JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars couldn’t keep the two best players they’ve drafted in the past five seasons happy, but at least they’ve managed to get draft capital when they traded away Jalen Ramsey and now Yannick Ngakoue.
Agreeing to trade Ngakoue on Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings for a second-round pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022 (which could become a third-round pick) to go along with the two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 fourth-round pick the Jaguars got when they traded Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams last fall, gives Jacksonville the means to make a potentially quick rebuild.
It’s similar to what the Miami Dolphins recently did, trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ryan Tannehill, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and others for extra picks to jump-start a franchise that has been stuck in mediocrity since 2002. The Dolphins, though, believe they have the right people to turn those picks into victories in general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores.
There likely is not as much job security in Jacksonville, which created an interesting dilemma for GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone. The Jaguars almost certainly were not going to have Ngakoue beyond 2020, so the Jaguars at least got something for him -- but will Caldwell and Marrone be around to benefit from it?
The Jaguars are clearly a better team with Ngakoue, and while there was a chance he would sit out the season instead of playing in 2020 (leaving $17.8 million on the table), most expected Ngakoue to report at some point. He might not be the best defensive end against the run, but he was one of the league’s better pass-rushers (37.5 sacks in four seasons). When you consider the quarterbacks the Jaguars are scheduled to face in 2020 have made a combined 30 Pro Bowls, won three MVPs, and won four Super Bowls -- Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers are among those on that list -- a proven pass-rusher is invaluable.
Caldwell and Marrone were already on shaky footing. The Jaguars have gone 11-21 since the surprising run to the AFC title game after the 2017 season and owner Shad Khan said after the team’s 5-11 record in 2018 that there were far too many long Sunday afternoons when he watched his franchise flounder. Yet he surprisingly didn’t make any changes after last season’s 6-10 record, giving Caldwell and Marrone a chance to fix the problems without Tom Coughlin looking over their shoulders.
Khan did stress "accountability will be paramount." In other words, the Jaguars had better show marked improvement or there will be changes. Caldwell cleaned up the salary cap and he and Marrone made it a priority in the offseason to address some lingering locker-room issues. That’s great, but ... the Jaguars have to start winning games. Dumping Ngakoue certainly makes that harder.
If playoffs or bust was Khan’s closed-door directive to Marrone and Caldwell after the 2019 season, then it looks like it may be a different regime making the decisions for the 2021 draft.
The Jaguars do have a pretty good haul of picks next year: 10 total, including two first-round and two second-round picks. That might be enough to package something together to move up for one of the quarterbacks -- Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields or North Dakota State's Trey Lance -- who could become the franchise quarterback the team has been searching for since Mark Brunell.
Another thing Khan has to consider: Caldwell deserves credit for putting together the 2017 team that went 10-6 and was 10 minutes away from beating New England and reaching the Super Bowl. He either drafted or signed the six defensive players who made the Pro Bowl or were All-Pro that season.
Just three years later, however, they’re all gone.
It’s hard to win when a team loses that kind of talent and doesn't replace it, though defensive end Josh Allen looks like a rising star after setting the franchise rookie record with 10.5 sacks last season.
When weighing Caldwell’s and Marrone’s fate, that’s something that Khan must consider -- in addition to what the team’s record is in what is sure to be one of the most unusual seasons in NFL history because of the coronavirus.
But, as we saw in 2017, a lot of issues can be massaged and brushed under the rug if you’re winning. There just hasn’t been enough of that and if that doesn’t change in 2020 then Caldwell and Marrone probably won’t be around in 2021.