NFL Draft Number One vs. Number Two

It makes perfect sense for Jaguars fans to want the number one pick in the 2021 NFL draft. In need of a franchise quarterback, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is poised to be the top pick next April and create a building block for some NFL franchise in the future. Fans will want the Jaguars to lose their final two games to Chicago and Indianapolis and ensure Lawrence would soon be in Teal and Black.

But Jaguars players and coaches don’t think that way. In fact, no players and coaches think that way.

Remember the whole “Suck for Luck” thing in 2011? It was a complete fan and media fabrication. Fans are going to be fans year in and year out, but players and coaches come and go. It’s the nature of the business side of the game. Players don’t care about the franchise in the future. They care about now.

With a forty percent turnover on every roster every year, professional football players are trying to put their best stuff out there every week to try and keep a job, right now, with one of the thirty-two teams in the league.

Coaches have their reputations to protect and despite Doug Marrone being a good guy and a good coach, it would be an upset if he, or any of his coaching staff, were back on the sidelines next year in Jacksonville.

Marrone knows this and has even addressed the “Tank for Trevor” fervor that has swept over Jaguars fans since the Jets won their first game of the season last week.

“I really don’t pay a lot attention to that because I just have too much going on. But I’m not an idiot either, I understand that there’s talk out there,” he said this week.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that. I couldn’t do it. I just wouldn’t,” he added when asked if he’s ever heard of a coach losing on purpose to get a better draft position. “I’ve never done that with anything in my life. I had trouble letting my kids win when they were little. And I’ve never heard of it, no.”

Marrone even admitted that as a Detroit Lions fan in 1979 he was rooting for them to lose at the end of the year in order to pick Billy Sims with the number one pick in 1980. (Which they did.)

“Then I started thinking to myself, (this week) there I was a kid, I never took into play what those coaches and players on that team must be feeling. I told the players today that obviously that’s a lot of talk now, obviously [with] what’s gone on. I told the players about [how] we don’t know what the future holds, but we’re in here today and our job is to go out there and win and that’s the best thing we can do for each other.”

No matter, win or lose in the last two games, the Jaguars, Jets and possibly the Bengals will have the top three picks in the draft. The Bengals already have three wins so the Jaguars and Jets would have to win their final two games and the Bengals lose their final two to mix up the draft order. But in all likelihood, Jacksonville and New York will pick one, two. Or two, one.

Some years that can be a big difference. Others, not so much.

In fact, the best player in Jaguars franchise history was a number two pick. In 1995 based on a coin flip, the Jaguars selected Tony Boselli with the second pick behind Cincinnati’s choice of running back Ki-Jana Carter.

John Elway and Erick Dickerson went one, two in the ’83 draft and both went to the Hall of Fame. In 1994, defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was the number one pick by Cincinnati. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk went second. Last year Joe Burrow was the top pick and Chase Young went second. Both seem on their way to solid careers.

Perhaps the most famous one, two draft reversal in NFL history was in 1998. Future Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian was in his first year as Team President and General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts and had the number one pick. Another future Hall of Fame executive, Bobby Bethard, was the General Manager in San Diego and held the second pick with the Chargers.

Both men were considered ‘gurus’ when it came to personnel and the dominant story was which quarterback, Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf would go first. Polian played it very close to the vest leading up to the draft, having his choice of players with the number one pick. The comparisons between Manning and Leaf were constant, and Polian kept most people guessing about which quarterback he would pick. He called the constant comparisons “The noise.”

It’s hard to fathom now, but at the time, Leaf was considered the better of the two with a stronger arm and as a better athlete. On draft day, Polian did in fact select the future Hall of Fame (eligible this year) quarterback Manning with the number one pick. Beathard was thrilled and didn’t hesitate taking Leaf with the second pick. Manning went on to win two Super Bowls. Leaf, through a variety of physical and mental issues, is considered the biggest flame-out in draft history.

As the first pick in the 2007 draft, JaMarcus Russell comes close to that distinction, taken by the Raiders and signed to a giant contract. Russell stayed in the league three years and won only eight games as the starter before being released. The second pick in that draft was receiver Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, eligible for the Hall of Fame this year as well.

