JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Tom Coughlin is out as the Jacksonville Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations. Now what?
Jaguars owner Shad Khan still has decisions to make about the rest of the team's leadership in the next few days and weeks. Here's a breakdown of the most pressing questions:
Khan admitted in his statement that he had already made up his mind to fire Coughlin after the season, but a letter the NFL Players Association sent out to every player in the league accelerated the timetable.
In the letter, the union warned about potentially signing with Jacksonville because more than 25% of the grievances filed by NFL players in the past two years have been against the club, and that players "continue to be at odds with Jaguars management over their rights under the CBA far more than players on other clubs."
It was an unprecedented move by the NFLPA and humiliating for the franchise. That kind of message could hamper the Jaguars' ability to land free agents and retain their own players -- which, of course, would inhibit their ability to win games. Khan couldn't afford to keep Coughlin any longer after that, and the move sends a message that the kind of behavior Coughlin engaged in -- blatantly disregarding the league's rules governed by the collective bargaining agreement -- will not be tolerated.
Will Khan replace Coughlin?
That's unclear at this point. Khan created the position of executive vice president of football operations when he hired Coughlin in January 2017, because he believed the organization needed someone with more football knowledge and experience. Khan also gave Coughlin, the first coach in team history, final say over all football decisions. Until then, general manager Dave Caldwell had the final say.
Not many teams operate with that structure because it can create confusion inside the building regarding who is really in charge -- especially if the person ultimately in charge can't help but meddle in coaching decisions, which is what a league source says happened in Jacksonville with Coughlin.
Khan might go back to the old structure and do away with the position -- or just have one person hold the general manager/executive vice president role under one title.
What happens to Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone?
The assumption is that Khan is going to clean house once the regular season ends, but he has shown exceptional patience before, such as keeping former coach Gus Bradley for four years (2013 to 2016) even though the team was never better than 5-11 in a season with him in charge. On the flip side, Khan parted with coach Mike Mularkey after just one season (2-14 in 2012).
Caldwell, hired in 2013, has had his share of draft misses, but he also selected cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and signed, with Coughlin's approval, free-agent defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye.
Khan could opt to give Caldwell and Marrone a chance to operate for a season without Coughlin's oversight. That might depend on how the final two games of the season go.
The Jaguars play at Atlanta and play host to Indianapolis; both are winnable games. Finishing 7-9 with everything that has gone on this season -- linebacker Telvin Smith's retirement, Ngakoue's holdout, Ramsey's trade request, quarterback Nick Foles' disappointing season and Coughlin's situation -- could give Khan the belief that Caldwell and Marrone deserve another try. Don't be surprised if that happens.
What about the Foles situation?
The Jaguars are pretty much stuck with Foles for at least one more season, mainly because of a $33.875 million dead-cap hit if they were to cut him. It's hard to imagine any GM or football exec being willing to absorb that; it would be roughly 20 percent of the offensive salary cap going to a guy who wouldn't be on your roster. The Jaguars just carried $16.5 million in dead cap in 2019 for former quarterback Blake Bortles, and this would be more than double that.
Complicating the matter on Foles -- and every player -- is the fact that unless there is a new labor agreement in place by March 1, there is no post-June 1 designation. That means the Jaguars wouldn't get a break on the dead-cap hit if they cut Foles or traded him after June 1, because teams can't push any money into the 2021 year if there's no CBA; the current one expires after the 2020 season.
Foles, who signed a four-year, $88 million deal that includes a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed, has not played well in 2019: 736 yards, three touchdown passes and two interceptions in 11 quarters. He produced 661 passing yards and 33 points in the three games since his return from a broken collarbone, but only 10 of those points came in the first half of those games.
Sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew led the Jaguars to five victories and has shown enough to be an intriguing option as a potential full-time starter. It's hard to see the team being willing to pay $22 million to a backup quarterback, so Foles could enter the offseason as the presumed starter, regardless of which regime is in place.
What does the rest of the offseason look like?
The Jaguars are roughly $600,000 over the projected 2020 salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com, so they have decisions to make on several players. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is most certainly gone, which saves $22.5 million. Campbell ($17.5 million cap figure) and Bouye ($15.41 million) could be released if they're not willing to renegotiate their deals.
Left guard Andrew Norwell hasn't lived up to the megadeal the Jaguars gave him in 2018 (five years, $66.5 million, $30 million guaranteed), but cutting him would cost the Jaguars $9 million in dead money in 2020 and save only $5.5 million, so he could be around for one more season. Still, he has been average at best and that's too much to pay an average player.
The Jaguars also have a major decision to make on Ngakoue. He has played very well after a slow start due to a hamstring injury (six of his eight sacks have come in the last seven games), and he is already second in franchise history with 37.5 sacks. Ngakoue and the Jaguars couldn't come to an agreement on a contract extension this past offseason. If the sides aren't able to work something out, the Jaguars can use the franchise tag on him. That would pay him approximately $19.3 million next season, per OverTheCap.com. The sides were pretty far apart last spring, so that's where this is likely headed.
On a positive note, the Jaguars do have nine draft picks in April, including two first-rounders (their own and one of the three picks they acquired from the Rams in the Ramsey trade). Right now that's Nos. 8 and 20. The Jaguars have holes at nearly every position, but particularly at interior defensive line, linebacker, tight end and offensive line, so whoever is in charge of picking players can pretty much go the best-available route and it would likely fill a need.