Trent Baalke

Jaguars’ Shad Khan, Trent Baalke Disagree On No. 1 Pick?

Four prospects are believed to be in play for the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but it might be a matchup between two defensive ends by the time the top decision-makers huddle up for their final decision this week.

Shad Khan will observe the Trent Baalke– and Doug Pederson-led operation’s deliberations this week, Albert Breer of SI.com notes, and the longtime Jaguars owner said he has an opinion on which way the team should go at No. 1. Khan’s opinion appears to be that Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson is the way to go, per Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com, who adds Baalke is backing Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker.

Despite his college production dwarfing Walker’s, Hutchinson now trails the size-speed freak in pre-draft odds to be the top pick. The Walker-Jaguars connection has persisted for several weeks now. Khan has held roster control in the past, and it would not surprise if the 10th-year Jags owner pulled the trigger on his preferred player. Khan would obviously prefer the room forms a consensus and intimated to Breer that Pederson and Baalke have control over the football operation.

Yeah, I have an opinion,” Khan said, via Breer, of the No. 1 pick. “I do have an opinion. We are supposed to get together on Wednesday, and so I don’t have as firm a decision as I did maybe last year, but I do have it. I think we’ll have to really firm up the draft board, so we have clarity on all the permutations and combinations we’re gonna hit.”

During Pederson’s tenure, the Eagles devoted significant resources to bolstering their offensive line. The new Jags HC may not be opposed to such a strategy this year, despite this draft’s bevy of high-end D-line prospects. The Jags were connected to Ikem Ekwonu early in the pre-draft process, before franchise-tagging Cam Robinson for a second time, and Breer hears Baalke is a fan of the North Carolina State O-lineman. Ekwonu remains in play for the Jags at 1, ESPN.com’s Matt Miller tweets.

The team is rumored to be close on a Robinson extension, and Jawaan Taylor has started at right tackle in Jacksonville for the past three years. Pro Football Focus, which graded Jacksonville’s O-line 24th overall last season, viewed Taylor as the team’s weakest link up front in 2021. Of course, no Jaguar blocker graded particularly well here. Jacksonville added Brandon Scherff but could upgrade at its other guard spot. Ekwonu played tackle and guard in college; some view guard as his better NFL position.

No Teams Calling About No. 1 Pick

For the first time since maybe 2013, there is no consensus on who will be the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. There is such a lack of certainty on who the best available player of the 2022 NFL Draft is that Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke told the media that not one NFL team has “called directly to trade for the No.1 overall pick,” according to Cameron Wolfe of NFL Network.

2021 was “Tank for Trevor.” 2020 saw Joe Burrow set the football world on fire. There were certainly doubts, but Kyler Murray was expected to join Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona almost two months before the Draft. In 2018, everyone knew the Browns needed a quarterback and it became clearer and clearer as the Draft approached that Baker Mayfield was their man. Myles Garrett was far and away the best available according to analysts in 2017. 2016 saw the Rams and Eagles trade into the 1 & 2 spots to draft Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. The Buccaneers famously tanked in 2015 for Jameis Winston, with Marcus Mariota as the clear No. 2. Finally, Jadeveon Clowney was an easy selection for the Texans in 2014.

2013, though, had most analysts thinking the Chiefs, who desperately needed offensive tackle help, would take Texas A&M star Luke Joeckel. Instead the Chiefs went with the tackle out of Central Michigan, making Eric Fisher the first MAC player ever to be drafted No. 1 overall. Nine years ago, analysts held very little certainty of even what position the Chiefs would select, with most thinking one of the two offensive tackles, some thinking defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, some thinking linebacker Alec Ogletree, and some even entertaining the possibility that Kansas City might bring in West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to compete with the newly acquired Alex Smith.

This is the first offseason since then that we’ve seen true cluelessness across the board less than a week out from the Draft. This Draft lacks something that all of those previous Drafts had: a clear player of need that at least one team in the NFL is willing to go all out to get. Many names have been mentioned at number one overall from Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux in the preseason to Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson post-Ohio-State-game to Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker post-Combine. The Draft’s two best offensive linemen, Alabama’s Evan Neal and NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu, both have heard rumors around their names at some point in the pre-Draft process. Baalke, himself, told the media that they were considering four players, leading to speculation that Hutchinson, Walker, Neal, and Ekwonu are the four in question.

