AFC South: Gene Smith

Blaine GabbertAP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackBlaine Gabbert went just 5-22 as a starter in three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are Chad Henne's team now.

General manager David Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch are confidently putting the offense in Henne's hands. It's not exactly handing the keys to Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but it is the correct move for the Jaguars to make.

That's why the team traded Blaine Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft and possibly a conditional pick in 2015. Caldwell said the move was more about the franchise's confidence in Henne than Gabbert's struggles.

"When we signed Chad, we made a commitment to give him a starting position and build around him," Caldwell said shortly after the trade was announced on Tuesday afternoon. "We felt like he was going to be a starter and there is a possibility we would draft a young quarterback in the draft somewhere along the line and he would come in and be the backup and learn behind Chad.

"That left Blaine to compete for that and I just felt like it was a good opportunity for us to move on and possibility get a draft pick for someone who can come in and help us this year instead of a backup quarterback."

Gabbert obviously wasn't in the team's plans once Henne signed a two-year extension last week. However, trading the former first-round pick is a shrewd move because Caldwell was able to get something for a player he was likely going to cut at some point. Plus, it frees up $3.82 million in cap space.

While the trade obviously excites fans that have been extremely critical of Gabbert, it also is an example of what can happen when you put a quarterback on the field before he's ready. Not only will he struggle, but it can set your franchise back years.

[+] EnlargeChad Henne
AP Photo/Jack DempseyChad Henne completed 60.6 percent of his passes last season for 3,241 yards. He had 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Caldwell and Bradley gave Gabbert every chance to succeed in their first season in Jacksonville. Despite Gabbert's poor play in his first two seasons -- 21 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and a 5-19 record as a starter -- both gave him a clean slate in 2013. He played well enough in the preseason to win the starting job.

But injuries, as they did in his first two seasons, affected his progress. He suffered a fractured thumb in the second preseason game and played through the injury in the season opener before suffering a cut on his hand. He missed two games, came back in Week 4 and suffered a hamstring injury in Week 5. He never saw the field after that.

When he did play, he was awful, completing just 48.8 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions -- including three returned for touchdowns.

Henne didn't tear it up, but he was consistent and kept the offense out of bad situations. He made a handful of plays, including tossing the winning touchdown pass against Cleveland with 40 seconds remaining, and Caldwell believes with better offensive line play, more weapons, and another year in the offense Henne will be much better.

Caldwell didn't want to talk about why Gabbert didn't succeed in Jacksonville and that there is never just one person at fault in such a situation. He's right. There are two who bear more fault than anyone else: Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith.

Smith traded the Jaguars' first-round pick (No. 16) and second-round pick (No. 49) to Washington to move up six spots to take Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011. The Jaguars' starter that season was supposed to be David Garrard, who was in the fourth-year of an seven-year, $60 million contract, but in a surprise move the team released Garrard just five days before the 2011 season opener.

Luke McCown started the first two games, but Del Rio made the switch to Gabbert for the final 14 games. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Gabbert clearly wasn't ready to be the team's starter and he never seemed to recover.

He went 5-22 as a starter and the team has won just 11 games in Gabbert's three seasons.

Caldwell has had nothing but praise for Gabbert, especially in the way he handled being demoted, and said he likes the former Missouri standout. That's partly why he sent him to San Francisco. He knows GM Trent Baalke, it's a stable organization, and there's no pressure.

"I know we're sending him to a good situation," Caldwell said. "That's what I told him at the end of the year. I said, ‘If something did come about, I [would] try to send you to the best situation possible.'"

It turned out that way -- for Gabbert and the Jaguars.

In 2009, with his first pick as an NFL general manager, Gene Smith selected Eugene Monroe at No. 8 overall. Smith believed the foundation of his Jacksonville Jaguars should start with a cornerstone lineman.

Joeckel
Four years later, Smith’s successor, David Caldwell, has gone the same direction with his first pick, Thursday's second overall.

Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M was long presumed to be the top pick in this draft, but Kansas City chose Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher instead.

