The Jaguars have found their Mike Caldwell replacement. Jacksonville is set to hire Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. The move is now official.
This will mark the first trip outside the NFC South since 2016 for Nielsen. He had been with the Saints from 2017-22, and in his final year with the team he served as co-defensive coordinator. That tenure was followed by an intra-divisional move to Atlanta. Nielsen guided the Falcons’ defense in 2023, but with a new head coach on the way, his future remained uncertain until now.
The Falcons initially blocked Jacksonville’s efforts to speak with Nielsen. However, Atlanta ultimately changed course and permitted an interview to take place. As was the case in his previous gig, Nielsen will have play-calling duties with the Jaguars, making this a lateral move. Given the issues Jacksonville experienced on defense this season, and the widespread staff changes which came about as a result, Nielsen will have plenty of work to do in Duval County.
Caldwell was one of many defensive coaches let go by Doug Pederson after the campaign, one in which Jacksonville appeared to be on track to win the AFC South. A late-season collapse left the team out of the playoffs and in need of a fourth DC in the past five seasons, however. Questions have been raised about the offensive personnel who are still in place, but for now attention will turn to Nielsen and his ability to provide stability over an extended period.
The 44-year-old has only two seasons of coordinator experience at the NFL level, but he has shown promise both in New Orleans and Atlanta. Nielsen helped oversee a defensive turnaround with the Falcons in 2023, and the team ranked 11th in yards allowed. They excelled in the passing game in particular, ranking eighth in yards surrendered through the air. That marks a stark contrast to Jacksonville’s performance.
The Jags finished in the top 10 against the run in 2023, but they ranked only 26th against the pass. Nielsen will aim to achieve better balance in 2024 and beyond and, in turn, help Jacksonville return to the postseason. Atlanta’s staff will remain worth monitoring, meanwhile, with signs continuing to point them to an agreement with Bill Belichick. His arrival would no doubt be followed by a number of personnel changes.
Here is a final look at the Jaguars’ DC search:
- Shane Bowen, defensive coordinator (Titans): To interview
- Ejiro Evero, defensive coordinator (Panthers): Interview blocked
- Chris Harris, cornerbacks coach (Titans): To interview
- Chris Hewitt, secondary coach (Ravens): To interview 1/21
- Marquand Manuel, safeties coach (Jets): To interview
- Don Martindale, former defensive coordinator (Giants): To interview
- Ryan Nielsen, defensive coordinator (Falcons): Hired