That’s what makes this Draft so interesting. Charles Davis of NFL Network called this year’s Draft “even more unpredictable than usual.” Not only is there no team willing to pound the table and jump up to select a player they can’t live without, but even the team that is stuck at number one needs a four-sided coin to flip. The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft airs at 8 p.m. ET this upcoming Thursday, April 28th.

Draft Rumors: Stingley, Jaguars, Alabama, Cine, Burks

According to Matt Miller of ESPN, Derek Stingley, Jr. is the hottest name in the 2022 NFL Draft right now. The LSU cornerback has long been considered one of the top-two cornerback prospects available, along with Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner. Miller claims that Stingley is trending as high as the top-three with the Lions or Texans rumored to be interested in him at No. 2 or 3 overall.

After a stellar freshman season, Stingley was easily viewed as the best cornerback that would be available by the 2022 Draft. But, after a subpar 2020 season and only appearing in three games last year, combined with another stellar season from Gardner, NFL teams have allowed a bit of room for Gardner to challenge as the best corner on the board. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Gardner ranked as the third-best prospect overall with Stingley at 15th, while Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Gardner at fifth overall with Stingley at 14th. Miller, though, seems to think Stingley won’t make it past the Seahawks at 9th overall on Thursday night.

Here are a few more notes for the upcoming Draft, starting with some speculation down in Duval:

  • Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke let it be known on Friday that Jacksonville is considering four players for their number one overall draft pick this Thursday, according to Charean Williams of NBC Sports. Many mock drafts have them going with Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson or Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, but they’ve also had their name attached to Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal and NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. It’s hard to imagine any other names entering the conversation for Jacksonville’s top pick.
  • On their postseason run last year, college football powerhouse Alabama lost two of their top pass catchers in two of the biggest games of their season. John Metchie tore his ACL in the team’s SEC Championship victory over Georgia on December 4th. A little over a month later, Jameson Williams tore his ACL in the team’s National Championship game loss to Georgia on January 10th. According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the two are progressing impressively in their recoveries, with that opinion being echoed by the NFL teams who have looked into their medical information. They may both be on track to play in the upcoming season, depending on how conservative of a team they end up with. The important thing, though, is that, while their stock may have been affected a bit by injury, they are both fully expected to hear their names called next week.
  • Georgie safety Lewis Cine visited with the Buccaneers this week, according to Jenna Laine of ESPN. Cine led the Bulldogs in tackles and passes broken up for the season last year en route to being named the defensive MVP of the team’s National Championship victory over Alabama. According to Laine, when asked if signing Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal precluded them from drafting a safety, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht simply replied, “No.”
  • According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Arkansas wide receiver Treylon Burks added two more teams to his list of visits earlier this week. Burks met with the Bears and Cardinals as he continues to trend in the first round. Read more about Burks in his NFL Draft Prospect Profile here.

Jaguars Hoping To Trade No. 1 Pick?

Picking first overall for a second straight year, the Jaguars have been linked to a few players in a draft that does not appear to feature a surefire top talent. The perception around the league points the Jags to a trade, but no needle-moving offer may materialize.

An NFL scouting director informed SI.com’s Albert Breer “everyone knows” Jaguars GM Trent Baalke would prefer to trade down. Connected to either Aidan Hutchinson or fast-rising prospect Travon Walker at No. 1, the Jags still enter this draft as a team with several needs — despite their free agency binge. A move down the board would enable the rebuilding team to add more picks to address them.

However, a sufficient offer has not yet arrived. And a report earlier this offseason indicated teams have not shown much interest in moving up to No. 1. This draft may feature the least desirable top pick since 2013, a draft that saw one quarterback taken in Round 1 and the top 10 produce several busts. This may lead to Jacksonville sticking at No. 1. Breer and ESPN.com’s Todd McShay have Hutchinson going first overall, while NFL.com’s Peter Schrager mocks Walker to the Jags.

A Georgia defensive end capable of playing inside as well, Walker has been connected to the Jags at multiple junctures this offseason. Though, Hutchinson — the second-place Heisman finisher after a dominant senior season at Michigan — is viewed as the safer choice, with Walker’s production not in the same realm as the ex-Wolverine’s. Baalke is sensitive to the Jags’ current reputation, per Breer, who adds this may influence the veteran exec to play it safer at 1.