With the draft sometimes feeling like a roll of the dice, teams need to pick well and be lucky.

The Packers were neither in 1988 when the late Lindy Infante was in his first season as the Head Coach in Green Bay. Infante once told me the story of the last two weeks of the ’88 season as teams were racing for the bottom of the standings looking for the number one pick.

“We were terrible that year,” Infante, the former USFL Jacksonville Bulls head coach said. “I mean really bad. Although we had Don Majkowski as our quarterback, we were in line for the number one pick and we had already decided we’d take Troy Aikman.”

“We were two and twelve with two games to play, tied with Dallas for the worst record in the league. We both won the next week, and we knew we’d have the first pick if we finished the year with the same record as the Cowboys. Somehow, we went to Phoenix and beat the Cardinals in the last game of the year. Dallas lost at home to Philadelphia. They took Aikman, we took (Tony) Mandarich. The rest is history.”

Mandarich is also considered one of the top busts in NFL Draft history. He never developed at the pro level, with steroid testing often being cited as the cause for his diminished ability. Not only was he the second pick in the ’89 draft behind Aikman but Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion Sanders, all Hall of Famers were the next three picks.

While Lawrence looks to be a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect and the number one pick, who knows what the rest of next year’s quarterback draft class will produce? The number two pick looks certain to be a quarterback as well.

Is Justin Fields the same sort of prospect? Will Kyle Trask and Mac Jones be able to take their college success to the pro level? There’s a thought that BYU’s Zac Wilson already has the game to compete in the NFL as well as somebody you’ve never heard of, Trey Lance from North Dakota State. What about Kellen Mond or even Jamie Newman who opted out at Georgia this year?

With what’s happened this season it seems only one thing is certain: one of those guys will be in a Jaguars uniform next year.

Jacksonville Suns Bragan Field

AAA Upgrade

For nearly a hundred years, Major League Baseball had an agreement with numerous minor leagues to operate as a farm system to evaluate and develop talent. The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues represented the minor leagues and franchises but when their agreement with MLB ran out on September 1st, the whole system changed.

“Jacksonville came out smelling like a rose,” former Jacksonville Suns owner and baseball historian Peter Bragan, Jr. remarked this week.

Once the reorganization started, Major League Baseball told team to do what they wanted with their farm clubs. Dominos began to fall, and Jacksonville was positioned, literally on the map, to benefit by upgrading to Triple A baseball.

Since there was no minor league baseball in 2020 and only a sixty-game major league season, MLB teams created what they called an “alternate site” where they stored thirty players who continued to train, play and be ready to be called up to the big leagues.

The Minnesota Twins put their alternate site in St. Paul, using the Independent League’s St. Paul Saints facility. It made it very convenient to bring players up from just across town. It worked so well, the Twins decided they’d put their Triple A in St. Paul and with no agreement with a minor league organization, other clubs followed suit.

Since Jacksonville has a geographic proximity to Miami, the Marlins decided it would be more convenient to have their AAA team in Jacksonville instead of Wichita.

Actually, the Wichita affiliate never played a game. After being promised a Triple A franchise (moving from New Orleans) for building a $73M ballpark, the Marlins decided Jacksonville was closer so no Wichita Wind Surge for the Marlins. Instead, the Wind Surge will be the Double A affiliate of the Twins. And for now, New Orleans has no baseball. Fresno and San Antonio also lost their Triple A franchises.

In all, Major League Baseball is eliminating forty-two teams, streamlining each of the big league’s minor league system to just four teams: Triple A, Double A, hi A and low A.

“Getting rid of forty-two teams puts over a thousand players and coaches out of work,” said former Major League catcher Rick Wilkins. “I don’t think that’s such a great thing.”

MLB has encouraged the forty-two teams to create their own independent leagues, in essence “farming out” their farm system to develop talent without paying for it. So perhaps those jobs won’t be lost.

