Gene Frenette: Jaguars' fans deserve to celebrate Trevor Lawrence selection
For everybody who feels emotionally connected to the Jaguars, here are the three most important words to heed after the selection of quarterback Trevor Lawrence as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft:
SAVOR THIS MOMENT.
Drafting Lawrence is likely going to be the most significant acquisition in Jaguars’ history, so the beleaguered Jaguars’ fan base rightfully took time to soak it all in.
Once NFL commissioner Roger Goodell officially pronounced Lawrence as a Jacksonville Jaguar at 8:26 p.m. Thursday, it almost felt like this perpetually struggling franchise had won a Super Bowl, as if that deplorable 41-105 record under owner Shad Khan is now a distant memory.
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When he heard his name called, Lawrence calmly rose from the couch, embraced wife Marissa, then his mother Amanda and father Jeremy, and proceeded to say all the right things in messages to Jaguars and Clemson fans. He no doubt warmed the heart of Jaguars' coach Urban Meyer by saying he had no intention of accepting losing at the NFL level just because it's harder to dominate than in college or high school.
“I’m bringing the same mindset," said Lawrence. "Obviously it’s different, you’re not playing the same competition and you’re playing the best of the best week in and week out, but I think that mindset is still important. You still have to expect to win, still have to prepare the same way. I don’t know what the point is if you don’t expect to win every week."
With everything Lawrence said after his selection, his approval ratings will no doubt keep going up in Jacksonville and beyond. For the Jaguars, he's as close to the perfect quarterback at the perfect time. And as if Lawrence's night couldn't get any better, the Jaguars invested their other first-round pick at No. 25 on a familiar weapon, Clemson teammate and versatile running back Travis Etienne.
When you consider the euphoric events in Jaguars’ history, drafting Lawrence ranks up there with milestones frozen in our memory banks: landing an NFL expansion team, the post-midnight reception of nearly 40,000 people greeting the players at the stadium upon their return from upsetting the Denver Broncos in the 1996 playoffs, and routing the Miami Dolphins 62-7 to begin the 1999 postseason.
So, yes, the thousands of fans gathered at TIAA Bank Field for the draft festivities had every reason to dance for joy, sing hallelujha, hug friends and significant others, yell “Duu-val” at the top of their lungs or whatever form of celebration they found most appealing.
Nobody knows what the future holds, but for long-suffering followers of the Jaguars, it has never looked quite this promising.
Such is the power of Trevor, the 6-foot-6 Clemson golden boy with the long-flowing hair, accurate arm, quick-enough feet, championship pedigree and Joe Cool demeanor.
Jacob Andring, who came to TIAA Bank Field with his wife, Abby, has attended several Jaguars draft parties at the stadium. The Bishop Kenny High graduate could feel this one was different.
"I don't think the excitement for the Jaguars has ever been this high," said Jacob.
Abby, a Florida Gators fan, adds the enthusiasm over the hiring of Urban Meyer and drafting Lawrence will likely compel her to become more of a Jaguars' fan.
"Knowing Urban's legend from college and watching Trevor Lawrence come here, I'm 'Oh, my gosh, we finally have a fighting chance [to win].' "
Lawrence checks all the boxes for what Jaguars fans and coaches would crave in a franchise quarterback. He gets his team into the end zone a lot. He has consistently performed well on a big stage since before learning to drive. He brings the humility by crediting teammates more than himself. He seems to have the three “F” priorities – faith, family and football – in proper order.
And, oh yeah, Lawrence is so good at this quarterback thing, the Jaguars having access to him was enough to entice college coaching legend Meyer to come out of the Fox television booth and take a shot at the NFL.
Finally, things seem to be breaking the Jaguars’ way. If any NFL fan base deserves to rejoice and throw a big party, it was the one decked out in black-and-teal Thursday that was feeling no pain. It’s the one entitled to some kind of football reparations for all the misery it has endured just in the past decade.
