JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Coughlin helped build the Jacksonville Jaguars from scratch into one of the best teams in the NFL. They’re turning to him in the waning years of his football career to see if he can do it again.
As the team’s new vice president of football operations, Coughlin is tasked with improving a roster that many believe has enough talent to compete in the mediocre AFC South. Under the team’s restructuring, general manager Dave Caldwell, who had final say on personnel matters over the past four seasons, will report to Coughlin, but it is unclear right now who will have final say or whether they will share power over personnel decisions.
It's a good move, because despite their 3-13 record, the Jaguars aren't far from competing for the AFC South title. They split with the Tennessee Titans and should have beaten the division champion Houston Texans on the road. They have more overall talent on their roster than the Indianapolis Colts, especially on defense. With Coughlin's help in adding the right pieces -- and he has shown he is a keen evaluator of talent -- the Jaguars should be a legitimate factor in the division over the next several seasons.
Coughlin won two Super Bowls as coach of the New York Giants, but he achieved arguably an equally impressive accomplishment in getting the Jaguars into the AFC Championship Game during their second year of existence, then leading them to a 14-2 record and the AFC Championship Game again three years later.
Coughlin did that because of his work as de facto general manager, as much as his coaching, and that’s certainly an area in which the Jaguars can use some help -- especially when it comes to first-round draft picks.
Caldwell has done a good job hitting on players in Rounds 2 through 5, but he has nailed only one of his four first-round picks:
Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (2013) never developed into a dominating player and was moved to guard this season, before suffering a serious knee injury that landed him on the injured reserve list. Quarterback Blake Bortles (2014) had a breakout year in 2015, but he regressed this past season; there now are questions about whether he should be the long-term starter. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (2015) missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and had maturity and consistency issues this past season to go along with 4.0 sacks.
Caldwell did hit a home run with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is a candidate for defensive rookie of the year. The Jaguars routinely put him on the opponent’s best receiver, and he did not allow a touchdown pass all season in one-on-one coverage.
In his first tour with the Jaguars, Coughlin nailed his first-round draft picks. His very first one -- offensive tackle Tony Boselli at No. 2 overall in 1995 -- is the best player in franchise history and has a good chance of becoming the first Jaguars player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 1996, Coughlin drafted linebacker Kevin Hardy, followed by defensive tackle Renaldo Wynn (1997), running back Fred Taylor and safety Donovin Darius in 1998, then defensive back Fernando Bryant in 1999. After missing on receiver R. Jay Soward in 2000, Coughlin drafted defensive tackles Marcus Stroud (2001) and John Henderson (2002), two of the best defensive players in team history.
Six of his top picks were studs -- including the team’s all-time leading rusher (Taylor) -- and two others turned out to be good players. Not a bad batting average.
Coughlin also drafted defensive end Tony Brackens in the second round in 1996, center Brad Meester in the second round in 2000 and cornerback Aaron Beasley in the third round in 1996. Brackens is the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, and Meester holds the franchise record for most games played, most games started and most consecutive games started.
Coughlin had trouble with the salary cap at the end of his first tenure in Jacksonville, having to trim about $30 million from the payroll ahead of the 2001 season and $20 million ahead of the 2002 season. It was a big reason the Jaguars had three consecutive losing seasons, after going 14-2 in 1999 and reaching the AFC title game.
The Jaguars have people in place managing the cap in John Idzik and Tim Walsh, so that won’t be a problem for Coughlin this time.
The extent of Coughlin’s duties and who has final say on personnel matters will become clearer over the next few days, but bringing Coughlin back to help was a good move by the Jaguars.