Two years ago, the Jaguars were 72 hours away from playing the New England Patriots for a spot in Super Bowl 52.
Now, 24 months later, you can’t help but reflect on what the Jags had and how quickly it all came unhinged.
That Jaguars team had magically won the AFC South with a 10-win turnaround regular-season. Now, the qualifiers are: QB Andrew Luck was out for the year with shoulder surgery for the Colts after they had dominated the division in his tenure.
And, further, the Jags did not play the Texans in either game against QB DeShaun Watson. This, as he was still on the bench as a rookie in the first meeting in game one of the year. And, he had torn his ACL by the time Jacksonville played Houston in the second matchup.
When you couple that the Jaguars also playing the winless Cleveland Browns, their schedule definitely fell in their favor to help get to 10 victories.
And without a doubt, they played an ugly low-scoring home playoff game on the Wild Card Weekend against an offensively challenged Buffalo Bills team.
Still, a playoff win is a playoff win, and that earned the Jags a chance to play the Divisional Playoff matchup at Pittsburgh the following week.
And, that Sunday in the “Steel City” Blake Bortles looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the league with decisive accurate throws. Plus, Leonard Fournette was pounding the Steelers between the tackles for a couple of scores (above).
And then on the defensive side, Dante Fowler was attacking the quarterback, and Telvin Smith was anchoring the middle of the defense, plus, returning a fumble for a touchdown.
And, Jalen Ramsey was locking down Steeler receivers in one-on-one coverage in a wild 45-42 upset win.
That was then.
And, just two years later all but Fournette out of those players mentioned above, are now no longer with the team.
The Jaguars defense being hit the hardest by trading Fowler and Ramsey in separate deals to the Rams and then, Telvin Smith abruptly retiring in the prime of his career in the off-season.
Gone too is the man, VP of Football Tom Coughlin, who couldn’t get along with several of those players just mentioned above and got himself fired in less than two years after his team played for the whole thing.
He was fired with two weeks to go in the season by owner Shahid Khan, and just 34 months after his heralded return to North Florida to resurrect the Jags. Khan has elected to keep coach Doug Marrone and GM Dave Caldwell despite them following 2017 with 5-11 and 6-10 seasons.
Jacksonville jettisoned Blake Bortles last offseason opting for high-priced free agent quarterback, Nick Foles. However. Foles never really got 2019 underway with a broken collarbone in the first quarter of game one and the team had to turn to Gardner Minshew, a rookie 6th round pick to lead them for a lot of the year.
So even headed into 2020, it’s uncertain who the signal-callers going to be?
Further, with those defensive names above gone and an aging Calais Campbell too, about the only thing a Jags fan can count on is young pass rusher Josh Allen. And, it looks like, he will be one of the most counted on Jaguar Defenders for years to come.
It’s also ironic that the Jaguars counterpart in the AFC South, the Titans have basically been winning down the stretch of this season and now and the two road playoff games at New England in Baltimore with Jacksonville’s 2017 formula. That would be: a strong running game to set up the rest of the offense and physical opportunistic defense more holding the other team in check.
Will the Titans be able to get over the hump and shock high-powered Kansas City, where are the Jaguars failed to knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots when they had their Super Bowl shot?
We are about to find out at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday.
And it’s understandable if Jaguar fans are watching Sunday and wondering how far they are away from that level of play and that big of a game at this point?
And more importantly, how much longer it will take them to have another shot at playing for an AFC title anytime soon?
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?