Urban Meyer was the worst head-coaching hire in NFL history.
Here's where some feel the need to point out other bad hires. Yes, Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz and Bobby Petrino were bad. And none of them, or any other failure you want to name, was worse than Meyer.
Meyer was a unique combination: atrocious on the field while also bringing immense shame to the franchise off the field. Meyer started making terrible decisions days after he was hired, and it never stopped. It would be fun to recount the dozens of incredibly bad moments from the Meyer era, but this preview is about the 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Hopefully Jacksonville has cleaned up the mess from last season.
“It can’t get worse than what we’ve been through here,” Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen said, according to the Associated Press.
It's hard to properly project the Jaguars this season because last season was so toxic. The Jaguars were 3-14 and earned the first overall pick of the draft. None of those players could have thrived in such a stunningly dysfunctional environment.
The Jaguars need to quickly put that in the past because it would be a shame if they wasted another year with Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence has to feel like this is his rookie season. It must have seemed last year like he wasn't even in the NFL, with a head coach who was more interested in staying behind in Ohio and hanging out at bars after a loss than making his team better. At one point Lawrence had to question why Meyer made the inexplicable decision to bench top running back James Robinson. Not many rookie quarterbacks have to be the adult in the room.
Lawrence didn't have a great team around him either. Lawrence was one of the most hyped prospects in NFL history, but stuck with a disaster of a head coach and a team that couldn't help him. He had a bad season, and it can't all be blamed on Meyer. Lawrence missed way too many easy throws and had too many costly mistakes. But of all the 2021 Jaguars who were held back due to an incompetent coach, Lawrence tops the list. Hopefully there is no long-term damage. A stellar performance by Lawrence in a Week 18 upset win over the Indianapolis Colts provides hope.
"I don’t want to say anything, you never know what’s around the corner, but I really do feel like I’ve been through more than a lot of people can say they’ve been through in their first season," Lawrence said, according to the Florida Times-Union.
The Jaguars hired a former NFL quarterback to help develop Lawrence. Doug Pederson, who once outcoached Bill Belichick to win a Super Bowl, is the Jaguars' new head coach. Pederson's time with the Philadelphia Eagles went sour in a hurry. A lot of the shine has come off Pederson since that Super Bowl. But he's unquestionably an upgrade, and his experience as a QB and a coach will help Lawrence. That's crucial.
The Jaguars are probably going to post another losing season. The roster still has plenty of holes. One safe prediction remains about the 2022 Jaguars: It will be better than last season.
The Jaguars overpaid for everyone. The contract given to Christian Kirk — $72 million over four years for a receiver with no 1,000-yard seasons and four 100-yard games in four NFL seasons — was so egregious it completely changed the receiver market in the NFL. Even if there's an argument that the contract didn't look so bad once the details were revealed, it's one of the biggest overpays in recent history. Maybe ever. It's questionable how much Kirk will even help Trevor Lawrence. Signing Brandon Scherff, an elite guard, will help an offensive line that needed it. But he wasn't cheap either: $49.5 million over three years. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (three years, $45 million), defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (three years, $30 million), cornerback Darious Williams (three years, $30 million) and receiver Zay Jones (three years, $24 million) were all severely overpaid. But the Jaguars must have felt they needed to pay a tax to land anyone, and those player are all upgrades. The draft brought top overall pick Travon Walker, whose selection will be questioned if it doesn't work out, and linebacker Devin Lloyd in the first round. More offensive line help might have been better than a combine superstar with little college production or an off-the-ball linebacker. Luke Fortner, a third-round pick, could end up replacing retired Brandon Linder at center. It's not that the Jaguars didn't upgrade the roster. They did. But the costs involved were shocking.
If you want to be optimistic that Trevor Lawrence will take a huge leap in year two — prospects graded as high as Lawrence rarely bust — then rewatch the season finale against the Colts. All of a sudden, Lawrence looked like a star. From the first drive of the game he was in control. He made multiple third-down throws on that drive that some NFL veterans couldn't make. He made the right decisions from the first drive throughout the game. Then he had the highlight of his rookie year, bringing in a bad snap and buying time to find Marvin Jones on a beautiful touchdown throw.
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) January 9, 2022
The Jaguars kept the Colts from the playoffs with an upset win, and Lawrence was the best player in that game. He threw for 223 yards, two touchdowns and had a 111.8 passer rating. That was the game in which Lawrence finally looked like he was worth all the hype. It was a great way to enter the offseason.