Our Triple A franchise history started in the early ‘60’s. The Havana Sugar Kings had relocated to New Jersey from Cuba when Fidel Castro nationalized all US interests there. They were bought by a Jacksonville group headed by Sam Wolfson. He had brought baseball back to town with the Single A Jacksonville Jets and in 1962 he brought the Sugar Kings here and they became the Triple A Jacksonville Suns.

The Suns were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Colt .45’s before becoming the Mets affiliate from 1966-1968. They won the International League Championship in 1968. Players like Luis Tiant, Tom Seaver, Tommy John, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw all wore the Suns uniform.
Why did we lose Triple A then?
When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, the minor league team, the “Crackers” went to Richmond. Jacksonville was left on an island without a “Southern Swing” partner and the Triple A affiliate here moved to Norfolk in 1969.
And now, fortuitously, we have AAA back, if they start playing minor league baseball in 2021.
“It’ll be great for Jacksonville, it’s great for the perception of the city and the baseball,” Bragan said. “The first few years we were here a lot of our older fans would say, ‘I wish you’d get Triple A back. It was much better baseball.’ It’s a big deal and should translate into more tickets sold and corporate sponsorship.”

And better baseball.

“Double A is considered upper-level baseball but with every step the players get incrementally better,” Wilkins explained. “They’re a lot of good baseball players in Triple A. The pitching gets deeper, the lineups are deeper and better. You have some guys who are outs at the end of the lineup in Double A but in Triple A everybody can hit.”

And more importantly Rick added:

“If you’re playing every day as an established player in Triple A, somebody gets hurt in front of you, you’re going to ‘The Show.’”

Wilkins was on the ‘fast track’ when he signed with the Cubs, playing a year in A ball, Winter Ball in Venezuela, and a year in Double A in Charlotte. He started 1991 in the Cubs ‘big league’ Spring Training camp in Mesa, Arizona. With about a week left in spring training, he was assigned to the Minor League Complex down the street and the Triple A Des Moines Cubs.

“I was a little disappointed, you never know what’s going to happen. You’re getting opportunities to open some eyes in the big-league camp. I felt so good about where I was as a player and mentally, I knew I was ready to play in the big leagues that year and needed to wait on my opportunity.”

After about six months in Des Moines, Wilkins got ‘called up’ on his 24th birthday, June 4th.

While Wilkins spent eleven years in the Majors, he also spent part of eight of those seasons in Triple A at the beginning and the end of his career and on injury rehab assignments. He knows the culture at that level.

“It’s different in Triple A in the clubhouse,” he explained. “Above 24 or 25 years old in Double A you’re wondering what those guys are doing there. In Triple A it’s very serious. There will be guys in their mid 30’s in Triple A and it’s their livelihood. They’re trying to clean something up and get back to the big leagues. There’s no projects in Triple A. It becomes more of a narrow focus.”

In Triple A there are two kinds of players: Young guys trying to break into the big leagues and veterans trying to get back there. It makes for an interesting dynamic in the clubhouse.

“Everybody kind of has an idea about what’s going on,” Wilkins remembered. “Guys are talking about ‘how’s this guy not in the big leagues right now’ because you’re right there. That old saying is true: It’s hard to get to the big leagues and it’s harder to stay there because there are a million guys vying for you spot. It’s every day.”

“It’s like the big-league club’s spare parts bin,” is how Bragan says Triple A has changed. “Your next starters, you hope, are mostly in Double A. In Triple A there are guys who are there “just in case.”

Wilkins agreed that the ‘finishing school’ aspect of Triple A seems to be gone.

“Different clubs have different plans,” he explained. “The Cubs wanted everybody to have a year at every level. The Cardinals wanted everybody out of Double A by the time you were 21-years old. Now they’re rushing a lot of guys to the big leagues and finishing their development up there.”

In the last three years of his career, Wilkins spent about 40% of his time in Triple A and occasionally got the feeling he was one of those ‘spare parts.’

He spent most of the ’99 season with the Dodgers Triple A in Albuquerque when he was 32 years old, had what he called “a pretty good year” but also a revelation.

