Gene Frenette: Khan must get GM hire right to reset Jaguars on winning path
As the Jaguars begin their interview process for a new general manager to replace the fired Dave Caldwell, it deepens the mystery on who exactly owner Shad Khan is relying on for input into potential candidates.
With three NFL teams (Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions) getting a head start on interviewing GMs, plus the Carolina Panthers firing GM Marty Hurney on Monday, that’s a lot of shoppers for the same position. The good news for the Jaguars -- especially with them moving into the lead on owning the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick (presumably Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence) -- is their GM job may be the most appealing of all.
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The Jaguars have the most 2021 salary-cap space in the NFL at $84.7 million, according to Spotrac, two draft picks each in the first and second rounds and an owner with a track record of patience. None of the other vacancies offer that many desirable advantages, but it’s fair to wonder if Khan can take advantage of his leverage.
Unlike many NFL owners, Khan isn’t nearly as immersed with football because of his worldwide business interests, much of it tied to having 31 Flex-N-Gate plants in eight different countries.
But Khan’s football focus has to change for the moment because he’s embarking on the most important hire in franchise history. Plus, that new GM is likely going to be hiring a coach to replace the embattled Doug Marrone. With a 41-104 record on his watch, and at least two AFC South teams (Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts) having formidable rosters, Khan is under the gun to make the right GM call.
The Jaguars, who interviewed former Houston Texans’ GM Rick Smith and Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick, and are expected to interview interim GM Trent Baalke, must develop a winning strategy in the hiring process and also learning from past mistakes.
Before the Jaguars brought Caldwell aboard on January 8, 2013, eight days after previous GM Gene Smith was dismissed, Khan did get some input from former Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher. The final result didn’t pan out as most of Caldwell’s first-round draft picks never got to second contracts, plus his quarterback gambles on Blake Bortles and free-agent Nick Foles failed miserably.
Nearly four weeks have passed since Caldwell got axed, so Khan has had plenty of time to get a feel for the kind of candidate he wants to reset this struggling organization. But unlike owners Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Jim Irsay (Colts), who are deeply involved with football on a daily basis, Khan must rely more on outside input before deciding which candidates merit strong consideration.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, Khan can’t mess up this prime opportunity to rejuvenate the franchise. It could ultimately make the difference in whether Jacksonville keeps the Jaguars well beyond the next decade. . . .
The Pro Bowl snub of Jaguars’ running back James Robinson, even while playing for a 1-13 team, is hard to accept for this reason: the NFL’s third-leading rusher (1,070 yards) had a 204-yard lead on the Oakland Raiders’ Josh Jacobs at the time of the vote (lead now 163 yards). Robinson has a 4.46-yards per carry average, compared to 3.7 for Jacobs, whose only edge is 10-7 in touchdowns. Next year, if J-Rob has a 1,000-yard season with Lawrence as his quarterback, it’s doubtful he gets passed over. . . .
Incidentally, Marrone dismisseed any thought of playing time being reduced for Robinson the last two games against the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts to help the team maintain their No. 1 draft position, saying the undrafted rookie would want to play. If that turns out to be the case, it deserves to be commended, not criticized. But on Friday, the rookie was downgraded to questionable after missing practice two straight days. He has played a minimum 68 percent of the snaps in nine games, including 90 percent against the Los Angeles Chargers, and always more than 50 percent. . . .
The Jaguars have three receivers scheduled to be free agents – Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook – and it’ll be interesting to see if the new general manager is inclined to keep any of them besides Cole. Westbrook has had issues with core muscle and knee injuries, missing the team’s first nine games in 2017 and he barely played in two games this year. He’s been on IR since October with a significant knee injury. Conley is prone to drops and his numbers across the board – 30 catches, 357 yards, 2 TDs – are a huge decline from last year. . . .
The one-year show-cause penalty handed out by the NCAA against Florida coach Dan Mullen this week, for impermissible contact on different occasions and especially with a linebacker in Seattle, is only a big deal from a perception standpoint. What got the attention of UF athletic director Scott Stricklin was the NCAA saying his football coach “did not promote an atmosphere of compliance.”
Impermissible contact, a Level II violation, happens quite often in recruiting, but administrators get nervous over any criticism about compliance. That’s why Stricklin fired back that there was “no evidence of systemic compliance issues at Florida.” Still, the seven-day off-campus recruiting ban imposed on Mullen’s entire staff for the spring of 2021 is not an insignificant penalty. . . .
Fans should respect every player’s decision like Gators’ tight end Kyle Pitts, who decided to opt out of the Cotton Bowl game against Oklahoma to get ready for the NFL draft. This is their future livelihood, and it’s hard to second-guess anybody who protects that investment by not playing in a meaningless bowl game. . . .
Last impressions always tend to carry more weight. It’s too early to know how the proficient performance by BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in a 49-23 Boca Raton Bowl win over UCF impacts his NFL draft stock. But one thing appears certain: he looks like as much a contender for the No. 2 pick as anybody else. . . .
In the most recent football coaches’ poll, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney voted Ohio State 11th, lower than any of the 61 voters. That’s pretty lame, and another reason why any poll that involves coaches should cease to exist. Just too much conflict of interest. . . .
UCF men’s basketball had a stunning 86-74 road upset against then No. 15-ranked Florida State last week, which got overshadowed by it being on football Championship Saturday. A huge part of maybe the biggest regular-season win in Knights’ history was Paxon High product Isaiah Adams, a 6-foot-6 freshman making his first collegiate start.
In ending FSU’s 27-game home winning streak, Adams collected 22 points on 6-of-11 shooting, made 9 of 12 free throws and also had a team-high eight rebounds and three steals. Few hoopsters out of Jacksonville have made such an immediate impact in college, which might explain why Adams was named Florida’s Mr. Basketball last year. . . .
The Taxslayer Gator Bowl matchup of North Carolina State-Kentucky is expected to draw about 8,000 fans, so it doesn’t have the sizzle bowl officials were originally hoping for with a quarterback matchup of North Carolina's Sam Howell going against Ole Miss’ Matt Corral. But since the ACC and SEC made the picks, the Gator Bowl had to live with the Wolfpack-Wildcats pairing.
With ticket revenue being heavily impacted in this COVID-19 season, the Gator preferred NC State over Miami because the Wolfpack would bring more fans. Instead of a $3.2 million payout per team in a normal year, the Gator will only have to shell out $1.5 million per team, which at least minimizes the financial losses many bowls must absorb. . . .
Pigskin forecast: Chicago Bears over Jaguars by 1 (heart-stomping finish); Cleveland Browns over New York Jets by 4 (J-A-G-S, Jags-Jags-Jags chants); Florida over Oklahoma by 10 (Todd Grantham hot seats); Georgia over Cincinnati by 3 (Power 5 snobs); Alabama over Notre Dame by 13 (Landon Dickerson speeches); Clemson over Ohio State by 10 (Justin Fields question marks). Last week: 4 right, 1 Anthony Lynn time management clinic.
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