Today, I am going to rant a little about the Jacksonville Jaguars organization.
For a few consecutive years now, the Jaguars organization has entered the season with the most available cap space. They are one of the numerous teams who are taking advantage of the fact that the NFL's salary floor has not yet entered effect. This low spending, however, dates back to before the new CBA. It began with the very first uncapped year of the previous CBA.
This low spending wasn't simply about being cheap. Indeed, the Jaguars have a history of being the opposite, so much so that it took the Texans selecting Tony Boselli in the 2002 expansion draft to help save the team from salary cap hell. Rather, the team kept payroll down because Wayne Weaver was courting a sale. A team with a lot of cap space to play with is much more enticing a purchase than once that is cap burdened. The expiration of the CBA allowed the team to shed payroll and give the potential new owner as much of a blank slate as humanly possible.
That sale, of course, transpired in the middle of last season, with Shahid Khan purchasing the team from Weaver. Even before the purchase, though, the Jaguars got active in free agency, spending some of their saved-up payroll on players like Paul Posluszny and Dawan Landry. The defensive makeover helped propel the Jaguar defense to a #6 ranking last season, despite losing a good deal of the starting lineup to injury over the course of the season. Overall, however, the team's spending was still the lightest in the NFL.
The new CBA allows for unused cap space to roll over to the next season. The Jaguars have the largest maximum cap value in 2012 thanks to the addition of all that unused space in 2011. And, since this space can roll over from year to year, it looks likely that the team will be flush with excess space in 2013.
Some good things are happening in terms of the demand for football in Jacksonville. The ticket sale situation, which has never been as dire as advertised (the team has not once finished a season in last place in ticket sales, and routinely finishes above about 8 other teams), is improving further, with some tarps coming down for Sunday's game to make extra seats available. The team bit the bullet for one year and allowed blackouts to happen instead of buying up tickets themselves, and the local fanbase has reacted with increased ticket purchases and the removal of blackouts as an imminent threat. (This was a textbook case for why the blackout rule exists - other teams that continue to buy up tickets to avoid blackouts should learn the lesson and rip off the band-aid themselves).
It's time for the new ownership to start increasing some of that payroll. The team is still operating on their Weaver-defined shoestring budget. They're drafting talent and investing in some targeted free agents, but where things are exceptionally painful is the lack of veteran band-aids to fill in the spots that drafting hasn't yet filled. The team's failure to acquire a veteran reserve at guard, and replace their completely incapable one at tackle, is doing a great deal of harm to the team's performance. The failure to fill the outside linebacker spots with at least one capable veteran while Daryl Smith and Clint Session are out is puzzling. The team acquired Aaron Ross in the offseason to fill in while Mathis and Cox return from injury, which was welcome. But the team's lack of investment to patch up other areas is frustrating, especially with so many of those injured players having injuries that continue into this year.
I don't ever want to see a return of the cash-tapped 2001 Jaguars. I don't consider wild free agent spending to be wise. You are what you draft, and if the Jaguars can ever find a solution at QB, be it further development with Gabbert or another player, the rosters Gene Smith drafts would look a lot better in the win-loss column than they do now. But the team's reluctance to spend so far during this transition period has been damaging and it needs to wrap up. Make no mistake - so far this is a temporary detour, and not a Mike Brown-like way of life. And the salary floor takes effect in 2013, which will spur some necessary spending. My hope is that the team is socking away money in anticipation of making a splash in 2013. The past few years of austerity in Jacksonville has given Khan all the ammunition he needs. It's too late to do much with it this year, but next offseason, it's time to let it loose.
Football thoughts of the week:
The return of the real officials was very welcome. The impact was as much in the tone of the games as it was in the actual calls made. It was like children behaving better in the presence of adult supervision.
Naturally, I loved seeing Colin Kaepernick get some field time. His throw downfield to Moss was slightly underthrown, which resulted in the incompletion given the tight coverage, but it was a tease of the kind of downfield throws Kaepernick is capable of, given some reps. I am inclined to think that putting Kaepernick on the field is more than just a wildcat wrinkle. The 49ers are not committed to Alex Smith in the long term. I think they want to see something from Kaepernick that convinces them that they could make him the starter in the future.
Tyson Clabo was visibly outmatched by Charles Johnson.
I didn't think very much of him in the past - in fact, I thought he was destined to get moved to guard - but Gosder Cherilus is starting to look like a legitimate right tackle. Cherlius kept Brian Robison at bay all day while Matt Stafford dropped back for 51 pass attempts. Cherilus has improved a great deal in his pass protection.
There are few things in the NFL more boring than a Shonn Green carry.
A 0 point performance by the Jets will undoubtably kick off the Tebow talk in New York. It's a little surprising that it hasn't been louder this week.
NaVorro Bowman is a tackling machine.
