INDIANAPOLIS – So, now we know.
If we didn’t before – and that would be true only if we weren’t watching last season or listening for the last month and a half – we know that what the Jaguars are facing in the coming year could be a transition of the like the team hasn’t seen in a long time. Maybe ever.
That’s where we are now.
And yes, while it should have been obvious during 2-14 that it was coming – and while it has been obvious listening to General Manager David Caldwell, Head Coach Gus Bradley and Owner Shad Khan in recent weeks – it just feels a lot more clarified now that we have heard from the Jaguars’ key decision-makers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Each day, it seemed, Caldwell or Bradley drove a point home.
When Caldwell spoke, he did so with a theme of building through the draft, of being a heavy player in collegiate free agency.
That’s collegiate free agency – as in, undrafted rookies signed after the draft.
He spoke, too, of not investing particularly heavily in the veteran free agent market this offseason. Caldwell talked about this topic in a few different forums this week, but perhaps summed up the reasoning best Wednesday afternoon when talking to jaguars.com.
“I don’t want a stopgap free agent who’s just going to be here a year or two years to stop me from drafting a guy to come in and play right away,” Caldwell said. “It’s something I’ve always kind of believed, and Shad’s given us the green light to build through the draft and not put a timetable on this, but to build it so it can be sustainable for a long period of time.”
There it is. That’s the nut graph from the combine.
The plan is to draft, and to build and to do it the right way. It won’t always be an easy plan, because when you’re dealing with young players, there will be mistakes and moments next season when fans will say, “If we had signed so and so this wouldn’t be happening.”
Know this, too:
It won’t always be a popular plan. When free agency begins, the popular and easy short-term thing is for a general manager to make a splash, to fill a need.
That won’t be the approach, because the Jaguars right now aren’t focused on going 7-9 next season; rather, as Bradley said on Saturday, they’re focused not just on winning the AFC South one year soon but on owning the AFC South.
It became more evident as the week went on here at the combine that the Caldwell and Bradley are very much on the same page; their approaches, intertwined. Each has talked since Bradley’s hiring of the immediate connection they felt when they met during the interview process, how each of their philosophies meshed with Khan’s vision. These are easy things to say in press conferences, and things you hear a lot when regimes change in sports, but in this case, the words ring true.
Because while Bradley’s theme doesn’t mimic Caldwell’s, it fits with it.
While Caldwell talks of building through the draft and waiting a year to supplement the process with free agency – an approach driven into him with success experienced first-hand in Indianapolis and Atlanta – Bradley talks of competition.
He talked about it at his opening press conference, and he has talked about it whenever given the chance since. He liked the idea of creating competition as a college coach and still liked it as position coach in Tampa Bay. In his second season as defensive coordinator in Seattle, he watched Head Coach Pete Carroll and General Manager John Schneider make 284 roster moves, and by the end of that season, the tone for the team and culture for the organization had been changed.
“I just saw it work first-hand,” Bradley said at the end of his media availability Saturday. “It happened right in front of me. The biggest thing that struck me is I saw second- or third-year players perform like they were eight-year veterans. I said, ‘What happened?’ They just played with a lot of confidence. They believed what we were preaching and I saw it work for us.
“We’re going to be young in Jacksonville. Without a doubt, we’re going to be young. But that’s OK. That’s not an excuse. We’re going to build this thing right.”
Bradley’s approach, like Caldwell’s, isn’t easy, nor is it always unanimously popular in the short term. The year with 284 roster moves, fans questioned the Seahawks’ front office. This year, the approach was validated when the Seahawks found a franchise quarterback and became a franchise with a bright long-term future.
What we do know – at least if we’ve been listening for the last six weeks – is that Gabbert will get a chance. Just like every player on the roster in mid-April will get a chance.
That’s what the offseason will be for the Jaguars. It will be about chances, and it will be about change. It will be about spending a year shaping an organization with the idea that by this time next year the direction will be known and the trend will be upward.
Between now and then? Well, hold on. It may be a lot of things, but it doesn’t sound as if it’s going to be boring.