The Jaguars' win total at BetMGM is 6.5, and there are reasons to believe they can hit the over. Even if you don't love Doug Pederson, the upgrade from Meyer to Pederson (or to any professional, really) is massive. Going from the worst coach in NFL history to a former Super Bowl winner should be worth a few wins. Trevor Lawrence will be better and the roster is upgraded, even if the Jaguars overpaid for all the upgrades. A 7-10 season is possible.
From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Travis Etienne had a washout rookie year, suffering a season-ending Lisfranc injury in August. But at least the injury is far in the rearview mirror, and Etienne is on track to be ready to start 2022 on time. The new Jacksonville coaching staff was impressed with Etienne’s work during June workouts, and let’s not forget Etienne was a star at Clemson — and a first-round draft choice.
"The Jaguars don’t have much running back depth, especially if James Robinson has a sluggish return from his Achilles injury. And unlike Etienne, Robinson doesn’t have time on his side — his injury occurred in December. With Urban Meyer mercifully gone and Trevor Lawrence almost certain to improve in his second year, the Jaguars offense likely takes a modest step forward this year. Etienne is far from a sure thing, but he’s an exciting pass-catcher and a capable runner, even if no one really considers him a true bell cow. Hash it all together and Etienne looks like an interesting option in early Yahoo drafts, with a reasonable ADP of 54.5."
Simply put, Travon Walker wasn't as good as Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux in college. Maybe that will mean nothing in the NFL, but it also can't be ignored. Walker had 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in three college seasons at Georgia. He had a lot of competition for tackles on a stacked Bulldogs defense, but you'd still like to see more out of a top overall pick. Hutchinson was second in the Heisman Trophy voting last season. Thibodeaux had nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss as a freshman alone. The Jaguars took Walker, who was awesome at the combine, ahead of both pass rushers, two elite offensive tackles and a pair or top-end cornerbacks too. Walker's athletic profile is intriguing and it could work out great for the Jaguars, but there will be plenty of scrutiny over the next few years regarding that decision.
Can the Jaguars win in spite of Shad Khan?
One of the most telling quotes of the offseason came from Khan, the Jaguars owner. He said, in regards to Urban Meyer, "When you lose the respect, the trust and an issue of truthfulness, how can you work with someone like that?" That quote said more about Khan than Meyer. Khan was the one who hired Meyer, despite many unflattering stories about Meyer at Florida and Ohio State. The hire was questionable from the start, but Khan couldn't see that. He's the one responsible for the worst head-coaching hire in NFL history, and he resisted firing Meyer until he had no choice, long after everyone else realized Meyer needed to go. The Jaguars are 42-119 since Khan became owner. We put owners in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for "their record," so Khan should be judged by his record too. He has long been accused of being an absentee owner, and the results don't lie. His decision to keep GM Trent Baalke was widely criticized, and could turn out to be another mistake from the owner. Jaguars fans deserve better than a stretch of 10 double-digit losing seasons in 11 years. That failure starts at the top.
It's hard to predict big things for a team as bad as the Jaguars were last season. Yet, their three wins were against the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Colts. That's not bad. They have a quarterback who could take a massive leap. They had an enormous upgrade at head coach. There are some good young players like pass rusher Josh Allen, and perhaps running back Travis Etienne can take off in his second year after missing his rookie season due to a foot injury. The schedule is much easier this season. If you simply erase everything about the 2021 Jaguars because their head coach was aggressively making them worse at every turn, you can see a team that could be pretty good. If we're talking absolute best-case scenario, maybe Trevor Lawrence is an MVP candidate and the Jaguars are in the playoff hunt. There's a reason Lawrence had such a high grade coming out of Clemson. If he plays 17 times like he did against the Colts in last season's finale, the NFL will have a new star quarterback.
Trevor Lawrence was bad for most of last season. He had valid excuses, especially since he was a rookie, but Urban Meyer wasn't the one airmailing easy passes. There were times last season Lawrence looked nothing like a generational prospect. When you land a Lawrence, you expect greatness for a decade or more. If Lawrence looks lost again, the Jaguars might start worrying. Jacksonville can lose a lot of games, Travon Walker can look like a bad pick and the Jaguars might feel they wasted a lot of money on all those free-agent additions, but all that really matters this season is Lawrence's development.
I believe in Trevor Lawrence. He's too good to fail. With a better situation last season, we might view him like we did Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert coming into their second seasons. Lawrence is about to make a pretty big leap and that can carry the Jaguars up the standings. The AFC will be too tough for the Jaguars to make the playoffs, but they'll look like a different team, Lawrence will establish himself as a future star and things will be looking up in Jacksonville for the first time in a while.