Through the first eight games of the 2013 season, it appeared the Jacksonville Jaguars could be joining the 2008 Lions and the 1976 Buccaneers as the only two teams to go an entire season without a victory in the Super Bowl era. Then, following their bye week, the Jags bounced back winning four of their first five games in the second half of the season. Sure, they lost their final three, but 4-12 is a long shot from 0-16.
Most look at the Jaguars and see a team with little hope for the future. In fact, the teams is more often mentioned alongside the Browns and Raiders these days than the likes of the Steelers or Colts. Even so, the Jaguars have an important card in their hand.
At this point, ESPN estimates that the Jaguars will be about $50 million under the salary cap heading into the 2014 league year. In addition, the Jags will likely be reworking some contracts in the coming seasons to clear out more room. That should mean the team should be more active in free agency.
Jacksonville’s front office doesn’t have a desire to piece together a Frankenstein team through free agency. Instead, general manager David Caldwell will use the draft to bring in the team’s future stars, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be abandoning free agency altogether. He’ll be using it as a way to add solid starters to a squad that lacks any kind of depth and has many holes in key positions throughout.
A season ago, Caldwell avoided signing players out of free agency to long-term deals. By doing that in a year the Jaguars simply had no chance of making the playoffs, Caldwell gave the team flexibility, and salary cap space, this offseason. This time around, Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union reports Caldwell is willing to sign free agents to longer deals, signaling a shift in the team’s strategy.
Unless the Jaguars sign a number of surprise home runs in free agency and through the draft, Jacksonville won’t be a playoff team in 2014, but they’ll be considerably better. The team has big holes on the offensive line and at quarterback, but if it can come up with long-term solutions to those positions this season, the team could be turning a corner and getting pointed in the right direction.
The factor that seems to be differentiating the Jags’ current regime from other chronic failures in the NFL is their willingness to take their time and build a stable team. Other organizations are constantly turning over their front office, but when the Jags started over, they blew everything up at once. The result is a GM and head coach that are on the same page.
It helps that the Jaguars brought in the right head coach for the job too. You’ll be hard pressed to read anything about the Jaguars’ struggles in 2013 without hearing about the positive influence Gus Bradley had on his team. After all, teams that lose their first eight games by double digits virtually never bounce back in any meaningful way, but the Jaguars’ approach of simply getting better each week paid off, and there’s no denying that the team was miles better by the end of the season than they were at its onset.
Right now, the Jaguars still don’t have a good team, but $50 million can change a lot. Before declaring the 2014 Jags DOA, let’s wait and see just how they handle the draft and free agency.