Jaguars on the Field: How do we compare?

December 3, 2009 34 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

It's one of the most talked about topics at the water cooler - the Jaguars - and their ticket sales woes. Up to this point, the Jaguars have yet to even be close to selling out any of their home games, and most likely will not for the rest of the year. It seems every national media outlet has had at least one writer take a shot at Jacksonville for the lack of ticket sales. Today, Metro Jacksonville continues its seven part series discussing the Jaguars and the Jacksonville Market, and how they compare to other NFL cities.

An Overview of the Series

Part 1 – How Jacksonville became an NFL city
Part 2 – NFL Economics: What’s changed since 1995?
Part 3 – Jaguars on the Field: How do we compare?
Part 4 – Jacksonville and College Football
Part 5 – Jacksonville vs. Other Small Markets
Part 6 – NFL Relocations and the LA Stadium Plan
Part 7 – What does the future hold?

On the field, the Jaguars have been a competitive team year after year. They have only had a losing record five times (1995, 2000-2003 and 2008), and have been to the AFC Championship game twice, and to the divisional (second) round of the playoffs four times in their 15 year history. Despite the fact that they haven't been to a Super Bowl in their history, there are many teams that would take the Jaguars record over the past 15 years (Lions, Browns, Bengals, anyone?). Despite this, support for the team ebbs and flows year to year. There are a few reasons for fans decision to be fickle when deciding to buy season tickets, but the main reason is simple: Because they can.  Now, we'll come back to that later in the series, but instead let's look at how the team has compared with the rest of the league over the last 15 years.

1995 - 2001: Michael Hyugue and the AFC Central
The Jaguars were placed in the AFC Central in their first season, not for any geographic reason, but mainly because the division only had four teams – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns (who became the Baltimore Ravens in 1996), Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Oilers (Who moved to Tennessee in 1997). Their first year, they went 4-12, which had it not been for the Carolina Panthers who went 7-9, they would have set a record for an expansion team. Midway through the 1996 season, the Jaguars were 4-7, and some were calling for Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s head (notice the trend of impatience in this city with football). Then, in what seemed like a meaningless game with the Baltimore Ravens (who were 3-8 at the time), the Jaguars won when Ravens Quarterback Vinny Testaverde fumbled just as the Ravens were about to kick the game winning field goal. They didn’t lose again until the AFC Championship Game. For the next three years, the Jaguars were one of the most dominant teams in the NFL.

The team did a decent job of drafting as well, keeping the team competitive. Their drafts yielded many of the team’s stars in the early years, such as Tony Boselli, Kevin Hardy, Fred Taylor, Donovan Darius and Tony Brackens. However, while the team was doing well with the draft, the Jaguars front office was not doing a very good job managing their salary cap.

Running Back Fred Taylor - one of the Jaguars best draft picks ever

In the 1998 and 1999 seasons, the Jaguars signed a lot of high-priced free agents to deals that put them in a difficult financial position in future years. Remember, with the NFL's salary cap, you can promise to pay players in future seasons (what's known as "pushing money out"), however eventually you will have to count that money against a future year's salary cap. This leaves less money to spend those years on players. That financial position forced the team to let many of their star players, like Keenan McCardell and Tony Boselli, go from 2000 - 2002.

Because of salary cap mismanagement, the team was forced to let many of their marquee players go, such as Tony Boselli, who became the first draft pick of the expansion Houston Texans

2002: Tom Coughlin Runs Himself Out of Town
With Michael Hyugue’s departure, Tom Coughlin (who was already the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator) assumed the role of General Manager. Putting all of pressure on himself, there was no one else to blame after a 6-10 finish, and he was fired shortly after the end of the season.

Despite their forgettable on-field performance, Coughlin’s draft performance was actually pretty good. Coughlin’s last two first round picks were Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, who would serve as a dominant tackle tandem for many years in a row, ending only when Stroud was dealt to Buffalo after suffering repeated injuries.

Something else that did not go in their favor - the NFL realignment.  With the Houston Texans entering the league, the NFL took the time to realign the league's divisions.  The Jaguars were split away from all of their division opponents, except for the Tennessee Titans, and moved to the AFC South with the expansion Texans and the Indianapolis Colts.  While this isn't necessarily a bad thing in the long term (the Jaguars have now developed nice rivalries with all three teams, for a franchise in transition it created a period of no rivals.

2003 - 2008: Jack Del Rio, Shack Harris and the “Consensus” Model
Wayne Weaver ushered in 2003 with the introduction of Jack Del Rio as the team's second head coach. That year also brought Shack Harris to Jacksonville. Now, instead of one person having ultimate authority over player personnel, they instituted the consensus model, where Del Rio, Harris and the personnel team would decide together on personnel decisions, but Harris had final authority. This led to a series of subpar first round picks (remember Byron Leftwich, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones?) and draft classes that lacked depth. Furthermore, the Jaguars have just two players on their roster from their 2008 draft: Harvey and Quentin Groves (who is now a backup). And people wonder why this team is rebuilding once again?

Matt Jones and Reggie Williams: Both first round picks from Shack Harris, both arrested for cocaine posession, both no longer employed by any NFL Team

It actually wasn’t all bad. They did hit a home run with second round picks Rashean Mathis and Maurice Jones-Drew. They also acquired excellent players such as linebackers Clint Ingram, Daryl Smith and Justin Durant, wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker, guard Vince Manuwai, fullback Greg Jones and kicker Josh Scobee. However, their below average track record led to a 5-11 season in 2008, and Shack Harris was not retained.

2009: Gene Smith – The Jaguars First General Manager Comes from Within
After the departure of Shack Harris, Wayne Weaver named Gene Smith, who started with the Jaguars in 1994 as a bottom of the ranks scout, the team’s first General Manager. In this role, Gene Smith would have overall responsibility for all player personnel decisions. This was the first time in team history that one person would have this responsibility. Based on his first draft, they appear to have hit a home run: Their first four picks are all starting and performing mostly well (first round pick Eugene Monroe has had some rough spots), and the rest have all contributed this season.

Gene Smith faced a lot of draft day criticism for trading next year's second round draft pick to draft Derek Cox (above), however Cox has proven to me more than worthy of the decision.

On the field, the Jaguars have been up and down, typical of a young team that is rebuilding. As of the writing of this article, the Jaguars record is 6-5, and if the season ended today, they would be in the playoffs, traveling to San Diego (ironic considering they’ve been outscored 61-3 west of the Rockies) in the first round.

However, let’s take a step back for a second: The season doesn’t end today. They have five games left and four competitive ones (vs. 5-6 Houston, vs. 5-6 Miami, vs. 11-0 Indianapolis, but may actually be resting starters for the playoffs by then, at 7-4 New England, and at 1-10 Cleveland).

What’s This All Tell Us?
Let’s face it, the Jaguars have been an average or better team all but five of their years. Their record from 2004-2008 is 45-35, one of the best in the NFL. It doesn’t necessarily sound as good as some of the local college teams, because in the NFL, there are no Vanderbilts, Western Kentuckys or Central Michigans.

The only certain thing is that all teams, no matter how good they are for a given number of years, will have their dark days. While everyone will remember the 70’s Steelers, the 80’s 49ers, the 90’s Cowboys or the 2000’s Patriots, you can't forget about the collosal disappointments of the 80’s Steelers, the 2000’s 49ers, the 80’s Cowboys or the 70’s Patriots.  

One other interesting fact: Since 1960 (excluding the strike-shortened year of 1982), there are only two teams that have never had a season with less than four wins: the Green Bay Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Article by Steve Congro