“I didn’t get called up in September,” he said. “I thought some politics were involved. When you’re in your 30’s and you’re in Triple A you start thinking, ‘how long do I want to stay here.’”

“It’s frustrating for guys who have been established major league players who aren’t getting a chance to show what they can do. You know the front office is saying ‘We know he’s an established big-league player, he can hit and throw and call a game. But we’re going to look at this (younger) guy.”

Finishing his career with San Diego, Wilkins got two hits in his final game, including one in his last at bat of the year. Rickey Henderson got his 3000th hit that day and it was Tony Gwynn’s last appearance in the Major Leagues.

“That’s a fun memory,” he said with a laugh.

And with Triple A coming to Jacksonville?

“People will see a lot of good players come through here,” he added. “It’s serious, it’s a callup away, an injury away, they’re trying to break through.”


Rivalries come in all shapes and sizes. Two of my children graduated from Florida eight years apart. My oldest says Tennessee was the Gators biggest rival while she was in Gainesville, while my son names Georgia as the team he wanted to beat the most. Neither have very good things to say about Florida State.

In their 26-year history, the Jaguars have counted the Steelers, the Colts, the Texans and most recently the Titans as rivals.

Without much recent Jaguars success against the Titans, is it still a rivalry?

When they were emerging stars early in their careers, Andy Roddick was asked about his budding rivalry with Roger Federer. Roddick and Federer were meeting in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.

“To be a rivalry, I’ve got to win a few of these,” Roddick said to laughter among the assembled media. But he was right. Despite playing some epic matches, Federer had beaten him eight of the last nine times they had played.

In the last ten years the Titans/Jaguars “rivalry” has shifted Tennessee’s way. The two teams split the first fourteen games of the decade, but the Titans have won six of the last seven, including a 33-30 win this year in Nashville.

“You have to take into account the history,” former Jaguars and Titans linebacker Lonnie Marts said this week. “They want to shut Derrick Henry down. They want to see what Cleveland did last week to keep him in check. They’re thinking, ‘If we can win this game, that means the rivalry is still lit.’”

Most Jaguars fans don’t have to go too far back in their memory to hear then-Titans head coach Jeff Fisher refer to Jacksonville as Tennessee’s “other home stadium.” Fisher made the comment leading up to the Titans appearance in the Super Bowl after beating the Jaguars three times in the ’99 season. That run including the AFC Conference Championship game here in January of 2000.

While Fisher mellowed and distanced himself from that comment in subsequent years, his contempt for the Jaguars as a rival was real. And personal. “He thinks he invented football,” Fisher told a media friend of mine from Nashville when asked what he thought of Tom Coughlin.

Losing those three games to the Titans, in Marts’ mind, “is like it was last week,” he said.

“I didn’t cover a guy down the seam, and they scored a touchdown in the first game. I was too focused on Eddie George. The next time we played them they used some different players and beat us again. So, when we went to play them the last time, we were focused on shutting all of that stuff down. And we did that for the first half. But when it came to the third quarter, they must have wanted it more. I went to tackle Steve McNair and it’s a tackle I make a hundred out of a hundred times and he stepped out it. And to this day, I don’t know how that happened.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny agrees that the Titans are still a rival for the Jaguars, even with Tennessee’s recent success.

“You play teams in your division all the time, so you get to know them so well,” he said this week. “You know how to tackle them; you know how they run so we’d be prepped on all of that. When you look at game tape, you’re covering and tackling the same guys. From the outside a rivalry has to be close. From the inside, it doesn’t matter. That’s who you want to beat no matter what else is going on.”

Players and coaches universally agree that division games almost count as two in the standings. They’re a pathway to the playoffs. Every division opponent could be considered a rival. When he was with the Colts, Peyton Manning would say “Jacksonville” with a certain disdain. The Texans would wear that silly “Battle Red” at home when the Jaguars were coming to town.

“When I was with Buffalo, we didn’t like Miami, but we really had a thing going with the Jets,” Posluszny said of the Bills’ AFC East rivals. “You might think it was the Patriots, but they just got us twice a year,” he added with a laugh.

