Why it will take patience for Shad Khan to know if he has the perfect trifecta for the Jags
Updated: Apr 13
After a disastrous 2021 run under Urban Meyer, the Jacksonville Jaguars are coming off one of the best seasons in franchise history under the present regime. They went from worst to first in the AFC South in 2022 under new coach Doug Pederson, who guided them to a 9-8 regular season record.
Afterward, the Jags' success leaked into the postseason, too. They garnered a 31-30 win in the postseason against the Los Angeles Chargers after overcoming the third-largest playoff deficit in NFL history. And while they couldn't advance during the following round, they put up a good fight in the process of falling to the eventual Super Bowl champions in the Kansas City Chiefs.
When reflecting on the Jags' 2022 success, it was more than just the addition of Pederson that helped them, though. Trent Baalke, who was named the Jags' general manager in 2021, played a significant part in building the 2022 roster. Many of the key players on it (excluding Trevor Lawrence) were players he drafted at the top of the past two drafts, like running back Travis Etienne, cornerback Tyson Campbell, and safety Andre Cisco. He also drafted a significant contributor in tackle Walker Little, who has handled swing tackle duties for the Jags since 2021 and is projected to be the starting right tackle this season.
As for how free-agency has gone, Baalke has made some excellent decisions there, too, that have positively impacted the roster. Most notably, his 2022 free-agency class brought great success to the team between the additions of receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram. All three impacted Lawrence's improvement in 2022, as the young quarterback was named a Pro Bowler in just his second season.
After years of disappointment, fans can't help but be pleased with the Jags' overall improvement. The team's owner, Shad Khan, who has been heavily criticized for how things have been handled on the football side, also has expressed that he's pleased with where the team is. Just recently, Khan told Jaguars.com reporter John Oehser that he believes the Jags have all the pieces needed to be successful in the NFL.
"The vibe I get is that, you know, I think we've cracked the code," Khan said to Oehser at this month's league meeting. "We've got a great head coach, we got a great general manager, and we have a great quarterback. And that's the trifecta for success in the NFL."
These comments indicate that the 12th-year owner is figuring things out after garnering a 42-119 record before the 2022 season. One can't blame him for his confidence in Lawrence, who was viewed as the best quarterback to enter the draft since Andrew Luck and had all the leadership qualities a franchise could want.
Khan also can't be blamed for his faith in Pederson, who has proven that he's great at coaching the most important position on the field and has won a Super Bowl. However, for Khan to know if he has the trifecta he's long needed, it will take patience and more time to observe, specifically when it comes to Baalke.
While Baalke has done a pretty solid job with the additions he's made in free agency and the draft, the ultimate goal for any NFL franchise is to have sustained success. That's a department that Baalke struggled with during his last tenure as a general manager.
When reflecting on his previous run as a general manager in San Francisco, it's still hard to overlook how he and former coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly couldn't find common ground to make what was a great run sustainable. They were going in the right direction as a franchise as the team appeared in two conference championships and a Super Bowl from 2011-13. After a superb 2022 season, the Jags could be on a similar path, and if they are, it's on Khan to make sure it doesn't end up being messy like in San Francisco.
Much like San Francisco, the Jags now have a coach in Pederson who is very good at what he does, like Harbaugh. That puts Baalke in a similar situation to his previous one, where he'll now have to prove he can have sustained success with a good coach. After how things went between him and Harbaugh a decade ago, one could hope he learned valuable lessons, but again, that will take time and observation from ownership. While Khan may believe the team has the trifecta needed to flourish, it's a little early to make that call because they are just NOW reaching the point where they can begin evaluating Baalke.
Heading forward, the key for Khan to watch out for is how the next few drafts go because they will be the key to finding out how sustainable 2022's success was. If they don't go well, it won't be hard to find out if Pederson and Baalke, who have done a great job working with each other, can continue to coexist. Additionally, Khan and the organization should monitor whether the 2022 draft class shows more because if it doesn't, it will cause a setback that Baalke may need to be accountable for.
Baalke's role in helping the Jags find success absolutely shouldn't go unnoticed. However, the upcoming draft is one where we'll see if he can genuinely scout talent. He will no longer be picking in the front of the draft order, and how he fares in the process is very important. The reason for that is that when Baalke was in this same situation with San Francisco, the dung hit the fan, and the organization's success plummeted.
Ultimately, it's on Khan to ensure that the Jags' situation doesn't turn into one like the 49ers, where things changed once the wins started to come. If he remains patient and observant, he could steer the Jags away from the potential front office vs. coaching situation that sunk the 49ers' ship a decade ago. Baalke could help the situation by taking in some valuable lessons from his tenure with the 49ers, and if he does, the Jags would have the trifecta they've long needed. Ultimately, time will tell if that's the case.