New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said recently that if the team drafted a premier tackle at the top, the newcomer would play on the right, with Monroe remaining on the left. That, of course, could change.

Monroe has been a good player for the Jaguars, not a great one. I don’t think longtime line coach Andy Heck maximized the talents of many of the team’s guys. Now Heck is, interestingly, with the Chiefs and will coach Fisher, while George Yarno will work with Monroe and Joeckel.

Having two left tackles and playing one on the right side isn’t a crime. A year from now, Monroe might leave as a free agent. We’ll have to see how he plays, how much the Jaguars want him, how much he wants to stay. If Caldwell had drafted a defender, all those questions still could have been in play for Monroe after 2013.

At worst, in a year, the Jaguars would shift Joeckel to left tackle and probably get an upgrade.

For 2013, the Jaguars just became a significantly better pass-protecting team, which helps Blaine Gabbert's chance to improve or creates a better setting for a new quarterback. They get better blocking for Maurice Jones-Drew, too.

Right tackle was a disaster area last year with Cameron Bradfield starting 12 games and Guy Whimper starting four. Neither was up to the task.

Cross it off the list of issues.

Pass rush, cornerback and strong safety remain massive holes, and a quarterback could be in play with the first pick in the second round Friday night. Or sooner, if the Jaguars trade back into the first round.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson is among the masses who want to see the Texans add another top wide receiver, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

To which I say: Is one of the batch of receivers expected to be available at No. 27 worth a late first-rounder? Plenty of outsiders aren’t so sure.

The Texans are looking to replenish their linebacking corps from a versatile group of prospects, says McClain.

Arian Foster worked as a DJ during the spring game at the University of Tennessee.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts go cornerback in the mock draft from Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Twenty-five different mock drafts have the Colts taking 16 different players at No. 24. It’s quality over quality in the mock drafting business these days, but general manager Ryan Grigson pays attention, says Phillip B. Wilson.

To which I say: Many general managers pay attention to mock drafters they know get information from quality sources.

The Colts' worst draft pick was Leonard Coleman, and the second best was Marvin Harrison, says Wilson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

If David Caldwell is going to succeed as general manager, he’s got to have a better eye for talent than the last two men who held his job, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: Doing better than Shack Harris and Gene Smith in the draft isn’t even a high enough bar to set.

Running through some quarterback possibilities for the Jaguars with Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

Value needs to rule the Jaguars' draft, not need, says Gene Frenette of the Times-Union.

In his second mock draft, O’Halloran has the Jaguars taking defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

Tennessee Titans

Options abound for the Titans in the draft after a big free-agent haul, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Can the Titans afford to draft for the future when Mike Munchak’s future depends on what happens in 2013? David Climer of The Tennessean considers.

To which I say: As Climer points out, Munchak’s been concerned with the long-term health of the franchise. Does a hot seat change his approach and how much influence will he have?

How do the Titans’ drafts compare to the drafts of the Texans, who’ve won the AFC South the past two years? John Glennon of the Tennessean compares.
Shad Khan is generally careful not to be too harsh about the term of former general manager Gene Smith.

When Khan bought the team late in the 2011 season from Wayne Weaver, he inherited a GM who had just gotten his contract extended, and he stuck with Smith through 2012.

He made his biggest statement about Smith when he fired him after the season ended, ultimately replacing him with Dave Caldwell and allowing Caldwell to part ways with coach Mike Mularkey and replace him with Gus Bradley.

In a new interview with Forbes, Khan tells Brian Solomon the old regime had an inflated feel of how close the Jaguars were to winning -- something Khan’s talked about before.
“When I got there, there were two sides, business and football. Business I understand. It was pretty obvious to me what we had to do. But the football side was like the Holy Grail. They had the ‘secret recipe’ here and the self-analysis of the team was that we were pretty good, that we were just a little bit away from the playoffs and if we just get some free agents signed up, we’ll be in great shape. That’s why we ended up with the fourth-highest cash payroll last year. The result was self-evident. If you are honest with yourself and the team and the fans, there’s only one thing to do when it’s 2-14. When it’s 8-8 you can be conflicted as to how much baby and how much bathwater there is, but here there was no baby -- it was just water.”