Forgetting the past decade
The arrival of Lawrence is more than a fresh start. It’s a colossal opportunity to put behind all the despair heaped upon the franchise since the 2011 season began a string of endless debacles.
Who can forget the ugly timing of the Jaguars releasing David Garrard just five days before the 9/11/11 season opener against the Tennessee Titans? The Jaguars cut the popular former quarterback only hours after introducing him on stage at the team’s kickoff luncheon, a PR mess of titanic proportions.
Jettisoning Garrard would be a precursor to a disastrous season, one that saw rookie quarterback and first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert struggle mightily and head coach Jack Del Rio getting fired after 11 games.
The lowlights over the next decade serve as a reminder of why there’s so much delirium about Lawrence becoming a Jaguar. The fans have faced letdown after letdown, tortured in every manner possible.
Gabbert was a bust and the next top-10 quarterback draft pick, Blake Bortles, didn’t do nearly enough to justify his No. 3 selection in 2014. The franchise QB the Jaguars could have drafted in 2012, Russell Wilson, was bypassed to take a third-round flyer on Bryan Anger, a fine punter, but a punter nonetheless.
Then there was the other quarterback disaster, investing $88 million in Nick Foles, who got injured in the first quarter of the 2019 season opener and ended up being mercifully traded to the Chicago Bears six months later.
Even the one great moment the Jaguars had in the past decade, appearing in the 2017 AFC Championship game, was marred by blowing a 10-point fourth quarter lead to the New England Patriots, and forever living with the Myles-Jack-wasn’t-down TD nullification that could have sealed the outcome.
Nothing went right after that for another three years. Disgruntled star cornerback Jalen Ramsey talked himself into being traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue pulled a similar move without the Ramsey histrionics. Then the former regime of Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell tried to sell the public on the notion that trading away stalwart defensive tackle Calais Campbell and losing cornerback A.J. Bouye wasn’t tantamount to a rebuild.
Gut punch after gut punch, it went on. With no end in sight.
A Trevor transformation
But as fate would have it, something wonderful happened. The Jaguars unintentionally did something right. They sucked enough last year to go 1-15, setting the stage for the quarterback of their dreams to fall into their lap.
Somehow, a going-nowhere franchise engulfed in darkness has found a great light – the national spotlight. The Jaguars matter outside the 904 now because Lawrence and Meyer make them instantly relevant.
Even the Cleveland Browns, the one NFL team that can relate to the level of despair the Jaguars have felt for so long, have begun the process of rising up from the ashes by reeling in impactful draft picks. That would include a No. 1 quarterback, Baker Mayfield in 2018, who experienced his share of growing pains before elevating the Browns into a playoff contender.
It’s different with Trevor. He’s regarded as a generational talent who won’t need three years to begin fulfilling his great promise. The hope and optimism he brings is at such a high level, the Jaguars’ fan base can hardly contain itself.
They want to let loose and celebrate because gloom-and-doom has been the Jaguars’ constant companion for too long.
Khan expressed it perfectly Tuesday when he said this about the anticipation of the draft: “Yeah, it’s unbelievable. If this isn’t a moment to enjoy for me and for all the Jags fans, you need more coffee or you need something else. This is a great-to-be-alive kind of moment, frankly.”
There’s plenty of time to assess Lawrence’s progress as he navigates through all the ups and downs of his NFL career. It won’t all be a pleasure cruise, nor is it a guarantee that he and the Jaguars will be hoisting multiple Vince Lombardi trophies. For now, just the legitimate hope of that possihappening is a great thing for this city.
Maybe it’s fitting the end of this draft coincides with the running of the Kentucky Derby, for it sure feels like the Jaguars just got a quarterback version of Secretariat.
Trevor Lawrence might as well ride in here on a white horse. There’s optimism that he can quite possibly be a franchise savior like nobody else before him. No wonder so many Jaguars’ fans are partying like it’s 1999.
It’s a euphoria long overdue.
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