Cleaning out lockers, going through exit interviews and physicals, and saying good-bye to teammates is all part of the process of ending the season in the NFL. Only one of the thirty-two teams finishes happy, the rest lament “what could have been.” Most teams finish when the regular season is over. Now known as “Black Monday” it’s the day after the final game when coaches are fired, general managers are shown the door and owners are looking to the future. Players have their own version of “Black Monday” knowing that the team they just finished playing for will never be the same. Guys are cut or traded, retire or sign somewhere else. It’s a fact of life in the league that about 40% of the roster turns over every year. Twenty of the fifty-three players on the Jaguars squad in 2014 won’t be there in 2015.
Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell knows he has to upgrade the roster and is hoping he can keep the turnover to less than half. At his year end press conference Caldwell admitted he didn’t think it would be a quick fix to make the Jaguars competitive.
“I didn’t think we’d win a bunch of games this year or last,” he said. “In fact, I’m kind of surprised we won as many as we did.” When asked if they’d spend a bunch of money in this offseason (they have the most to spend under the salary cap in the league) Caldwell demurred, saying the Jaguars don’t have to spend that money until before 2017 under the league rules.
But he believes the current young players on the roster are part of the solution. “I expect they’ll make their most improvement between year one and year two,” he said, following the mantra when talking about most rookies. “I don’t expect them to all be Pro Bowlers next year but I do think they’ll be significantly better.
Head Coach Gus Bradley also held his year-end press conference on Tuesday, first announcing that he had dismissed offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. While he said all of the normal “coach-speak” things about Fisch during his opening statement, when pressed, Bradley admitted that it was a difference in philosophy that prompted the change.
“We just saw it differently,” Bradley explained. “We wanted to bring Blake (QB Bortles) along slowly and sometimes we put too much on his plate to let him play anxiety free.” Clearly Fisch was willing to challenge Bortles to accelerate his learning curve while Bradley wanted things simplified to bring him along slowly. Whatever the reasons, Fisch and Bradley didn’t mesh enough to get anything done on offense that would allow the Jaguars a chance to win. They finished at the bottom or near the bottom in just about every offensive category and scored six offensive TDs in their last six games of 2014.
“When you make a move like this you expect to take a step backward,” Bradley admitted. “But you hope it goes along with one or two steps forward as well.” Bortles and the offense will have to learn a new scheme and adjust to what a new coordinator might bring as far as a philosophy of how to get things done.
Bradley said he hadn’t thought about a replacement but two names come to mind quickly. Marc Trestman newly fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears is considered a quarterback guru and is a friend of Gus’. Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator for the 49’ers under Jim Harbaugh, is also available and was Dave Caldwell’s roommate in college at John Carroll.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Bucs passed on coaching in the Senior Bowl this year and the Jaguars volunteered to go to Mobile later this month. Gus Bradley and his staff will coach the South squad for the second consecutive year. Not good based on where you have to finish in order to be one of the game’s coaching staffs, but good from the standpoint of getting to know the players very well during that week. Last year the Jaguars mined several draft picks out of that experience including Aaron Colvin who suffered a torn ACL that week but still played this year. The hope is twofold: That they find some more talent in the game and that they don’t go back there for a while.