A few other items of note out of an interesting piece:
  • Khan is not massaging the status of the team right now: “This is rebuilding, rebuilding from the ground up. There’s no illusion about that. This is about as clean and intense a rebuild as you’re going to have.”
  • He indicated that GM Dave Caldwell working closely in concert with coach Gus Bradley is important to him as it seemed Smith and coach Jack Del Rio were practically on opposite sides of the stadium and there were a lot of closed doors.
  • Bradley’s open mindedness is one of his most attractive qualities: “He has a really keen mind learning about people. Frankly, that’s in stark comparison to the guys who say, ‘We’ve been in football for X number of years and we know how to do it.’ One of the things that’s exciting is the dynamic change that goes on in this sport. It’s a key attribute that you have to learn and change, no matter how successful you are. I see that with some of the other people who have a lot of success in football.”
  • He said the experience of the 2-14 season with an inherited GM and a coach he hired was good, even though it was expensive, because of all it allowed him to learn.
Cornerback Derek Cox and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton represented the best of Gene Smith.

The former Jaguars general manager went too far in steering away from big conferences. He liked guys from off the beaten path with nice stories.

He missed on a lot of guys who fit that.

He didn’t miss on Cox of William & Mary and Knighton of Temple, though Cox was hurt too much and Knighton didn’t play well at the end of his rookie contract.

The two were seen as valuable by other teams, and won’t be part of the David Caldwell-Gus Bradley regime.

Despite his injury history, Cox signed with San Diego for four years and $20 million, with a $5.2 million signing bonus and $10.25 million fully guaranteed in the first two years, per Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Knighton, despite questions about a season in which he was demoted from the starting lineup, got two years and $4.5 million from Denver, per Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

C.J. Mosely overtook Knighton and could start again for Bradley’s Jaguars. Cox’s replacement is not on the roster. The Jaguars like second-year cornerback Mike Harris, but three veteran corners from last season -- Cox, Rashean Mathis (not offered new deal) and Aaron Ross (released) -- are now gone.

Jacksonville needs corners, badly. Two guys who seemed to fit the sort of defense Bradley oversaw as coordinator in Seattle have already disappeared. Greg Toler signed with the Colts and Bradley Fletcher signed with the Eagles.

Alan Ball played poorly for the Texans last season, but was scheduled to visit the Jaguars. So were Washington right Tyler Polumbus and Houston running back Justin Forsett, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Other Jaguars free agents have not been tied to any suitors yet in free agency.

Linebacker Daryl Smith is the best of the lot, but the lone addition the Jaguars have made so far is an outside linebacker, Geno Hayes. Does that tell us anything about the Jaguars' interest in retaining Smith?

Greg Jones is an aging fullback, and aging fullbacks aren’t generally going to be talked about early in free agency.

The team apparently wants center Brad Meester back, but he’s not yet happy with the money available. He turns 36 on March 23.
Fans of teams who’ve signed big free agents in the first day of the new league year are largely overjoyed at the news.

Laurent Robinson is just a year removed from his big day and offers a cautionary tale.

Let’s remember it’s completely possible that today’s big signing is, in just one year, a salary-cap burden who not only solves no problems, but creates some.

The Jaguars cut Robinson, avoiding a $2 million bonus that was about to come due.

That’s new general manager David Caldwell cleaning up more of the mess left behind by his predecessor, Gene Smith. Smith gave Robinson, coming off his one big season, a five-year, $32.5 million contract that guaranteed him $14 million

(It’s a good time to revisit this piece by Bill Barnwell of Grantland, who crushingly picked apart Smith’s failures, including that Robinson contract.)

Even if Robinson didn’t suffer four concussions and play in only seven games, it was a contract that was way too big.

Now, Robinson is a free agent again. The Jaguars said at the combine he’d been medically cleared. Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union says Robinson passed a physical. But Mark Long of the Associated Press reports Robinson “disagrees with [the] team's assessment that he's healthy, says he felt lightheaded during workout yesterday.”