Some rivalries look like a real “hate-fest” from the outside. Marts was a part of one of those when he was with the Chiefs.

“In Kansas City it was the Raiders. It was unspoken with the Chiefs. Raider week was when the coaches stressed to putting pressure on them. And you could set your watch by it, they were going to do something stupid, maybe a late hit and give us a chance to score.”

When the Jaguars were in the AFC Central, the Steelers were their unquestioned rival. Tom Coughlin said as much noting that the division title went through Pittsburgh. And he built the Jaguars specifically to compete with the Steelers.

That rivalry was very tense. So tense in fact that being on the field at Three Rivers Stadium after a Jaguars victory could be a dangerous place. That was obvious in November of 2000 after Fred Taylor had rushed for a record 234 yards in a 34-24 win by the Jaguars.

“Stay near me,” one veteran Jaguars defensive lineman told me as we were exiting the field toward the tunnel. “They’ll throw batteries and stuff at you from up in the stands but if I have my helmet on, they won’t try it.”

Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other more times than any other two college football teams in the country. They’ve played so many times their matchup is just called, “The Rivalry.” Georgia and Georgia Tech is known as “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.” Oregon and Oregon State have called their game the “Civil War” since the 1920’s. Steve Spurrier thought everybody considered Florida a rival, but he took special pleasure in beating Georgia and always referred to Florida State as “FSU,” or “that school up north.” Unless he was coining the phrase “Free Shoes University.”

“I think rivalries comes from personalities,” Marts theorized, admitting he still thinks of his rivals in high school. “Every other Catholic school in our district in New Orleans was a rival. My wife went to my biggest rival in high school. We still talk about it all the time. Heck, my Mom went to my rival high school!”

Posluszny has no problem remembering his college rivalries because they run deep. “At Penn State is was Ohio State and Michigan State. But being over there on the border with Ohio, you knew those guys at Ohio State. You played those guys in high school.”

What can be the difference in a rivalry game?

“Sometimes it was just ‘Who wanted it the most?’ Marts explained.

Posluszny echoed the same thought.

“It just sometimes came down to who played harder. You’re not going to get outsmarted playing your rival.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Everybody Wins

Having been in the media for most of my life, and almost all of my professional life (I was a bartender before my first TV job), I’ve lost a lot of confidence in this profession. Between the election, the reporting on the pandemic, lockdowns and everything else, it’s hard to figure out who to believe.

I’ve always been kind of a news junkie, always looking for information to make up my own mind. “News” coverage seems anything but what it supposed to be. Every outlet has an opinion and an agenda and everybody these days, professional reporters and everybody else, has a platform. Social media has given voice to every person with an idea.

Which is why this Lot J situation has me confused. I’m not sure I believe anybody. Not the media, not politicians, pollsters, nor businessmen involved.

I watched as Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan and his guy on the ground here, team President Mark Lamping, laid out the scheme with impressive graphics for the whole Lot J plan.

I liked everything about it. It’s vibrant, it’s supposed bring people downtown and start to revitalize that side of the river.

The problem, it seemed, as the plan was fleshed out and scrutinized, was how to pay for it? Who’s making the money and what does the city get for it? Public, private partnerships need to be easy for the public to understand with everything out in the open.

It’s a great looking plan, reminiscent of what happened in New England and other NFL towns near their stadium. A mixed-use spot with entertainment, restaurants, a hotel, apartments and parking garages.

We thought the way downtown would come back to life would start somewhere near the Main Street Bridge. Or somewhere around Hemming Park.

But if it’s Shad’s plan to work on downtown by starting at the stadium and marching west, then so be it. I’m all for hitching our wagon to Shad and seeing where he takes us.

I’m also all for Shad making money. Heck, I’m all for everybody making money. And as Times-Union columnist Mark Woods said earlier this week, having an NFL team and the accouterments that go with it is more valuable than just the dollars it may, or may not contribute to the local economy.

Keeping the Jaguars here is important on a lot of levels.

