It seems that making various lists of “offseason winners” has become an annual tradition for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, so has losing 11 or more games.
For the fourth year in a row, the Jaguars did good work in free agency (DE Calais Campbell and CB A.J. Bouye are the top signings) and the draft (RB Leonard Fournette and OT Cam Robinson within the first 35 picks). That raises the level of optimism about the upcoming season. To find out if 2017 will be any different from the previous three, I turned to two of my fellow AFC South writers.
By all accounts, the Jaguars had another strong offseason. They did in 2015 and 2016, too, yet won only eight games total. Why will this year be any different?
Sarah Barshop, Houston Texans reporter: This season could be different for the Jaguars under coach Doug Marrone. Jacksonville had the talent last year to do well defensively, so a change in management — keeping Marrone after he was the interim head coach for the last two weeks of the 2016 season — could help the Jaguars rebound from three- and five-win seasons. Although it was just a small sample size, QB Blake Bortles had his two best games of the season in the two games Marrone was in charge, completing 66 percent of his passes for 626 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The Jaguars will have to do a lot more than winning on paper to make this year different than the last two, but there is reason to hope that they’ll get consistent play from Bortles this year, and that Marrone is the man to help him take a necessary step forward.
Michael DiRocco, Jaguars reporter: I’d really like to give you a list of reasons why I think the Jaguars will compete for the AFC South title, but I’m not falling into that trap again. For the past two seasons I believed the Jaguars were going to make a significant step forward, and they’ve won a total of eight games. I’ve learned my lesson: Until I see progress on Sundays, I’m not going to believe it. However, there are encouraging signs that could mean the Jaguars may possibly be better in 2017. Marrone and executive VP of football ops Tom Coughlin have been harping on the team becoming tougher, and that has been a priority in the offseason. The addition of Bouye to pair with Jalen Ramsey gives the Jaguars one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Campbell will help the pass rush and his leadership has been off the charts, according to Marrone. Still, until the Jaguars show me something different on game days, I’m not expecting them to hit .500 in 2017.
Mike Wells, Indianapolis Colts reporter: I refuse to fall for the banana in the tailpipe (Google the movie “Beverly Hills Cop” if you don’t know the meaning of that phrase) for the second straight year when it comes to the Jaguars and their offseason success on paper. They were the AFC South offseason champions in 2016. They would have earned the right for that title in 2015, too, if not for the moves the Colts made. Jacksonville had another strong offseason this time, especially drafting Fournette and Robinson in the first two rounds to go with the free-agent signings of Bouye and Campbell, but the Jaguars will continue to be weighed down until they figure out the quarterback situation. It’s hard to have any faith in the Jaguars completely turning the corner as long as Bortles is their quarterback. He has thrown 51 interceptions in 46 career games. The Jaguars should — and better — top their win total of three from last season, but they’re still not ready to make the jump into the top half of the division.