Today, as we recall Robinson’s failed year with the Jaguars, we should remember how quickly the excitement of a big signing can dissipate.

As for the Jaguars, they are now really two receivers deep with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. I thought they should have tendered Jordan Shipley but they didn't like him enough to do so.
Guy Whimper, released Wednesday by the Jaguars, was somewhat of a symbol of stubbornness to me.

Whimper
Whimper
Jacksonville -- with, I believe, deposed general manager Gene Smith at the head of the line -- insisted Whimper was an NFL-caliber player. The evidence screamed otherwise.

The offensive tackle was brought in on Nov. 2, 2010 as offensive line depth. A third tackle at best, he would up starting 22 of a possible 40 games.

That was far more than the Jaguars ever envisioned they would need from him.

In a miserable 2-14 season that got both Smith and coach Mike Mularkey fired, Whimper caught a touchdown pass as a tackle eligible in Green Bay. But he was central in another tackle-eligible moment that might encapsulate the disastrous year more than any other.

In a 24-3 loss at Miami, officials said he botched a crucial play.

What I wrote about it that afternoon:
The worst, most symbolic moment of the game came after Jacksonville sacked (Ryan) Tannehill, forcing and recovering a fumble. Chad Henne threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Justin Blackmon that should have put the Jaguars ahead 10-3. But tackle Guy Whimper, who’d come in the game and lined up as an eligible player running a route, failed to report and was flagged for an illegal substitution. Later, the drive ended without even a field goal as Henne failed to convert a fourth-and-1 run.

Whimper said afterward he reported as he was supposed to.

The Jaguars need to get a lot better on the offensive line. I’m not sure the new brass yet realizes the extent of the deficiencies, though David Caldwell recently acknowledged the team probably has blanks at left guard and right tackle right now.

It was time for Whimper to no longer be in the mix. The Jaguars also released quarterback John Parker Wilson and defensive back Brandon King.
During four years as the Jaguars general manager, Gene Smith developed a reputation as a personnel man who liked small college guys.

He didn’t do it early on. His four first-round picks were out of Virginia, Cal, Missouri and Oklahoma State.

But later in drafts he turned to places like William and Mary, Liberty, James Madison, Murray State, Wyoming, Lehigh and Nevada.

And he left us looking up schools like Nebraska-Omaha, Mount Union and Ashland.

Yes, he found a players like receiver Cecil Shorts, cornerback Derek Cox and offensive lineman Will Rackley from those places. But he seemed to fall for a good story from a lesser school too often. Smith’s overall hit rate was not high enough, and his small school hit rate was certainly in line with that.

No SEC players for a team in SEC country was a bone of contention for a lot of fans.

The man who replaced Smith is unlikely to plot a similar draft map.

“I always believe in drafting and acquiring toward what the norms are,” David Caldwell told John Oehser of the Jaguars website. “If 93 percent of the players in the NFL are playing at Division I-A programs, that’s the norm. I’m not saying I would never draft a small-school player, but they would have to dominate that level. I wouldn’t say absolutes, but I’m a believer: big school, big competition.’’

The Jaguars have done their share of failing in the draft from major college programs, too.

The guy doing the drafting before Smith, Shack Harris, fared terribly with SEC guys at the top of the draft: in 2008 in Derrick Harvey (Florida) and Quentin Groves (Auburn) and with safety Reggie Nelson (Florida) in 2007, though Nelson is now playing an important role for Cincinnati.

I like Caldwell talking about the norms.

You're not going to be able to piece together a quality team thinking you can outsmart the rest of the league with small-school finds. One or two here and there are fine. But most of the best players come out of the best football programs, and that's where Caldwell and his staff will do most of their looking.
Mel Kiper Jr. looked back on the 2012 NFL draft and his grades and offers a revised mark to every team in this Insider pieceInsider.

Let's look at what he said about the AFC South.

Texans

Summary: "Each of the first six players drafted by the Texans managed to contribute in at least some form in 2012, something you can't overlook for a team that went 12-4 and didn't need major personnel additions to get there. … We can't say there's a certain star anywhere in this draft, but the Texans added some immediate help and depth to what was already a pretty solid roster. If one of the wide receivers becomes something more, the draft will look better in the years to come."

