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Pre-Game Recon: Five Questions With Big Cat Country

Are the Jags on the verge of yet another huge rebuild, or can they quickly get back to their dominant ways in 2019? Ryan O’Bleness weighs in.

NFL: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan O’Bleness of our sister site, Big Cat Country, was kind enough to stop by this week to answer some of our burning questions on the Jaguars’ past, present, and future. Obviously Jacksonville will not be returning to the NFL Playoffs next month, but can they get back to being a legitimate contender within the next two years? And what about their now-murkier-than-ever quarterback situation? We asked Ryan all of that and more during his exchange with us. Check it out below.

1. So the Jags are hundred percent signing and drafting a new starter and backup quarterback this offseason, right? We aren’t going to have to watch Bortles on this team in 2019, are we? If they do replace the entire QB room, which veteran signing/rookie draft pick combo excites you the most?

Oh dear God, I truly hope so, but you really never know what ridiculous choices this franchise is going to make next. Blake Bortles is getting the start this week against Houston, and I would like to see him play well in what is most likely his final game as a Jaguar.

But by all accounts, what you have mentioned is the expected action plan. The problem is that this is going to be a really weak free agent quarterback class in 2019. And with the recent news that Justin Herbert will be returning to Oregon for his senior season, the draft class is really thin, too. In terms of a rookie, the choice is likely between Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) and Daniel Jones (Duke), who coincidentally, have both not declared for the NFL Draft yet, either. Drew Lock is a possibility, but Jaguars fans still have nightmares about quarterbacks from Missouri thanks to Blaine Gabbert.

My personal choice would be Haskins. As a guy who watches a lot of Big Ten football, I saw Haskins make some incredible throws and just carve up some very good defenses. He’s raw and has a lot to develop, but I think he has a much higher ceiling than Jones or Lock. If he can learn behind a veteran for a season, he could be very good. Jones is big, accurate, nd learned under quarterback guru David Cutcliffe, but I just see him as a guy who is going to get overdrafted and fail to meet expectations.

In terms of free agency, we’re looking at guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick. None of those guys are going to put the team on their back and win games single-handily, but could be bridge options with the talent the Jaguars have on defense. Joe Flacco, in all likelihood, is going to be available, too, but he’s likely going to want an expensive contract and expect to be the starter going forward.

If I had to choose one, it would probably be Bridgewater, so long as he is fully healthy. I really thought he was ascending into a quality quarterback in Minnesota before his gruesome knee injury. However, I fear that the injury, along with him not being on the field for so long, has diminished his play. Taylor has always protected the ball and would have been an ideal candidate on the 2017 season for the Jaguars (via trade), but he has sat on the bench pretty much all year. Fitzpatrick had some great games this year, but also had some poor games. He’s 36-years-old and not a long term solution. McCown will be 40 by the start of the 2019 season. Pass. Yeah, so none of these options excite me.

2. The Jags are going to have to make a lot of roster moves this coming spring to make some more cap room, especially if they go out and sign or trade for a quarterback. Who gets cut/traded and why?

There is a lot of money tied up into the defense line. The likeliest cut is Malik Jackson, who has already seen his playing time diminish and sees the writing on the wall himself. He signed a six-year, $85.5 million deal ($31.5 million guaranteed) as a big ticket free agent in 2016. So, according to Spotrac, the dead money hit would be $4 million, but Jacksonville would be freeing up $11 million in cap space for 2019.

The other likely cut is Bortles. While he signed a three-year extension this past offseason, the Jaguars are going to move on from him. The dead money hit is pretty hefty at $16.5 million, but rumor is there is some offsetting language in Bortles’ contract that could mitigate the amount. The Jags could also choose to keep him on the roster until June 1 and save money by making him a post June 1st cut. It will be interesting to see what happens.

3. Do you believe Doug Marrone should be this team’s coach in 2019?

I do, but he should be on the hot seat if his team doesn’t perform quickly. I give him the benefit of the doubt because he took a Jaguars team that won three games in 2016 to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2017. Still, his messages weren’t getting across in 2018. Some of it may be injuries, some of it may be coaching, some of may be execution (especially from the QBs), or some of it may just be philosophy, as a smash mouth football team doesn’t mesh with the offensive-heavy 2018 NFL anymore. I think some coaching staff changes at offensive and defensive coordinator, a new general manager, and more play-making personnel on offense in 2019 will help and I am willing to let Marrone and executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin lead the charge in 2019. But there should be a short leash.

4. Other than quarterback, what are this team’s biggest needs?

The Jaguars need a lot of help on the offensive line. Much like the Texans, the Jacksonville offensive line has been in shambles -- four of five starters are on IR. The team needs to make an upgrade on the right side of the line at both guard and tackle. As I mentioned above, the Jags are also starved of playmakers on offense. The team lacks a true No. 1 receiving threat, even if Marqise Lee was healthy this season. The team also needs a playmaker at tight end. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has missed the majority of the season with a core injury and the Jaguars need to add a receiving threat at the position to complement ASJ next year. Basically, the whole offensive unit outside of Leonard Fournette needs to be bolstered...and Fournette himself has struggled with injuries, discipline and consistency. this season

5. Do you think that 2018 was just an aberration of a year due to the crazy amount of injuries sustained by this team? Or was it a warning sign of a big rebuild to come? How competitive do you think this team could be next season with your previously chosen QB signing/draft picks?

I think if the majority of the defensive unit, who underwhelmed this season but remains unbelievably talented, remains largely intact, and the Jags make the moves we talked about on the coaching staff, in the front office and on the roster, that Jacksonville should be competitive in 2019. Injuries, awful quarterback play, and lack of discipline made this team unravel this year. Luckily, those are things that can be fixed. I am not sure the Jaguars are a playoff team next year, especially if a rookie signal-caller is leading, but I expect the team to fight for a .500 record if they follow the expected course of action. The other three teams in the AFC South were highly competitive this year, so it won’t be easy, but I am hoping for a positive future.

A huge thank you to Ryan for taking the time to answer our questions this week. You can check out all of his and others’ excellent work on all things Jaguars over at Big Cat Country.