Like most everybody else, I’ve been staying home, following the guidelines, working on some projects, talking on the phone with friends and tracking the progress against the coronavirus.
And just like most everybody else, I’ve had a chance to let my mind wander about a lot of subjects.
Looking back over the last month or so here in North Florida there hasn’t been a lot of good news. Good journalism revealed an underhanded scheme to sell the JEA. The PGA Tour had to cancel The Players
The Jaguars announced they’re sending a second home game to London.
And they traded Calais Campbell to Baltimore.
The feds will get to the bottom of the JEA fiasco. There’s nothing good for fans the in Jacksonville as the Jaguars move another home game away. At least they say it’s temporary. And The Players will be back next year and I’ll look forward to that.
But I don’t think I’ll ever get over trading Calais Campbell. For now, at least, I don’t understand it.
There’s no way to replace Calais. His production on the field is easily quantified. It resulted in three Pro Bowl seasons while he was here. But his locker room presence and his off-field impact on the community can’t be measured.
Yes, he donated his time and money to local groups, but the goodwill he spread and the positive feelings people had about him, and consequently the Jaguars. are things that can’t be duplicated.
His efforts saw him named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for how he represented the league, the Jaguars and himself in the community. No matter whom else they send out there, Calais can’t be replaced.
Who asked about that at the stadium? Did anybody from the business side ask what else they could do besides getting rid of Calais?
From a football perspective, I hope Doug Marrone was banging on the table saying “Absolutely not” when the idea of trading Campbell was floated.
We haven’t been able to ask any of those questions of Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell or Marrone, yet, because of league rules relating to the coronavirus. Those rules, rightly in place, have kept the Jaguars brass isolated from the media. When a transaction is completed, the team sends it out on their website and their social platforms. The Jaguars PR staff has been in touch with the media via text and email.
It’s a good process under the circumstances but we haven’t been able to ask how some of these decisions came about. They tells us there might be some conference calls this week so we might get a chance to ask some questions.
Campbell was due $15M from the Jaguars this year. He signed an extension with the Ravens for $27M over two years. So it’s not as if he had some outrageous contract demands. But the Jaguars clearly thought the money they could save on Calais could fund what they wanted to do in free agency. They got a fifth round draft pick in return.
“With more draft capital, we’ll be prepared to acquire new players via trade or in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft in April,” Caldwell said in a press release. “The acquisitions that we add to our team via free agency and the draft will complement the weapons that we already have on our roster, which allows our coaches and scouts to look at all opportunities to put the best possible team on the field in 2020 and beyond.”
That’s a pretty stock answer, and with the money they’ve created under the cap, the Jaguars have made some free-agent acquisitions.
Their biggest move is signing Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Shobert. Shobert is 6-1, 245lbs, so he’s Paul Posluszny. That moves Myles Jack back outside where he belongs. It’s a big improvement not just in talent but also in the personnel they have to run the kind of defense they like. It also atones for some of the strategic errors they’ve made since Poz retired.
Doug Marrone admitted as much.
“He brings an ability to tackle and diagnose plays. He’s a true middle linebacker.” Marrone said of Shobert in a prepared statement. “This gives us the ability to move Myles Jack to outside linebacker, which I feel is a more natural position for him.”
Otherwise, they’ve signed and resigned some players to fill some of the roster spots they think will be an upgrade to the 2019 roster.
But none of them are Calais Campbell. Nice players, good players, but not Calais Campbell.
So where will the leadership come from? Campbell was the undisputed leader in the locker room and showed it on the field. Gardner Minshew and Leonard Fournette will have to step up on offense. On defense, Shobert will have to quickly adapt and Josh Allen and Jack will have to be out front immediately.
“I hope all of this works,” one Jaguars insider told me.
It’s not the first time the Jaguars have made moves too early, looking at the salary cap and not paying enough attention to what’s going on in the locker room. You might think, “they’re professionals, none of that matters,” but it does. Teams that win have a culture and a social structure that’s set from the inside. Leaders are important. None has been more important than Calais.
Early on, the Jaguars let linebackers Tom McManus, Jeff Kopp and Brant Boyer go a year too early in each case. None were full-time starters but they were good stopgap players and excellent on special teams. But it was their presence in the locker room, the weight room and on the practice field that couldn’t be replaced. Younger players were cheaper but the Jaguars suffered each time when those three departed.
Same with guys like Montel Owens and even Daryl Smith. They were rebuilding the team for Gus Bradley but the locker room was set adrift when those veteran players were sent off. And wins were scarce.
There’s a leadership vacuum that happens immediately. Young players need other players to show them the way and lead by example.
When my friend Jim called the Jaguars offices this week to cancel his season tickets, the salesperson on the other end of the line said, “Can I ask why?”
“You got twenty minutes?” Jim responded.
At least the salesperson had the smarts to say, “Yeah, I get it,” as the conversation ended.
“What the heck are they doing down there,” my friend Harry said as I answered his call on Monday.
“Maybe that’ll be the headline of my column this week,” I said with a laugh.
Perhaps a better headline would be, “I hope they know what they’re doing down there.”
For their sake, and for ours.