JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attention shoppers: There’s a fire sale going on in Jacksonville.
Starters. Team leaders. Pro Bowlers. Up to 50% off. Hurry. Supplies are limited. Time is running out.
The Jaguars might as well place fliers on windshields in every NFL parking lot: “Got a hole? Have an injury? Need help? Call now! Make offer!”
General manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone are clearly cleaning house, trying to make their salary cap and locker room more manageable just three years removed from being a few plays away from the Super Bowl.. They have dumped six potential starters, including three former Pro Bowlers, in the last six months. Three of those players — defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Leonard Fournette and safety Ronnie Harrison — were sent packing this week.
Reactions have ranged from “good riddance” to “what are they thinking?” The most common perception: Jacksonville is intentionally tanking in hopes of getting the No. 1 draft pick in April and setting itself up to select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
It’s a seemingly different feeling inside the facility, where players, coaches and front office personnel roll their eyes at the mere mention of such a notion.
“I think more than anything it really just shows that people aren’t watching us very closely,” quarterback Gardner Minshew said. “I think people see it from afar and see, ‘Oh, they’re losing their biggest names.’ But that’s not how we feel.”
Minshew went on to echo Marrone’s comments about reputations and careers being on the line.
“Realistically, I know if we’re tanking, coach Marrone, Dave Caldwell and me are probably going to be out of jobs,” Minshew said. “So I know us three and a lot of those other guys in the locker room are not going to let that crap happen.
“I feel very confidently in everybody’s desire to win and that’s absolutely not anything that we envision happening.”
Las Vegas disagrees, dropping Jacksonville’s odds of winning the Super Bowl from 150-1 to 175-1. The revamped Jaguars are the league’s ultimate underdogs heading into next week’s season opener against Indianapolis.
“I think there’s a lot of guys on our team that thrive off of that mentality,” said linebacker Joe Schobert, who played for the 0-16 Cleveland Browns in 2017. “In the NFL, everybody got here, everybody deserves to be here who is here, and when you are slighted in terms of preseason expectations or what people think of you, I mean, that puts a chip on your shoulder.
“As competitive individuals you want to prove everybody wrong so that’s definitely something that we’ll be able to take and use to our advantage.”
The Jaguars accumulated three more draft picks from their moves in the last week. They now have 11 selections in 2021, including nine in the first five rounds. They made 12 picks this past April, the start of the team’s makeover.
More dramatic changes could be on the way before Saturday’s deadline to set 53-man rosters.
Here’s a closer look at what Jacksonville has done and why:
HARRISON TO CLEVELAND
Why it looks bad: A third-round pick in 2018, Harrison started 22 games in two seasons and was far from a liability. He has 101 tackles, 12 pass breakups, three sacks and three interceptions.
Why it makes sense: He wasn't the team-first guy Jacksonville wanted and had been passed in training camp by fourth-year pro Josh Jones.
Why it looks bad: Jacksonville got nothing in return for Fournette, a 1,000-yard rusher in two of his first three years who scored 19 touchdowns and rarely fumbled. He was coming off a career year in which he totaled nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage.
Why it makes sense: Caldwell already declined the fifth-year option in Fournette’s rookie contract. Moving on now from a player with a checkered past could save $4.17 million against the cap and clears the way for Devine Ozigbo and rookie James Robinson to get more touches.
NGAKOUE TO MINNESOTA
Why is looks bad: The Jaguars wanted a first-rounder in return for Ngakoue, who has 37½ sacks and 14 forced fumbles in four seasons. They settled for a second and a conditional fifth. The team has given two disgruntled starters (Jalen Ramsey to Rams in 2019) the trades they demanded.
Why it makes sense: Between scuffles with teammates and a Twitter spat with the owner’s son, Ngakoue had worn out his welcome in Jacksonville. The Jags have his replacements: Josh Allen, who made the Pro Bowl in 2019, and rookie K’Lavon Chaisson.
NICK FOLES TO CHICAGO
Why it looks bad: The Jaguars gave the oft-injured quarterback and Super Bowl 52 MVP more than $50 million guaranteed last year and are taking on $18.75 million in dead money this season.
Why it makes sense: Minshew was the better option. He was the league’s best rookie QB in 2019, going 6-6 in 12 starts, and deserves an opportunity to see what he can do with a potentially improved supporting cast.
CALAIS CAMPBELL TO BALTIMORE
Why it looks bad: The five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman was a stabilizing force in the locker room, a stalwart in the community and Pro Football Focus' top-rated run defender in 2019.
Why it makes sense: He started showing his age down the stretch last season, partly because he played close to 80% of the defensive snaps. Jacksonville got a fifth-rounder for a 34-year-old guy nearing retirement.
A.J. BOUYE TO DENVER
Why it looks bad: Team whiffed on two potential replacements: Free agent Darqueze Dennard failed a physical and Rashaan Melvin opted out because of COVID-19 concerns. Rookie CJ Henderson, the ninth overall pick, will be forced onto the field without a preseason game.
Why is makes sense: Bouye wasn’t at his best in 2019, finishing with one interception for the second straight season, and was due nearly $13.5 million.
“I’m doing everything I can to make sure that we have the best team to win football games,” Marrone said. "That's as simple as I can be on it.”
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