in 2020
1) The winning culture of 2017 is long gone
Shad Khan referenced the Jaguars' spectacular 2017 season when he announced Marrone and Caldwell would return. But that is something hampering the Jaguars: the inability to let 2017 go. The team is simply much, much different both on and off the field then it was that season. Only a handful of players, such as Fournette, Campbell, Myles Jack and Brandon Linder remain. Many of the impact players have left, and with them so did the winning culture of 2017.
Jacksonville is 11-21 since going 10-6 and making the AFC Championship Game in 2017. Any remnants of that team and the success from it are gone and have been for some time. Marrone will have to navigate the waters in 2020 to find that winning formula again, but for now, 2017 should be in the rearview.
2) Jaguars have major cap issues and could lose even more players
Jacksonville is currently projected to be over the 2020 cap by about $9 million. This means several players are likely to exit from the roster and could include impact players such as Linder, Campbell, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Bouye. These are four of the better players on the roster, but each has bloated contracts that could force Jacksonville's hand.
The Jaguars may also sustain a big loss in free agency due to the impending exit of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. He has hinted on social media that he plans to test the open market in a few months and not resign with Jacksonville, so filling his shoes will be a top priority.
3) The quarterback situation still has to be sorted out
As it stands today, Jacksonville has no surefire starter for Week 1 of the 2020 season. Big-money veteran Nick Foles was a bust in 2019, only starting four games and going 0-4 in the process, while Minshew went 6-6 and showed flashes, albeit inconsistently.
Marrone opted to play Minshew over Foles down the stretch so the smart money might be for Minshew to start in 2020, but the fact that it isn't an automatic answer is a challenge in of itself. If you don't know who your quarterback is, then you likely don't have one.
4) AFC South figures to be stacked in 2020
Jacksonville finished in last place of the AFC South in 2019, with two teams from the division (Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans) making the playoffs and having records better than .500. The Indianapolis Colts were one game away from being .500, ending with a 7-9 record.
Each of these teams is primed to return in a big way in 2020. The Texans have the best quarterback in the AFC South with Deshaun Watson, while the Titans have a dangerous running game and play-action attack with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. The Colts, meanwhile, have arguably the best coach in the AFC South in Frank Reich. None of these teams will be pushovers in 2020, and each will present big challenges for Marrone.
5) Room for error and benefit of the doubt are both non-existent
Khan said in his statement on Tuesday that, "accountability will be paramount." This likely means that, for the first time in really years, the margin of error allowed by the team's head coach is near zero entering the season. Khan has shown a penchant for patience in the past, but this is the last inch of that rope. If Marrone slips up at all in 2020, that is likely it for him.