JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars hired Doug Pederson as head coach and retained Trent Baalke as the general manager to kick off the second decade of Shad Khan’s ownership.
The franchise is again full of the optimism that comes with the belief that the new regime will deliver the sustained success that has eluded the franchise since its early days -- that the next 10 years will go a lot better than the past 10.
The Jaguars have been the NFL’s worst franchise since Khan took over in January 2012, and it’s almost impossible to argue otherwise. No franchise has lost more games, lost more games by double digits and scored fewer points.
There was one winning season -- the Jaguars went 10-6 and won the AFC South in 2017 -- and a surprising run to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The legacy from that season is “Myles Jack wasn’t down!” -- referring to the officials blowing Jack’s fumble return dead instead of letting the play continue.
Other than that, it has been a decade of disappointment, drama and dysfunction.
The Jaguars are 42-119, which is a .261 winning percentage. Even if you add in the 2-1 playoff record from 2017, the Jaguars are at .268. The franchise with the second-worst record is Cleveland (52-108-1, .326). To put it another way: Over the past 10 seasons, the Jaguars have averaged 12 losses per season.
The Jaguars have 70 losses by 10 or more points -- that's 59% by double digits -- the most in the league. Those 70 double-digit losses are tied for the second most in NFL history during a 10-year span, behind only the New Orleans Saints, who lost 71 games by 10 or more points from 1967-76, per ESPN Stats & Information.
The Jaguars also have scored the fewest points (2,966), allowed the most sacks (451) and have the worst Total QBR (39.1) over the past decade.
Bad hires led to bad results
Why has it been so bad? Multiple reasons, starting with the string of general managers and coaches failing to identify and bring in enough talented players in the draft (especially in the first round), failing to develop the players they drafted and failing to keep some of the good players they did draft.
GM Gene Smith, coach Mike Mularkey: Khan’s first major football decision after purchasing the team in 2011 was retaining general manager Gene Smith, who then hired Mike Mularkey to be the coach. The Jaguars were 13-19 the previous two seasons but went 2-14 in 2012 and Khan fired Smith after the season.
GM Dave Caldwell, coach Gus Bradley: Khan then hired GM Dave Caldwell, who had spent the previous five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons -- the first four as director of college scouting and the fifth as director of pro personnel. Caldwell fired Mularkey and hired coach Gus Bradley, who had spent the previous four seasons as Seattle’s defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll.
- Bradley would go on to post a 14-48 record in nearly four seasons, and his .226 winning percentage ranks as the fourth worst among NFL coaches with at least 50 games as a head coach. Khan and Caldwell fired Bradley on Dec. 18, 2016, after a 21-20 loss at the Texans -- and then had Bradley return to Jacksonville on the team charter.
EVP Tom Coughlin, coach Doug Marrone: After the season, Khan restructured the organization by bringing in Tom Coughlin (who was the first coach and GM in Jaguars history, before winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants) as executive vice president of football operations, giving him total control over football matters. Caldwell stayed as GM, and Khan made Doug Marrone the coach after his run as interim head coach following Bradley’s firing.
- The 2017 AFC South title was the first, and they hosted a playoff game for the first time since the AFC Championship Game after the 1999 season. The Jaguars beat the Buffalo Bills, upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh and held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over the Patriots before falling 24-20 in the AFC Championship Game.
- Then it all fell apart again.
- The Jaguars went 5-11 in 2018 (despite a 3-1 start) and 6-10 in 2019. Coughlin was fired on Dec. 18, 2019, days after the NFL Players Association warned players about potentially signing with the franchise because of excessive fines and player grievances.
- Khan brought Caldwell and Marrone back in 2020, and the Jaguars won the season opener over the Colts and then lost the next 15 games and earned the No. 1 pick (used to select quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2021). Caldwell was fired in November and Marrone after the season.
GM Trent Baalke, coach Urban Meyer: Urban Meyer was hired as coach in January 2021, and Khan promoted Baalke (who joined the franchise in February 2020 as director of player personnel) to general manager. Eleven months later, Meyer was fired because of embarrassing videos of him in a bar with a woman who wasn’t his wife, multiple reports of him yelling at players and assistant coaches and the fact that the Jaguars had won just two games. Meyer didn’t seem to have any answers to how he could turn things around on the field.
Striking out in the draft and free agency
Regardless of who was in charge, the Jaguars haven’t had a lot of success building a competitive roster via the draft and free agency.
Only eight of the Jaguars' 52 draft picks from 2012-18 signed a second contract with the team, including offensive tackle Cam Robinson playing on the franchise tag in 2021. Only one of them -- quarterback Blake Bortles -- was taken in the first round. Five of the other seven first-round picks were either cut (running back Leonard Fournette), traded (cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.) or suspended indefinitely (receiver Justin Blackmon) before the end of their rookie contracts. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel was not signed after his deal expired, and the Jaguars are unlikely this offseason to re-sign defensive tackle Taven Bryan, the only one of seven first-rounders not selected in the top 10 by the Jags.