Mark also pointed out:
“And then there’s the almost comical nature of a franchise that hasn’t won a game since September getting impatient about this. In the two months since the Lot J deal was unveiled, the Jaguars have lost seven games, extending their losing streak to ten.”
It is almost comical. Winning at a 29% clip over the last eight years isn’t any way to build leverage.
What I don’t understand is why all of the cloak and dagger stuff around the whole development? While making a big show about the economic impact and how great this development would be for the city, there were some of the economics involved that, well, just didn’t seem right.

Perhaps the whole deal is on the up and up. Maybe it’s a way the city will continue to prosper and flourish at a new level, Shad will make money, and everybody will be happy. I sure hope that’s the case.

But all along, something just doesn’t feel right. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s that little voice that Magnum used to hear in his head just saying some of the pieces don’t fit. Not enough transparency as Curry made the deal, supposedly on behalf of the city, with Khan and his development group.

This past Thursday the City Council said they didn’t want to push for the Lot J deal for a quick approval. You’ve got to agree with Council President Tommy Hazouri when he said, “If it’s going to take seven to nine years to build this project, what’s another two or three weeks?”

Using a Twitter storm to get his position out, Curry started babbling on about how the city needs to get this deal done, about how we had to decide if we wanted to be an NFL town or not. How we needed a decision by the end of the year and how if we didn’t have one, it would send a clear signal to everybody involved. It all sounded like a bunch of nonsense.

On top of this Lot J deal, Lamping threw out an opening salvo about how the team needed to have stadium improvements in place before signing a lease extension past 2030. I get how negotiations go. The city’s opening position should be, ‘OK, we’ll guarantee stadium improvements when a lease extension is signed.’ After all of that posturing, we all hope, and maybe they do as well, that they’ll meet somewhere near the middle.

And it all needs to be part of a big plan. Lot J, stadium improvements and a new lease all wrapped up in one big, happy deal.

It’ll be a very complicated deal, with tax credits, big loans, long-term payoffs and everybody getting somewhere near what they want.

What never has made sense to me is how these negotiations get played out in public here in Jacksonville. Do we ever hear about the Steelers and Pittsburgh squabbling about a lease extension or stadium improvements? The Chiefs and Kansas City? Chicago and the Bears?

The NFL is a business and good business deals benefit everybody involved. If we’re going to be an NFL city, we’ll have to pony up the money to keep improving the stadium and perhaps at some point, build a new one. That’s the price for playing in that arena.

So, where’s the Jaguars part in all of this? Shad’s ill-advised comments about fans “embracing” the idea of the Jaguars playing two home games in London were met appropriately with a “What?” Luckily, all of that was put on the shelf by the pandemic.

If playing a game in London ensures the financial well-being of the franchise here, that’s fine. Two home games over there won’t cut it. If the NFL wants to see what it’s like to have one team over there for more than one game, the Jaguars can figure out how to play a home game there and stay and play a game as the visitor.

As I’ve said before, oftentimes it feels like the Jaguars are an alien entity operating in our town. When was the last time somebody in management over there went to the Westside or the Northside? That’s where a lot of their ticket-buying fans live and you can learn a lot by hanging out there, talking to people, eating in their restaurants and knowing a little bit about the culture of our city.

Jaguars lobbyist Paul Harden (who has represented me in the past) said this week it was important to Shad to have a deal struck by the end of the year. He cited the changing tax code to “deal fatigue” among the reasons Khan wants an answer.

I can all too well remember the ups and downs of the chase for an NFL team. The times when it seemed dead. The times when Wayne Weaver didn’t see the support he needed and was calling the deal off. The times when some arbitrary deadline was set, only to be moved to see a deal through.

And they got it done.

I’m hoping Harden’s suggestion, that a lot of the issues we know about could be worked out before the council meeting this Tuesday, turns out to be true.

If they all went to the Westside and sat down in Leo’s or sat down in Cotton’s on Main Street and talked to some of the locals there, they’d get a feel for what makes this town tick. Then, on Tuesday they can have an open discussion about how it’s all going to play out.

Something we all can understand.

Something where everybody wins.