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Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence

Forget Them

Over the past week social media has been ablaze with comments about the Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are giddy at the prospect of holding the number one choice in the April NFL Draft and the Clemson quarterback being chosen to wear black and teal.

Everybody else it seems, isn’t so happy with the prospect that a potential big-name talent would ply his trade in and outpost like Jacksonville.

Times Union columnist Gene Frenette outlined in these pages this week how the rest of the world will just have to buck up an accept the fact that in all likelihood, Lawrence is the next Jaguars quarterback.

In this new year, looking forward, I’ll add to that, euphemistically saying:

“Forget them.”

All of the talk about changing the draft process to a lottery and how Lawrence might refuse to sign with Jacksonville and stay at Clemson are a bit far-fetched. You can cite John Elway with Baltimore, Bo Jackson with Tampa Bay and even Eli Manning with San Diego as examples of top players forcing their way out of one franchise and into another.

All three of those had to do with ownership problems. Robert Irsay in Baltimore was famously loud and cheap. Hugh Culverhouse seemed to be content with just making money and Dean Spanos in San Diego never seemed interested in putting much effort into a winner. Shad Khan, despite his won/loss record as an owner, doesn’t have that kind of reputation. He’ll spend money and if he makes the right hire at General Manager, that person will have whatever tools they need to build something here. That’s why the GM hire is so critical.

Look at what’s happening in Buffalo as an example. A division title for the first time in forever thanks to solid personnel decisions and the right quarterback. (And the fact that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay.)

There is some skepticism about Lawrence’s ability to play at the professional level. Some question his toughness or his ‘spindly’ frame and wonder aloud if he’s built for the pro game. Legitimate questions, but he’s excelled at every level he’s ever played.

If you’re a franchise that needs a quarterback, he’s the obvious pick among those that might be available. Head and shoulders, literally, above the rest.

There seems to be an unusual amount of vitriol when it comes to Jacksonville as an NFL city and the potential home for a “golden boy” in the league. Fans have wondered aloud why it’s OK when Detroit is terrible and gets Matthew Stafford or when Cincinnati is awful and gets Joey Burrow. And even when the Colts are really bad, three times in the last thirty years, and get Jeff George, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck with the number one pick. But when Jacksonville has the first pick for the first time ever, let’s change the rules.

That’s not happening. They might change the rules, but not this year. The Jaguars will have the number one pick.

That bias against our city and our franchise isn’t perceived, it’s real. As the Jacksonville representative over the past twenty-six years at all sorts of official NFL functions, I’ve seen it, and heard it, firsthand. It’s such a regular part of meetings and television commentary you’d think we’d be used to it by now.

Whether it’s comments about attendance or performance, the Jaguars get to be the butt of the joke. Even in Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day,” the Jaguars are swindled by his character who’s running CLEVELAND, of all franchises.

Sitting in a Hall of Fame meeting, a prominent member of the national media started his comments with, “We all know the league has admitted that putting a franchise in Jacksonville was a mistake.”

I interrupted with, “You know I’m sitting right here, and I can hear you right?” That got a laugh, but the perception of our city is that somehow, we tricked the NFL into giving us a team.

The only thing that hasn’t happened as the NFL projected into the future for Jacksonville in 1993, is corporate growth. The population has expanded but attracting businesses here hasn’t kept up with say, Nashville in the process. Blame that on civic leadership. It’s got nothing to do with ownership or the fans.

When the league awarded the Super Bowl here in 2005 the city rolled up its sleeves and put on a show every day and every night. But still got hammered because we weren’t Miami, or Tampa or New Orleans. Which is just fine with us, we don’t want to be any of those places. But if you’re not from here, you don’t understand that.

When media comes here, they’re confused and sometimes even intimidated by the fact that we’re comfortable in our own skin. There were a few glitches surrounding the Super Bowl but because it was a new experience, in Jacksonville, we bore the brunt of the jokes.

Generally respected commentator Howie Long makes it a point when hired as a corporate speaker to point out how terrible Jacksonville was as a Super Bowl host. His evidence? The stadium ran out of hot dogs during the game. The fact that the NFL, and not the city, was in charge of that just gets in the way of his story.

One scribe complained that people were WALKING to the game, impeding his bus’s progress to the stadium. “Wait,” I thought. “You’re complaining about people slowing you down on the free bus you’re taking less than a mile to the game, where you’re going for free after your hotel and meals had been picked up by your employer?” Obviously, he had never tried to get to the game in Miami or Glendale.

If you went from the airport to the Hyatt, then to the stadium and back to the airport, as most reporters do, you didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville. And that’s true in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and almost every other NFL city. The difference here, for that crowd, is the lack of strip clubs and late-night drinking establishments.

Did you realize that every head coach the Jaguars have ever had, save for Jack Del Rio, still lives here? Doug Marrone said he and his family aren’t leaving. Even if he’s coaching somewhere else, Marrone said, “I love this town.” Walk in any Publix and you’re libel to run into a former Jaguar player who realized what we have and who we are. And stayed.

If this is such a terrible place, why are all of those people from the northeast moving here?

We’ve got our problems, just like any other city. I don’t know what the long-term future of the Lot J project is, but I do know that for the first time in a while, somebody is talking about putting money, albeit some of it ours, into our town.

Our current administration has an issue with transparency and the Jaguars sometimes seem detached from the city. But those are OUR problems to deal with, not somebody from the outside’s right to lob insults from the peanut gallery.

Barring something weird happening, Trevor Lawrence will be the first pick in the draft, and the Jaguars hold that spot.