Post-draft grade: B

New grade: B

My thoughts: They didn’t need immediate help at many spots, so first-year impression isn’t as significant as it is with the three other teams. There is lots of promise in the class, but we’ll have to wait on receiver DeVier Posey, who tore an Achilles in the playoff loss in New England.

Colts

Summary: "I don't know if [Andrew] Luck proved very good earlier than we expected -- he had the second-highest grade I've ever given a quarterback in 34 years -- but it was certainly true that he found some chemistry with all the rookie offensive additions. T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and even LaVon Brazill played significant roles in the passing game, and Vick Ballard proved he's a capable starter at running back. … [F]actor in all the rookie contributions and the historic leap in performance for a team that was 2-14 in 2011, and you have an incredibly successful weekend to look back on."

Post-draft grade: A-

New grade: A

My thoughts: A group that produced and is a big part of the foundation going forward. It gives Colts fans hope that Ryan Grigson will be able to repeat the winning formula. Can he do as well on defense as he did on offense?

Jaguars

Summary: "Regardless, until the QB situation becomes a positive in Jacksonville, the fact that Russell Wilson was taken by Seattle five picks later (than punter Bryan Anger) will be an ongoing punch line. That said, I can't revise history and say I was banging the desk calling for them to take Wilson. Jacksonville needed to upgrade its pass-catching situation first and then find some help in the pass rush. Justin Blackmon got off to a slow start, but the No. 5 overall pick finished the year leading all rookies in both catches (64) and receiving yards (865), and did that without any sparkling play at QB."

Post-draft grade: C

New grade: C+

My thoughts: No matter how good Anger is, new general manager David Caldwell has an extra hole to fill in a complete rebuild because Gene Smith made that pick. Caldwell would kill to need a punter as opposed to a right tackle, I guarantee it. They needed pass rush help badly and second-rounder Andre Branch provided nothing.

Titans

Summary: "…Zach Brown was a solid if unspectacular linebacker who ended up starting 12 games for the Titans. He figures to hold down the starting role heading into 2013. Mike Martin did a pretty good job as a rotational defensive tackle, and showed an ability to penetrate and aid the pass rush. This draft created some early roster help, but after a season looks light on upside. Better QB play might be the difference, as (Kendall) Wright still has a chance to be a major contributor at wide receiver as he develops."

Post-draft grade: C+

New grade: C

My thoughts: They got good contributions out of their top four guys, and they all look ready to take on more in their second seasons. I think this is a draft class that will make contributions for some time.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Relaxing at the Pro Bowl, Matt Schaub said both he and the Texans can play better and are capable of winning the Super Bowl, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans have issues on special teams that need resolution, particularly in the return game, says Ganguli.

Indianapolis Colts

“Compared to the rest of the league context-free, (Andrew) Luck's season was merely average,” writes Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report. “What does he have to do to truly reach elite status? Net yards per attempt will give us a clue.”

Bids for the 2018 Super Bowl are due in May 2014. When Indianapolis starts putting its bid together, it won’t lean on the ideas that helped it land last year’s game, it’ll look for a fresh approach, says Anthony Schoettle of Indianapolis Business Journal.

Jacksonville Jaguars

A look at the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, from Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. None look like a possibility with the second pick in the draft.

Greg Olson, the Jaguars quarterback coach last year, is happy to have landed on his feet as the Raiders new offensive coordinator, says O’Halloran.

“For the short time, (David) Caldwell needs to hit in free agency the way (Gene) Smith did in 2011 for the Jaguars to show some quick improvement as they rebuild the team during the draft,” writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Just because a team struggles, it doesn’t mean its scouts don’t know how to grade and evaluate players, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Jake Locker’s recovery from left shoulder surgery is well underway, and he’s excited about the prospect of working with Dowell Loggains and Dave Ragone, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

After a couple years coaching receivers, Ragone is preparing to work with quarterbacks again, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Senior Bowl conversations don’t tell us anything about draft intentions, but the Titans spent a good deal of time with a couple interior offensive linemen, says Glennon.
The tendency in the NFL with hires is to get guys who are largely the opposite of the people they are replacing.

