The Jacksonville Jaguars 2022 season will be the continuation of a rebuilding project that has lasted for a decade. Since Shad Khan took over the team back in 2011, the Jaguars have failed to win more than six games in every year but one. That exception was 2017, in which they somehow made it to the AFC title game.
2021 was, by all accounts, a joke. Shad Khan hired Urban Meyer, a man who knew nothing about the NFL. His entire tenure was unprofessional, but hiring a known racist and berating his staff and players were certain “highlights” from one of the biggest failures in NFL history.
Thankfully, the Jaguars moved on. In comes Doug Pederson, who has a Super Bowl ring and a degree of competency not seen since Jack Del Rio. Even if they did bungle hiring team alum Byron Leftwich to be their coach, Pederson is still a good get.
While Trent Baalke has been much maligned — for good reason — this off-season has seen the Jaguars improve enough to earn some good will.
Some Diamonds and a Lot of Rough
When a team goes 3-14 and holds the number one overall pick, that team didn’t have much talent to begin with. Yet, there are still pieces that are very good building blocks for the future.
Trevor Lawrence springs forth immediately. His 2021 campaign wasn’t much good, placing him 31st in quarterback rating. But a lot of that was due to his offensive line, which had the “matador” blocking scheme down pat. When he was able to set his feet and throw, he looked to be worthy of the number one overall pick.
His receivers were a motley crew, led by Marvin Jones. Jones isn’t a bad receiver at all, and opened up options in an offense that had few to begin with. But the rest ranged from “could be something” to “why on Earth is this guy on the field.” Laquon Treadwell had good moments, but Laviska Shenault has largely failed to be the Swiss army knife he was at Colorado.
When the passing game fizzled out, Lawrence had the solid James Robinson to hand off to in the backfield. That running back corps could have been stronger than just Robinson, but rookie Travis Etienne’s Lisfranc injury ended his year before it started.
Robinson’s downhill, in your facemask style was a good fit in an offensive line that didn’t have much push to speak of. Left tackle Cam Robinson’s 67.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest on the team, and it only goes down from there. In total, the Jaguars offensive line was made up of players who were in the bottom third or fourth of the league.
On defense, it was the Josh Allen show. Allen’s 7.5 sacks don’t show up high on the sack leaderboard, but he was still disruptive the whole season.
Aside from Allen, Shaquill Griffin earned a decent grade from Pro Football Focus at cornerback, but he also allowed a 109.4 quarterback rating on passes thrown his way. The rest were underperforming players like Myles Jack, or bottom-of-the-barrel reserves who had little chance of competing to start with.
How To Pay Christian Kirk $80 Million
When the Jaguars came into free agency, Jacksonville had $56 million in cap space to play with for 2022, good for second best in the league. Improving the roster, then, was perhaps the easiest task of the off-season. It isn’t like there was much room to go anywhere but up.
The Christian Kirk deal is the big attention grabber from the Jaguars this offseason. Kirk’s contract will make every general manager perform self-exorcisms, but this represents the best the Jags can do right now. A small market team with a recent history of failure is not going to entice many players to come. Cold hard cash does the talking a lot better, as it turns out.
Problems come in when that kind of money goes to a merely decent slot receiver. Thankfully, Kirk’s contract doesn’t eat up much dead cap room after year two, and the Jags can move on fairly quickly.
To take over that slot position, Jacksonville got Zay Jones from the Raiders. Jones was a downfield target at points last season for Las Vegas, but it’s not a game-changing signing.
A big get though, was Brandon Scherff at guard. For Trevor Lawrence to be successful, he’ll need to have interior protection. Scherff, a five-time Pro Bowler, provides that in a big way.
On defense, the Jaguars gave big money to nab Foye Oluokun at linebacker. Oluokun is a decent get, but $15 million per year does seem like an overpay.
Arden Key at end and Folorunso Fatakasi at tackle help Jacksonville’s defensive front in a big way. Key was ranked 18th on Pro Football Focus’ charting last year at his position, which should free Josh Allen up a little bit.
At corner, Darious Williams comes in from the Rams. $39 million is a lot to pay for a middling cornerback, but it should be an upgrade nonetheless.
It’s Good to Be in the Basement
In a draft filled with solid talent in the mid-rounds, having the number one overall pick seems a disadvantage. Yet, there are still franchise players at the top of the board. Aidan Hutchinson, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Evan Neal are a few who could be mainstays on a team for years.
If a trade back isn’t in the works, then Hutchinson should be the favorite. He is like a box of TNT off the line, and has strength for days. Even with Josh Allen currently on the roster, Hutchinson could add a lot to this defense. Aside from his play from a wide-9 technique, he’s a solid 3- or 5-technique player as well.
With 11 other picks, the 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of leeway in the draft to fill needs. Top among those concerns may be figuring out slot cornerback, linebacker, and perhaps another lineman. Nickel Jalen Pitre out of Baylor, linebacker Chad Muma out of Wyoming, and guard/center Dylan Parham out of Memphis would be logical targets in this draft.
But Are the Jaguars Any Good Now?
The 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars will be much improved from the 2021 version. Hopes for a playoff spot should remain low, however. This is a solid seven or eight win team, still. If they can manage their cap situation, next offseason is where Jags fans should look to take the leap.
For now, Jacksonville is much more watchable and has a little sun shining on them. Unlike Florida afternoons though, the hope is that the downpour doesn’t bubble up again.