As I said earlier, euphemistically about the naysayers:

“Forget them.”

Trevor Lawrence

It’s the Quarterback

There’s always been a discussion about the most important position in sports. It usually comes down to the pitcher in baseball and the quarterback in football. If baseball was only played every four days, pitcher would be the runaway winner in that discussion. A pitcher can control a baseball game from the mound nearly singlehandedly. Individually, it’s the most dominant position in sports.

But from a team standpoint, they’re playing baseball every day. A pitcher can’t throw every day. With football games that count being played once a week, the quarterback is the most important player on the field for both teams.

History bears that out in both professional and college football.

Twenty-one of the last twenty-five Super Bowls have been won by teams with a quarterback who’s either in the Hall of Fame or appears headed there.

Just a quick look back at the College Football Playoff and the National Championship in recent years turns up names like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagoviaola, Jalen Hurts, and Deshaun Watson.

How do you win a football game? Have a quarterback.

Part of the discussion about championship quarterbacks always includes Trent Dilfer and the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl title in 2000. Dilfer is cited as the only non-elite quarterback, a game manager, who wears a Super Bowl ring. But that’s it. A list of one. You could throw Brad Johnson in there, but in the last twenty-five years, it’s elite quarterbacks who have gotten their team to the title.

To win at football, the quarterback is the lynchpin, often the difference between victory and defeat. That’s why you can’t pass on acquiring that “franchise” quarterback if you’re trying to build a winner at any level.

I asked Sam Huff once about the difference between the Giants and the Colts in their two NFL championship games in ’58 and ’59.

“They had (Johnny) Unitas and we didn’t. End of story,” he deadpanned.

It didn’t sit well with Brett Favre when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round. But it kept Green Bay competitive as Favre’s Hall of Fame career waned. Rodgers wasn’t happy this year when the Packers took Jordan Love in the first round, but Green Bay is already looking to the future.

When that quarterback is there, you can’t pass him up.

The Jaguars opponent this week, Cincinnati, is a good example of making that move. The Bengals had Andy Dalton as their starter for nine years but quickly moved onto Burrow when they had the chance.

But it’s never a lock drafting a quarterback and the Bengals are also a good example of that. They took Akili Smith with the third pick in the 1999 draft and he only played 22 games for Cincinnati. Famously, the Chargers took Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick in 1998, now commonly thought of as the biggest bust of a first round pick ever.

As the game has evolved, the quarterback position has become more important.

There have been twenty-six drafts since the Jaguars started in 1995. In those twenty-six drafts, seventeen quarterbacks were the overall first pick. In the twenty-five years before that, eight quarterbacks were the first pick. And in the twenty-five years before that just six: Terry Baker, Randy Duncan, King Hill, George Shaw, Bobby Garrett and Bill Wade. While Hill and Shaw had extended careers, none of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

Hindsight might be 20-20, but at this point it’s hard not to notice that nine teams passed on Patrick Mahomes and eleven passed on Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, including the Jaguars. Despite their interest in Watson, the Jaguars thought they were just one piece away. They stayed with Blake Bortles and took Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in that draft. It paid off with a trip to the AFC Championship game that year, but then it fell apart quickly.

When Florida, Florida State, Miami and Georgia were regular contenders for the National Championship, quarterbacks were the key.

Steve Spurrier was a quarterback, Bobby Bowden was a quarterback. Both knew the importance of that position from a performance and leadership perspective. Both collected quarterbacks on their roster regardless of who was already there.

“Who’s the quarterback,” was a daily story for the Gators under Spurrier. Steve wasn’t shy recruiting quarterbacks, changing them or rotating guys between snaps. He took Danny Wuerffel out of the Georgia game in ’93 in favor of Terry Dean. Dean, Eric Kresser, Doug Johnson, Noah Brindise, Jesse Palmer and Rex Grossman all made news as quarterbacks under Spurrier. Getting Chris Leak out of North Carolina changed the entire recruiting dynamic at Florida and led them to two National Championships. Tim Tebow won the Heisman wearing the Orange and Blue. Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel, Will Grier and Cam Newton were on the Gators’ roster before a career in the NFL.

Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston all won the Heisman Trophy at FSU. Casey Weldon, Peter Tom Willis, Danny Kanell and Christian Ponder all kept the Seminoles competitive. E.J. Manuel was a first round pick out of Tallahassee.

It’s an eye opener to see Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde on the same Miami roster in 1982. Mark Richt was also a quarterback on that team, The Hurricanes continued their success with Ken Dorsey, Heisman winner Gino Toretta and Steve Walsh.

At Georgia in the last thirty years Eric Zeier, Quincy Carter, D.J. Shockley, Matt Stafford, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm all brought success to the Bulldogs.

When did those programs begin to falter? When the quarterback came into question. This might be a weird year in college football but it’s still the quarterback who will make the difference.

Kyle Trask presents as many questions as answers for the Gators. Georgia’s uncertainty at quarterback has called their whole season into question. James Blackman has never been able to establish himself in Tallahassee. Miami’s search for a quarterback at “Quarterback U” has landed on D’Eriq King to lead them out of the college football wilderness.

This year’s contenders for the National Championship revolve around quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence leads Clemson as the overwhelming favorite to win the title. Alabama’s hopes are pinned on Bolles graduate Mack Jones. Justin Fields makes Ohio State dangerous once they start playing later this month. And even Texas is back in the picture because of Sam Ehlinger.

So learn the lesson. No matter who you have, if the quarterback is there, take him.