Following and tracking what Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell has said from his first day on the job, he hasn’t wavered. Caldwell is measured in his dealings with the media but honest when he can be. That’s why 2016 will be a bit of a litmus test for what he’s done in the four years he’s been on the job and, if they stay healthy, a validation of his philosophy regarding rebuilding the Jaguars.
Noting that “left tackle, quarterback and pass rusher” where the building blocks of a franchise, Caldwell drafted Luke Joeckel, Blake Bortles and Donte Fowler in consecutive years. While his 2013 draft hasn’t produced the stars he had hoped for, both Caldwell and the Jaguars coaching staff hope the free-agent additions in 2016 will help Joeckel and Safety Jonathan Cyprien reach their full potential. If it’s there.
That’s why the signing of OT Kelvin Beachum, as second-tier and under the radar as it was, could be the lynchpin to everything Caldwell has done to this point. Beachum was a starter in Pittsburgh and would have been considered as one of the premier offensive free agents of the 2016 class had he not torn his ACL last year and missed the final 11 games.
“He’s just a very good technician, very good pass protector,” Caldwell said at the owners meeting this week in Boca Raton. “Great kid, very intelligent and I think his skill set in terms of athleticism, being able to pass protect the speed rushers on the outside.”
As soon as he signed with the Jaguars, Beachum started working with the team’s doctors and trainers to get ready for 2016. Caldwell expects him to be ready sometime in training camp to compete for a spot up front, pushing Joeckel for the left tackle job.
“They’re going to compete and that’s been the central theme of our team since Gus got here, is competition,” Caldwell noted. “Wherever we can find somebody to come in and compete at a reasonable rate, we’ll do that no matter what the position is.”
As focused as the fans are on Joeckel’s failings, the team thinks he has a “very high ceiling.” Former Jaguar Tony Boselli, a Hall of Fame semi-finalist is perhaps Joeckel’s biggest supporter. “He has great footwork, was injured his first year and all he did was rehab,” Boselli has said on numerous occasions. “He’ll be alright.”
What’s interesting is that Caldwell is willing to create some competition with his own draft picks and free agents. He’s not letting his ego get in the way. If a guy isn’t cutting it, he won’t hold on and hurt the team. That’s something unique in the “I’m the smartest guy in the room,” mentality of NFL GM’s.
Offering Prince Amukamara a one-year deal was part of Caldwell’s 2016 plan but if Prince wasn’t interested in one year, Caldwell was prepared to move on.
“He’s a guy that we’ve normally shied away from in terms of the injury history but his injuries haven’t been reoccurring,” Caldwell said, pointing to the research they did on Amukamara while he was with the Giants. “They’ve all been different injuries at points in time of his career; kind of a little freakish to some degree. He just feels like it’s a prove-it deal for him and he’s motivated to play well and the risk for us wasn’t a high risk for a one-year deal.”
So going into his fourth draft as the decision maker, Caldwell isn’t focused on his “left tackle, quarterback, pass rusher” mantra. Instead, he believes with the current players on the roster, including the 2016 free agents, everything is on the table with the Jaguars fifth pick in the draft.
“I think at number five, we can be very flexible. If there are opportunities to trade back, we could do that. If there are opportunities to trade up, we could do that or just select a player at that point.”
That’ll be a different spot for Caldwell and fun for us to watch.