JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars are picking in the top 10 in the NFL draft for the 14th time in the past 15 years.
They’ll be making the first overall pick for the second consecutive year and will have a top-five selection for the eighth time in the past 11 years.
Why have they had so many high draft picks? Because they’ve lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 11 seasons.
Why have they lost so many games? Because they’ve drafted poorly, especially when it comes to those high picks.
It’s a vicious circle that won’t end until the franchise starts hitting on its picks, developing them into core players and signing them to second or third deals, instead of trying to fix its draft mistakes via free agency.
“If you look at our roster, there's very few players that are second-contract Jaguars, and that's something that has to change if we want to change the culture and the direction of the organization,” general manager Trent Baalke said. “It's going to start there. It's going to start by drafting well, developing well and getting guys into their second contracts.”
Baalke, who is in his second season as the team’s GM, has a pretty low bar to top at this point. There are only four players on the current roster who are playing on their second or third contract: left tackle Cam Robinson (second franchise tag), guard/tackle Will Richardson Jr., defensive end Dawuane Smoot and punter Logan Cooke.
Robinson is the most notable of the group, but none of them have come close to making a Pro Bowl. Richardson has started only five games.
Only 10 of the Jaguars' 59 draft picks from 2012 to 2019 have signed a second contract with the team. Only one (quarterback Blake Bortles) was taken in the first round (2014). The other players who signed second deals: Wide receiver Marqise Lee (second round, 2014), center Brandon Linder (third round, 2014), linebacker Telvin Smith (fifth round, 2014), guard A.J. Cann (third round, 2015), linebacker Myles Jack (second round, 2016), Smoot (third round, 2017), Cooke (seventh round, 2018), Richardson (fourth round, 2018), and Robinson (second round, 2017).
Defensive end Josh Allen was the team’s first-round pick in 2019 and is eligible to sign an extension this offseason; the team has until May 2 to exercise their fifth-year option on his contract.
Of the 10 first-round picks from 2012-20:
One was suspended indefinitely because of substance abuse issues (receiver Justin Blackmon).
One was re-signed (Bortles).
Two are still playing under their rookie contracts (Allen and defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson).
It’s hard to win games when you’re getting little or no production out of your premium draft picks -- and it’s hard to catch up when you’re trying to fix those mistakes through free agency.
The Jaguars hope drafting quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall in 2021 was the first step in changing the direction of the franchise. And they hope last year's other first-rounder, Travis Etienne Jr., will make an impact in 2022 after missing his rookie season due to a Lisfranc injury. Baalke has another chance with this year’s first pick to add another foundational piece, whether it’s defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, offensive tackles Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu or a surprise pick -- such as defensive lineman Travon Walker.
It will take several more years before we’ll know if the Jaguars have reached the point where they’re not relying on free agency to keep filling the holes they’ve created by not drafting well -- the way they did this spring when they spent $175.3 million in guaranteed money on free agents.
“The rosters are always evolving in this league,” Baalke said. “You look at the league; the natural thing is 30-40% turnover almost on a yearly basis. There’s a lot of churning of rosters. Guys become free agents, they move on. Guys get injured, they don’t come back. There’s a lot of factors involved, but we had to address some serious needs that the organization had. If you look at the past drafts, there just aren’t that many players that are still left for various reasons, whether they chose to go on their own, they were traded out or whatever.
“We feel real good about where we’re at. And what we’re trying to build is stability within the ranks -- keep as many guys, don’t churn the roster as much as it has been churned here. Get guys into their second contracts as Jaguars. That’s the important thing. Once we start getting in that rhythm, I think the build will really take care of itself.”