Departed Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey were low-key guys.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley and Dave Caldwell
Phil Sears/USA TODAY Sports New coach Gus Bradley, left, said he could "feel the passion" coming from GM Dave Caldwell, right, when he interviewed for the job.
Replacements David Caldwell and Gus Bradley are high-energy guys who talk over and over about passion.

“I think what sold me on this opportunity was the passion,” Bradley said as his introductory news conference Friday morning. “I’m a defensive coach, I have great passion, great excitement. I’m trying to hold it back a little bit right here. But I think with [owner] Shad [Khan] and Dave, given a chance to visit with them, I could just feel the passion coming from them with what they really want to accomplish here. I knew our philosophies meshed together and it became very exciting very fast.”

That alone won’t cure what ails the Jacksonville franchise, but it’s a change the city and fans should appreciate.

Some notes out of the news conference:
  • Among those Bradley thanked were the players on defense in Seattle, where he was coordinator. “If it wasn’t for them,” he said, “I’m humble enough to know I wouldn’t be here.”
  • His name: Bradley’s birth certificate says his first name is Paul, which satisfied a Catholic family’s desire he be named after a saint. But his parents intended to call him Casey. It wasn’t long before his brother nicknamed him Gus, which stuck.
  • Bradley and Caldwell actually crossed paths once, briefly in 1990 or 1991. Bradley was coaching at his alma mater, North Dakota State and Caldwell passed through on a scouting trip.
  • Bradley said he’s spoken to colleagues who said as young coaches assembling their first staff they made decisions too quickly. He will take his time assembling his staff. “It’s important to find out about people, because it is a people business,” he said.
  • Regarding scheme, he said the Jaguars would play to their strengths. But we can expect a multiple offense. “I understand what hurts defenses, what causes us problems: Multiple personnel groupings, multiple formations, diversity, with the quarterback run game, with the spreading out, the two-back run game, the zone. All things are issues. ... We’ll work together on some issues that will cause great difficulty.”
  • He talked of having an explosive offense, something both Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey spoke of but were unable to produce in their time as the Jaguars head coach. He said being able to run effectively -- be it through backs, the quarterback or even the short passing game that functions like the run -- gives a team the opportunity to be explosive.
  • Bradley didn’t want to talk about a timetable for being a playoff contender. He said his team’s focus will simply be on getting better every day. If the team does that, he said, it’s remarkable how other things can fall into place.
  • He met Paul Posluszny Friday morning and spoke to Maurice Jones-Drew on the phone.
  • Bradley declined to talk about Matt Flynn, a quarterback under contract with Seattle, and didn’t field a question about Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.
  • While Caldwell’s contract is for five years, Bradley’s is for four.
  • “My whole hope is to be genuine,” he said. “That’s it.”
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew hosted a special show with Adam Schein at SiriusXM NFL Radio live from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Friday.

They were kind enough to pass on some of what he said.

Schein asked him a couple of times whether there will be a holdout this year, and MJD repeatedly said “No.”
Schein: “Will you try to get a long term deal? Or, because you’re coming off of an injury do you just let it play out because, frankly, right now I would guess you’re probably not negotiating from a position of strength because you just had the surgery?”

MJD: “Well, first of all, the holdout situation, we did try to negotiate. It didn’t, obviously Mr. Khan and Gene Smith felt differently. So this year, I went to them last year. It didn’t work out. I’m not going to reach out to them because, you know, I just feel like I tried that last year [and] it didn’t work. If the Jaguars want to do a new deal I’m more than open to talk. I’m not going to say I don’t want to go there. I’ve grown up there. This is where I started. I want to win a championship there. That’s what I want to do. Now, I’m in the last year of my deal. Once again, people hate this word, but it’s part of the business. You know, it comes and it goes. This past year we have Derek Cox, Terrance Knighton, Daryl Smith, Greg Jones, guys that have all played pretty much their whole career in Jacksonville, this was their last year. Now, will they be re-signed? We don’t know. It’s just how it is.”

