Jaguars Must Embrace Rebuilding

The Jaguars have a young roster at the crossroads, and they must evaluate for the future. They must choose whether to play a younger roster to pay future dividends or try to win more games now with veterans.

Despite finishing with a non-losing 8-8 record last season, the Jaguars had plenty of holes to fill.  The stat sheet showed a team that finished 28th overall in total defense and 27th in the league in passing offense.  A 59-yard field goal at the gun, a completed hail mary, a win in which they committed six turnovers and another in which they turned the ball over three times kept the team from finishing with a 4-12 record.  The average point differential in the Jaguars' eight losses last season was nearly 17 points per game, which is more reflective of the team's actual talent level.  

Although teams seemingly jump up out of nowhere on a yearly basis in the NFL, it's very difficult to build a legitimate contender from a team that was so uncompetitive less than eight months ago.  

General manager Gene Smith has addressed the team's chief needs by upgrading the linebacking corps with Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, and the safety position by adding Dawan Landry.  The passing game was seemingly upgraded by the selections of Blaine Gabbert and Cecil Shorts in the draft.  

Although the Jaguars figure to be improved at least on paper, they're hesitant to add any veteran playmakers at wide receiver, citing the opportunity for younger players such as Mike Thomas, Jason Hill and Cecil Shorts to see if they can be productive.  This hesitation is a direct message that the team is still in the process of rebuilding.  

So here is where the inconsistency comes in.  What is your ultimate, realistic goal for 2011?  

The Jacksonville Jaguars the way they're currently constructed cannot be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season.  Their quarterback isn't good enough, the offensive line has a few questions, the wide receiving corps has virtually no experience, the pass rush is a huge question and there's a very good chance that the team will be starting a rookie safety from Wyoming in their opener.  

If I know that, Gene Smith certainly knows that.  

Again, what is the goal for 2011?  

If you can't win a championship, and make no mistake, David Garrard and the Jags will not outduel the likes of Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Mark Sanchez, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, what is your purpose?  

If you poured truth serum on Smith, he would likely tell you that the main purpose of 2011 is to get the younger players more development while figuring out who can play and who can't.  There's no position in which that philosophy is more vital than at quarterback.  The Jaguars have their quarterback of the future and what is likely to be the very near present in Blaine Gabbert.   Assuming your offensive line can protect Gabbert and he's not completely clueless on the field, he needs to see real game action sooner rather than later.  If he's the franchise QB, you need to get the rookie mistakes out of his system before much of your core stars get out of their primes.  If Gabbert can't play, it's even more important to find that out as soon as possible.

All of that brings us to incumbent quarterback David Garrard.  Garrard is entering his 10th training camp with the team and by now you pretty much know what you have.  Garrard will give you some jaw-dropping plays, both positive and negative, and at the end of the season you'll have a .500 record within one game either way.  

If your goal for 2011 is to develop young talent, then David Garrard is not going to be your starter for 16 games.  If your goal is to win a Super Bowl, then David Garrard shouldn't be your starter at all.  At a base salary of nearly $8 million, the argument for retaining Garrard is that much more difficult.

If Blaine Gabbert isn't ready to go on opening day, what's the worst thing that can happen if you play Luke McCown, knowing that the team will be turned over to Gabbert in 2012 or sooner?  If you win five or six games instead of eight, you have a better draft pick to get a player of greater impact.  If you win eight games or more with McCown, then what is the difference between he and Garrard, other than roughly $6 million of salary?  

Any way you slice it, it simply makes no sense for a small-market team that will struggle with revenue to simply throw away nearly $8 million on a player who is a virtual band-aid that can't take the team to a deep playoff run. With each under or overthrown pass that Garrard delivers, with each bad interception he throws while staring down a receiver and each two-minute drill in which the clock runs out and the Jags score no points, the decision gets easier and easier.  

David Garrard doesn't sell tickets.  His presence is stunting the growth of younger players and he can't lead you anywhere near a championship.  If the Jaguars want to develop the younger talent on the team, it's time to pull the expensive band-aid.  

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and the host of "The Sports Crunch" on the Aquarius 7 Broadcasting Network (national), and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie

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