The Jaguars have hit the Jacksonville jackpot when it comes to their future at head coach and starting quarterback. They have hired three-time college national champion Urban Meyer and will most certainly draft four-time College Football Playoff QB Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft..
If the Jaguars wanted to make a splash around the league, it would be hard to hand-pick a better combination. But “on paper” and “in theory” are different concepts when it comes to producing actual results.
Meyer was drawn back out of retirement from his Fox Sports analyst gig at age 56 for the chance to return to Florida and work with a generational talent at the game’s most important position. Although owner Shad Khan is expected to be more involved in football operations, Meyer should still have the strongest say (and sway) in key personnel decisions.
Getting Lawrence is a big step toward getting back to playoff-caliber relevance in the NFL. Here’s what Meyer and the Jaguars need to do this offseason to quickly get on track to get the best of the elite Clemson prospect as soon as he becomes a Jaguar in April:
1. Hire a smart and creative offensive coordinator
Right off the bat, Meyer carries weight to assemble an all-star coaching staff. There are two play-callers the Jaguars should go after first and foremost: former Texas coach Tom Herman and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.
Herman had great success under Meyer at Ohio State. Elliott worked with Dabo Swinney to get elite, prolific play from Lawrence for three seasons. Either of those guys would be home runs to attach to Lawrence to maintain his explosive playmaking in the NFL. If Meyer cannot get those guys, he should make sure he hires someone who would build an offense around Lawrence’s immense skill set instead of trying to fit him in a scheme with mostly unfamiliar concepts.
The Cardinals had this fortune a couple years ago, knowing that Kliff Kingsbury, as head coach, would be an ideal pairing for Kyler Murray at No. 1. Last year, the Bengals were very comfortable with Zac Taylor being the established man for Joe Burrow.
Meyer has had success with many styles of QBs over the years, from Alex Smith to Tim Tebow to J.T. Barrett to Cardale Jones. The Jaguars should have all that confidence he will connect Lawrence with the right OC to mesh with his personality and talent.
2. Be aggressive in free agency to get veteran help
The Jaguars are sitting on the most salary cap room in the NFL for 2021, around $73 million. They have some promising skill-position talent for Lawrence’s arrival. Undrafted James Robinson quickly established himself as a worthy feature back as a rookie. D.J. Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Collin Johnson bring the youthful juice at wide receiver.
But those guys have limited experience in the NFL and will be adjusting to a new offense while they also get settled with Lawrence. The Jaguars still have veteran tight end Tyler Eifert under contract for another year to be better deployed for Lawrence, but Chris Thompson, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and James O’Shaughnessy all are free-agent pass-catchers.
The Jaguars could think about bringing back Allen Robinson or signing Marvin Jones Jr. as someone to put outside opposite Chark and move Shenault full time into the slot to replace Cole. If the Chargers let Hunter Henry hit the market, he would be the top tight end target. The Jaguars also could look cheaper and deeper to complement Eifert with Jonnu Smith, Jacob Hollister or Trey Burton.
If they don’t re-sign Cam Robinson and they become available, they could look at a sturdy older left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva or Trent Williams. The Jaguars also have plenty of market options to better flank Brandon Linder and Andrew Norwell inside, led by Brandon Scherff and Joe Thuney. Meyer and Lawrence are big splashes, but a couple of worthy splurges would be good, too.
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3. Use the extra first-rounder to upgrade the offensive line
The Jaguars will have a second pick in the top 32 overall (to be determined) because of their Jalen Ramsey trade with the Rams. The Jaguars did have major defensive issues last season, but one pick won’t solve that. They have got to look to sign and draft to upgrade a little on every level.
There’s good edge pass-rushing, linebacker and safety depth in the draft class for Jacksonville to steal players later and the values at defensive tackle and defensive back in the late first round (No. 25 or below) aren’t there. Should they miss out on top free agents up front or limit it to one big addition, there are prospects such as Texas tackle Samuel Cosmi and USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to target.
The Jaguars could also think about tight end in that range in Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth or go for a dynamic offensive weapon in Purdue’s Rondale Moore. The Jaguars need to think defense often this offseason, but with Lawrence, they can also think offense first.
4. Create a stronger quarterback room
Mike Glennon is a free agent and not exactly the textbook mentor type as a willing backup. Gardner Minshew had his mania, but in the end, he is a third-year sixth-rounder about to learn a new offense after a second year of struggling to read defenses. The Jaguars could use a locker-room leader type with starting experience behind Lawrence, with Jacoby Brissett, Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick topping the most appealing available options. Minshew is worth having around as a smart, still developing player, but the Jaguars need that headset/clipboard guy to act like an extension of the coaching staff.
There’s no question that Taylor and Fitzpatrick, who got displaced by Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa in 2020, were extremely supportive and professional in helping to make their rookie replacements do well with a team-first mentality. That should make the Jaguars want to have either in the room during an NFL offseason that won’t be as “virtual.”
5. Don’t try to limit the playbook for a rookie Trevor Lawrence
The Chargers let Herbert loose with aggressive throwing and running and the result was one of the best rookie QB seasons ever. The Bengals gave Burrow full command and he didn’t let down with his smarts and savvy beyond his years. Meanwhile, the Dolphins probably reined in Tagovailoa too much early in his starting tenure, and that cost them a playoff berth in the end.
Lawrence is an experienced starter from a major college offense with established pro-style assets. He can pick up things quickly like that other Clemson star NFL QB Deshaun Watson and like Burrow, can earn instant teammate respect with his intangibles. Meyer is also an NFL rookie, but there’s no doubt he needs go into 2021 with the mind-set that Lawrence is already capable of performing like a fearless, efficient veteran passer (and runner).
It will take a team effort for the Jaguars to lift Lawrence into the top QB he should be for a long time. As the man in charge of putting that all together, to that end, Meyer can waste no time proving he was a great hire.