I've never seen a QB's accuracy improve from college to the NFL like it has with Matt Ryan. I've said that before, but Ryan's taking it to yet another level. He's just shy of 70% so far this season, and they don't run the kind of high-percentage passing game there that Drew Brees enjoys in New Orleans.
New Orleans' offensive line deserves a ton of credit for stonewalling the Packers pass rush for most of the game. The tackles, Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief, both held their ground well as Clay Matthews moved between both sides of the defense for pass rush attempts.
Greg Zuerlein is directly assaulting my assertion last year of Josh Scobee being the league's best long range field goal kicker. Well, let's just see how long Young G.Z. can keep it up.
Cardinals at Rams: Given how badly the Cardinals offensive line is performing, it is an absolute miracle that they are as productive on offense as they have been. Kevin Kolb is, at least for the moment, playing like the QB the team expected when they signed him to be their starter. Despite getting pummeled for 13 sacks on only 107 pass attempts - the worst rate in the league - Kolb's passer rating is 97.6. He's been more efficient than explosive, though it's a miracle he gets some of those passes off at all. The thumping won't stop this week, as Bobbie Massie (whose 7 sacks in the past 2 weeks alone are enough to lead the league for the entire 4 weeks of the season) gets matched up with Chris Long. St. Louis, meanwhile, has offensive line woes all their own, with two key starters out of the lineup. Bradford hasn't been quite as effective as Kolb, although he is clearly playing head-and-shoulders above his sophomore slump level, at least when upright (he's endured 14 sacks of his own). I think the pass rush beating has to slow Kolb down at some point. Rams on the strength of six Young G.Z. field goals, none shorter than 40 yards.
Eagles at Steelers: Philadelphia finds themselves at 3-1 despite scoring only 66 points and yielding 83. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, finds themselves at a very precarious 1-2 record, coming off a very welcome early bye week. The Steelers are looking at potential returns for Polamalu, Harrison, and Mendenhall, although some of those remain tentative. Philadelphia has won nothing in convincing fashion so far, but at least the Mike Vick Turnover Machine was turned off for a week, enough to allow the Eagles to remain in the game and edge out the Giants last week. I expect that will be difficult to maintain against a Steelers team that is both rested and desperate to get back to .500. Steelers
Chargers at Saints: In their 3 wins, the Chargers have posted convincing performances, with their one loss coming to a clearly superior Atlanta team. Philip Rivers still remains interception-happy, with his rate continuing to hang abover 3%, but his production the rest of the time has largely offset that nagging issue, particularly with his completion percentage just shy of 70%. (When Rivers throws it, someone always catches it, for one team or the other). On the other side, Drew Brees continues his chase of Unitas' consecutive games with a TD record, having tied it last week. I would love for San Diego (the very last NFL team Unitas played for) to shut Brees out and preserve Unitas' name in the record book, at least in a tie with Brees. I'm thinking, however, that this is the game where the Saints get off the losing streak. Saints
Titans at Vikings: Jake Locker appears destined to miss the rest of the season, which is unfortunate. Matt Hasselbeck remains viable enough to lead the offense, but Locker's absence will set back his development, which started to show some returns. Chris Johnson finally awoke for 140+ yards, albeit a lot in garbage time. For the Vikings, Christian Ponder (whom I still have a small man-crush on, just not like Kaepernick) is emerging as a highly efficient passer. Despite that and Adrian Peterson's production, the team has struggled to finish offensive drives in the end zone. The best of the Minnesota offense is still to come, and Minnesota better work hard to acquire a serious #1 WR for Ponder next offseason. I like Minnesota's direction but I'm calling this for the Titans.
And the die roll is a 4, which means a rookie QB game:
Dolphins at Bengals: Ah, so that's why Miami drafted Tannehill so high, despite his relative inexperience at the QB position. 431 yards of passing against a good Cardinals defense is impressive, even more so when your go-to target is Brian Hartline. (If you drafted only white receivers for your fantasy football team, your Wes Welker / Brian Hartline / Danny Amendola / Eric Decker team is unstoppable right now. Who do you sit?). Tannehill is still raw as hell, and it showed in the turnovers, but that performance is another example of why I say I'll always take a chance on a legitimate NFL arm. The one thing Tannehill showed in college that was encouraging was making the deep out sideline throws at A&M that are critical in the NFL but are not very common in college offenses these days. Cincinnati's passing game is nothing to overlook either. Dalton had a slow start against Jacksonville, and then he was all, "oh, hey, I have A.J. Green" and things took a drastic turn for the worse for my boys in teal. I'll go with the Bengals at home.
Last Week's Results
Jolly Bill: 5-0
Secret Asian Man: 3-2
Certis: 0-5 (kidding! 3-2. He always gets 3!)
Jolly Bill: 13-6
Secret Asian Man: 8-11