He doesn’t have much leverage coming off a year when he got hurt early and never made it back. It’s hard to envision new general manager David Caldwell giving Jones-Drew the sort of extension he’d want. So Caldwell will have to measure if it’s best to get what he can out of MJD in one final year or if he can get something of equal value in a trade.

Jones-Drew also said he liked what he heard from Caldwell at his introductory news conference, where he dismissed the idea of the Jaguars adding Tim Tebow.

“That’s big, especially for our quarterbacks," he said. First question out of the mouth of a reporter is: "What do you think about Tim Tebow?"

"You know, he’s not on our team. You want to focus on the guys you have in your locker room. For him to come out and be direct and forward with where we’re going, that’s one of the greatest things I’ve seen at a press conference in a long time.”
The first three names to emerge as candidates to replace Mike Mularkey as head coach in Jacksonville are St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Atlanta special-teams coach Keith Armstrong.

We knew Roman would be in the mix for new general manager David Caldwell, because the two went to college together at John Carroll University in Ohio and worked together early in their careers with the Carolina Panthers.

Schottenheimer interviewed for the Jaguars' head-coaching job last season and lost out to Mularkey. Armstrong works for the franchise where Caldwell spent the previous five years.

[+] EnlargeBrian Schottenheimer
AP Photo/Michael YoungThe Jaguars have asked permission to speak with Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“Me coming in here as a first-time general manager and I’m looking for a co-builder of our team,” Caldwell said at his introductory news conference. “When I talked to [owner] Shad [Khan] in terms of a culture change along the football side, I felt like it was more of that. I felt like it was an atmosphere of change. I felt like that to do that, you’ve got to have a fresh start [across] the board.”

Prior work as a head coach is not a prerequisite for Mularkey’s replacement.

“You guys are all familiar with Mike Smith, who is our current head coach in Atlanta, did not have head-coaching experience and is the all-time leading winner in Atlanta,” Caldwell said. “I’m looking for the right person, he obviously has to have certain qualifications. In terms of previous … head-coaching experience, not necessary.”

Khan wasn’t going to be able to get his man without giving him power to pick his head coach.

Khan cited the team’s record getting progressively worse over the past three seasons as a reason for large-scale change.

Mularkey was a victim of bad timing, injuries, a thin roster and a bad year.

Khan bought the franchise toward the end of the 2011 season, and the team fired Jack Del Rio as coach and gave general manager Gene Smith a contract extension.

Khan and Smith hired Mularkey, whose overmatched team went 2-14. Jacksonville hardly had its best offensive player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, and got one game combined out of two projected starting linebackers, Daryl Smith and Clint Session.

Smith’s four-year record as the personnel chief didn’t cut it, and Khan parted ways with him the day after the season ended.

He then left Mularkey’s fate in the hands of a yet-unnamed GM and ultimately allowed assistants to seek other work. They are still under contract, however, and will require Caldwell’s permission to leave.

Caldwell had long terms working in the front offices of two winning teams, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

“The common thread is the relationship between the head coach and the general manager and obviously the quarterback,” he said. “The type of people we bring in as players. They have to be good football players but they have to be positive, passionate, physical and I think you see that.”

He needs a coach first, and then they’ll assess what they will do offensively. Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are under contract and will be part of things. Tim Tebow won’t be, even if he is released by the Jets.

“I have others in mind and I’m comfortable with what’s here,” Caldwell said.

Adam Schefter reports that the Jaguars have already asked for permission to talk with Schottenheimer.

Because the 49ers and Falcons are still in the playoffs, Caldwell will have to wait to talk to Roman or Armstrong. If their teams lose, he will be allowed to interview them if they are interested. If they win this weekend, they are off-limits until after the NFC title game. If one goes to the Super Bowl, there is an interview window in the week leading up to the weekend off before the Super Bowl.

With a lot of turnover around the league, Mularkey could resurface as a coordinator. He did good work with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, though after he helped the quarterback reach a certain level in his first four years, the team was ready to go in a different direction when he got hired in Jacksonville.

