JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan's decision to retain general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone for the 2020 season led to a lot of questions. Here are answers to some of the more prominent ones:
So, the entire problem the past two seasons was Tom Coughlin?
That's what Khan is saying with his decision to bring Marrone and Caldwell back. Coughlin definitely was a big problem -- he created a strained work atmosphere inside the building, alienated and angered players and ran afoul of the NFLPA because he ignored the rules and handed out excessive fines. His fractured relationship with cornerback Jalen Ramsey was a major factor in Ramsey's desire to be traded. But it's unfair to put all the blame for an 11-21 record the past two seasons on Coughlin. He wasn't responsible for the Jaguars being the most penalized team in the NFL since 2018 (253 penalties). Though he did have final say on football matters, he did allow Caldwell to do the bulk of the work in free agency and sign an unimpressive group that included left guard Andrew Norwell, wide receiver Donte Moncrief, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, linebacker Jake Ryan, tight end Geoff Swaim and quarterback Nick Foles. Coughlin didn't put together game plans, didn't call plays and didn't make in-game decisions.
After 2018, Khan promised another bad season wouldn't be tolerated. Why is he tolerating it now?
Because Khan is placing so much blame on Coughlin, he wants to give Marrone and Caldwell a chance to operate on their own for a season. Without an executive vice president over football operations, Marrone and Caldwell will report directly to Khan. With the new structure, the coaching staff and personnel staff will essentially be on equal footing, and Marrone and Caldwell believe that will ensure that there's equal input on the team's philosophy and plan heading into the 2020 season.
That's a change from the pre-Coughlin structure, in which former coach Gus Bradley reported to Caldwell, and Caldwell reported to Khan. Bradley certainly had input in personnel decisions, but Caldwell was ultimately responsible for the final decisions. Now it appears to be more of a partnership.
"We are talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting it in a true, true partnership where we are meeting and talking and doing that and coming to decisions," Marrone said. "I think that Dave would agree -- and I have been a part of it before -- when we do that, things become clearer on exactly what the vision is that we want. ...
"My experience with that has been that probably 97 percent of the time, you are going to come up with a decision that is best for your organization. Those times that you may be different on it, Dave and I have the ability to try to work it out and if not, we have the ability to bring it to Shad."
Will defensive coordinator Todd Wash and other assistants be retained? Who owns the Jaguars' defensive collapse?
Marrone said the assistant coaches are off until Jan. 13 and he will begin evaluating the staff then. (He will at least have to find a new quarterbacks coach with Scott Milanovich leaving to be the head coach of the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.) As the coordinator, Wash bears the brunt of the responsibility for the defense's on-field performance, and that wasn't pretty this season: 24th in total defense, 28th in rush defense, 16th in pass defense, 21st in scoring. The Jaguars gave up 200 yards rushing four times (a first in franchise history) and gave up more than 500 yards twice (another first).
However, consider what Wash had at his disposal.
In 2017, when the Jaguars were one of the best defenses in the NFL, there were six Pro Bowl selections (DE Calais Campbell, LB Telvin Smith, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DT Malik Jackson, CB Jalen Ramsey and CB A.J. Bouye) and two first-team All-Pros (Campbell and Ramsey).
In 2019: No Smith, Jackson or LB Paul Posluszny. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (groin) and linebacker Myles Jack (knee) missed a combined 15 games. Ramsey was traded. The middle linebacker for the final five weeks wasn't on the roster until late October. There are probably only four starters from the season finale who could start on other teams: Campbell, Ngakoue, defensive end Josh Allen and safety Ronnie Harrison.
That's a significant talent drop-off and it was a major factor in the defense's decline. So the personnel and scouting departments, as well as Coughlin and Caldwell, deserve blame for the defense's decline.
What is the contract breakdown for Marrone and Caldwell?
After the team's run to the AFC Championship Game in 2017, Khan gave Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell two-year extensions through the 2021 season. Coughlin was fired Dec. 18 but will be paid for the remaining two years. Had Khan fired Marrone and Caldwell, he would have had to have done the same.
Foles was a huge disappointment in 2019, but the rookie Minshew was a huge surprise and finished with a 6-6 record and better numbers than first-round picks Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray. Despite that, it looks as if the Jaguars will begin their offseason program in April without a named starting quarterback.
"I think we have two that I know about right now and I really feel comfortable with them," Marrone said. "I think it's something that we have to use in our favor. In the past, there have been situations where we haven't had many or maybe I've just had one. I've never had two. We've got to do a heck of a job making sure we're getting both guys ready."
Foles is going to be on the roster in 2020 unless the Jaguars decide at some point to go with Minshew and are able to work out a trade. It probably would be something similar to what Houston did in 2017 with Brock Osweiler, sending him to Cleveland as a salary dump.
The Jaguars aren't cutting Foles. That would be a $33.875 million dead-cap hit and would be irresponsible cap management. So expect the Jaguars to let Foles and Minshew battle throughout the offseason and camp.
Is Marrone still the right guy to coach this team?
Marrone doesn't get enough credit for the team's AFC South title and run to the AFC Championship Game in 2017 -- most of it seems to go to Coughlin, as it was his first year back. But it was Marrone who instilled a more disciplined approach that season (with Coughlin's approval, of course), which included taking the pingpong table and video games out of the locker room. The players lobbied Khan to keep Marrone and it's clear they like him. The biggest endorsement of Marrone is that he didn't lose the team this season. The Jaguars were still playing hard in December and won two of their final three games, including the last game played in Oakland.
Whom should Caldwell draft with those Jalen Ramsey first-round picks?
The Jaguars pick ninth (theirs) and 20th (from the Rams) and there are multiple directions in which they can go because there are so many major needs on the roster. Addressing interior defensive line, left tackle, linebacker, receiver, safety and corner are musts. Some names to watch: safety Grant Delpit, defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, cornerback A.J. Terrell and wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Should the Jaguars trade Leonard Fournette?
Fournette missed the last game because of the flu but proved this past season that he can stay healthy, is able to handle a large workload (341 touches) and has matured significantly since his first two years. The Jaguars aren't likely to pick up his fifth-year option, so he'll have one year left on his rookie contract. It wouldn't make sense to trade him now because the Jaguars would be creating another need that they'd have to address through free agency or the draft. They've got too many needs to address as it is. Keep Fournette for one more year, get a better look at Ryquell Armstead and then make a decision.