When the Jaguars did draft good players, they couldn’t keep them, in large part because the players had issues with the front office. The Jaguars traded Fowler, Ramsey and Ngakoue -- three key defensive players on the 2017 team -- in 2018-20 because of clashes with teammates, coaches and upper management.
- “I just felt like we all, during my time in Jacksonville, they got some of the best players they ever had in their whole franchise history, and they had some great players like Fred Taylor and [Mark] Brunell,” Fowler said. “I don’t think they knew the worth of the young players that they had at that time, and they were being typical Jaguars people and try to run people out of the city. Every single person that was on that  team, they eventually left and either went to the Super Bowl or just became really good.”
And then there’s quarterback Nick Foles, who will go down as the worst free-agent signing in franchise history. The Jaguars signed him in 2019 to a four-year, $88 million contract that included a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed -- and all they got out of him was an 0-4 record, three touchdown passes and two interceptions. He eventually was benched for sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew.
It feels like piling on at this point, but … the uniform redesign in 2013 was not well-received either. The Jaguars’ two-tone helmet – matte black in front that faded into a glossy gold in the back -- was so ugly that ESPN Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas called it “the worst in NFL history.” The team went with another redesign after the 2017 season, going back to a full black helmet.
Khan's off-the-field success
To be fair, Khan should be lauded for the good things he has done for Jacksonville and the Jaguars franchise.
Franchise value on the rise: He purchased the team in November of 2011 for $770 million, and it’s now worth $2.8 billion, per Forbes’ latest franchise valuation. That ranks 26th, ahead of the Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Bills. The Jaguars ranked last in Forbes’ rankings in 2012. Part of the increase in value is because of the similar appreciation that the rest of the league’s teams have experienced as well as gobs of television money, but it’s also because Khan has increased local revenue significantly.
The annual London game: The team’s annual game in London and the ticket revenue is a good chunk of that. Khan struck a deal with the NFL that granted the Jaguars extended territorial rights in the United Kingdom. Heading into the 2020 season, team president Mark Lamping said the monies the Jaguars receive from that game account for 11% of the franchise's local revenue (down from 12% in 2016 and 15% in 2014)
Committed to staying in Jacksonville: Even with the annual London game being so important to local revenue, Khan has all but eliminated the narrative that the franchise will relocate. The Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders have all moved to new cities and stadiums since 2016, but the Jaguars -- once rumored to be heading to L.A. and, of course, London -- are still here.
Support for anti-discrimination: Khan also was a vocal supporter of amending the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and he said recently getting that passed was a proud moment for Jacksonville.
$500 million financial commitment: Khan’s financial commitment to the stadium and the city has been significant. With the city council recently approving the Jacksonville Shipyards project along the riverfront adjacent to the stadium, Khan will cross the $500 million mark in total dollars spent in the community.
- Khan pledged at least $301.2 million in the Shipyards project, will pay for half of a $120 million football facility that is scheduled to break ground soon, has spent $108.7 million to help capital projects at city-owned TIAA Bank Field (such as the large video boards, two pools, indoor flex field, and amphitheater just outside the south end zone) and donated $30.5 million to charities via the Jaguars Foundation.
- The total: $500.4 million.
- Khan said he was willing to spend his own money on the city-owned facilities “because I think the stadium needed it. I think we needed a better game-day experience. A lot of the people who are coming here – not only Florida-Georgia, but I think for the home games here – are coming from outside. Their only experience is, I mean, you get off the ramp here, and then you go through, you see what you see, and then you end up at the stadium. And so they've already formed an opinion.
- “It's got to be something that is very good. And they remember their experience by what they had at the stadium.”
Khan is upset about the losing
That’s a lot to unpack, but it has been an eventful decade for the Jaguars. A debacle of a decade.
The fanbase is unhappy, and some even showed up at the season finale against the Colts dressed as clowns wearing Khan's trademark mustache to express their frustration with the direction of the franchise.
Khan, to his credit, acknowledges the frustration and said he wants fans to know that he’s just as upset as they are.
"I feel their pain,” Khan said. “I mean, believe me, I know it because I'm living it. So, I think, regardless, I think we're going to do better.”
Maybe Pederson and Baalke can change things in Khan’s next 10 years as owner. Maybe they can reverse the fortunes of a franchise that has had nearly twice as many seasons with 10 or more losses (15) as those with winning records (eight).
“When somebody comes in and says, ‘I have this plan,’ four-year plan or something like that, uh, no,” Khan said three days before firing Meyer. “The plan is you need to start winning now, OK, and tell me what you need, and that’s what we’re going to do. Because that is absolutely a trap I don’t believe falling in.”