Several teams in need a solid teacher for a young quarterback could benefit from adding Mularkey.
New Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey worked for the Atlanta Falcons together from 2008 through 2011 -- Caldwell in the scouting department and front office, Mularkey as the offensive coordinator.

How much of a relationship developed between a guy in the front office and one on the coaching staff?

The potential for a relationship and the opportunities for interaction between guys in such posts differ from team to team. The two certainly sat in meetings together leading up to drafts.

Does Caldwell think Mularkey is the ideal coach for the Jaguars going forward? Or would he like to tab his own guy for the post as he takes over for the recently fired Gene Smith and looks to revamp the roster of a team that just went 2-14 and earned the second overall pick in the draft?

That’s the biggest question now that owner Shad Khan had decided on his man, as first reported by Jay Glazer and confirmed by Adam Schefter.

Info culled from Caldwell’s biography from the Atlanta Falcons.
Caldwell became the Falcons director of player personnel in 2012, overseeing both the pro and college pro scouting staffs. He was involved in day-to-day role in the analysis and evaluation of the Falcons current roster while aiding in the research on how to acquire future free agents.

For four years before that he was the director of college scouting during a stretch when the team brought in quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, running back Jacquizz Rodgers, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent, safety William Moore and defensive tackle Peria Jerry as well as trading up to select receiver Julio Jones.

He was a scout for the Indianapolis Colts for 10 years before joing the Falcons.

A native of Buffalo, New York, Caldwell and his wife, Joelle, have one son, David Michael II.
Happy New Year! We're reading the coverage:

Houston Texans

If you have to crawl before you walk, then the Texans are perfectly positioned, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Brooks Reed is "touch-and-go” with his groin injury according to Gary Kubiak, says John McClain,

To which I say: You sure hope he doesn’t suffer a setback Saturday against Cincinnati.

Young players have been making a difference for the Cincinnati Bengals, and nine other things to know about the Texans playoff opponent, from Ganguli.

Five problems the Texans have to fix, starting with penalties, from Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston.

Indianapolis Colts

Ignorance can be bliss for the Colts as they head to Baltimore, since 28 of their players have never participated in the postseason before, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

With all the head coaching openings around the league, Bruce Arians may be about to become a hot commodity, says Phil Richards of the Star. Bill Williamson of our AFC West blog thinks San Diego and Kansas City should seriously consider Arians.

How Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton broke the Texans’ back on third-and-23. A breakdown of the 70-yard touchdown from Zak Keefer of the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

While general manager Gene Smith was fired, coach Mike Mularkey is in limbo and his fate could be decided by Smith’s replacement, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: When Mike Holmgren got to Cleveland, he inherited Eric Mangini and stuck with him. It turned out to be a largely wasted year.

O’Halloran runs through some potential candidates. Two the team is definitely interested in: Tom Gamble of the 49ers front office per Adam Schefter and Dave Caldwell of the Falcons front office, per Jay Glazer.

Smith had a lot more misses than hits, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

“Just because the maligned Smith is an ex-Jaguars employee, that doesn't mean this franchise will be printing playoff tickets anytime soon,” says Gene Frenette of the Times-Union.

“Over four years, Smith made a series of ill-fated draft and personnel decisions that ultimately resulted in a 2-14 record, tied for the worst in the NFL. Since Smith became the top dog in Jacksonville, the Jags went 22-41 and were outscored by 413 points.” Dunlevy’s thoughts on Smith’s departure.

Tennessee Titans

Mike Munchak wants to prove Bud Adams right for keeping him in place, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. Said Jake Locker: “He’s a great football coach and we’re a lot closer (to turning things around) than everyone might think we are.”

To which I say: Please, please, please don’t let Locker and the Titans actually think that they are close. They aren’t close. All those blowout losses? Not close.

We don’t yet know the fate of Titans assistants, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Free-agent-to-be tight end Jared Cook said the Titans should be well ahead of where they are, says Glennon.

Where did it go wrong for the Titans? Dunlevy shares his thoughts.

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