The team has also done extensive work on this draft’s top offensive tackles, despite having franchise-tagged Cam Robinson, Breer notes. It would surprise if the Jags tagged Robinson and still chose a tackle, but they have used first-round picks on defensive linemen in four of the past seven drafts. Regardless of how Jacksonville proceeds, this draft looks set to begin with more uncertainty than the drafts of the past several years.

Jaguars Looking At OL Ekwonu With Top Pick

We wrote a bit in January about NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu potentially being the best offensive lineman in the draft. Well, he certainly thinks so, as he told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday that he’d “definitely deserve” to be drafted No. 1 overall, according to Darryl Slater of NJ.com

He’s not totally off base in his thinking. ESPN’s Mel Kiper mocked Ekwonu to Jacksonville in his latest mock draft just before the Combine. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, many at the Combine, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, expected Ekwonu to blow up in Indianapolis.

There’s already been a bit of talk connecting Ekwonu to the Jaguars. General manager Trent Baalke has a tendency to prefer explosive linemen and Ekwonu demonstrated his explosiveness in field drills including an impressive sub-5.00 second 40-yard dash. Baalke and new head coach Doug Pederson will be looking to put together a group at offensive line that can protect former No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and create holes for running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne.

Jawaan Taylor is expected to compete with Walker Little for the right tackle job. Captain Brandon Linder should return to form at center after MCL and ankle injuries forced him to miss a large part of the 2021 NFL season. Andrew Norwell is expected to hit the free agent market and Cam Robinson could join him if the team decides not to utilize their franchise tag on Robinson for the second straight year. Veteran sixth-man Tyler Shatley was recently re-signed and Ben Bartch could help out at guard. So the versatility of Ekwonu could line him up as the perfect choice for Jacksonville’s current situation, where lots of question marks surround the depth chart. Even so, the Jaguars could also fall in love with Evan Neal, who is largely seen as the top pure tackle in the draft.

Still, the redshirt sophomore out of Raleigh is a young, talented prospect with the ability to dominate at tackle or guard. Even if he slips past Jacksonville at No. 1 overall, don’t expect him to be available after both New York teams get a chance to draft. Ekwonu will aim to be only the third Wolfpack offensive lineman in history to be picked in the first round, the highest-drafted Wolfpack prospect since Bradley Chubb in 2018, and, above that, the first top overall pick out of NC State since Mario Williams in 2006.

Jaguars’ EVP Search On Hold

The Jaguars were thought to be making multiple additions to their front office personnel, including an executive vice president. However, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that that search has been put on hold. 

It came out in February that owner Shad Khan was conducting a search for a new EVP as part of a general strategy to add more “brainpower” to the organization. Many thought that former Vikings GM Rick Spielman was the favorite for the job, as he had already interviewed for an unnamed position which would outrank current Jaguars GM Trent Baalke.

Instead, Rapoport notes, internal meetings with new head coach Doug Pederson have been going well, to the point where maintaining the status quo at the top of the organization has becomes Khan’s preference. Specifically, Khan “doesn’t want to impede significant progress with a new voice”. It was noted that the team was planning on moving towards a more “collaborative approach”, and turning its attention to long-term building rather than quick-fix solutions with an experienced voice in Pederson.

In a follow-up tweet, Rapoport adds that other front office hires could still be forthcoming. Most notably, an assistant GM is still being sought out; if that ends up being the highest-ranking member of the organization brought in, Baalke would maintain his position of only reporting to Khan himself. For now, it seems as though the Jaguars will enter the offseason maintaining essentially the same structure that they finished the regular season with.

Latest On Jaguars’ Front Office

The Jaguars are in the process of rebuilding not only their coaching staff, but also their front office personnel and structure. As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco writes, the team is looking to add multiple new executives, including an executive vice president of football operations. 

As he states, owner Shad Khan is looking to hire not only an EVP, but also “someone to work under” general manager Trent Baalke. It wouldn’t be the first time the Jaguars had a structure like that, as a similar one was in place when the Jaguars were last in playoff contention.

When speaking about the changes, Khan said, “One of the reasons we had the [coaching] search was not only looking for the head-coaching candidate but really to learn about other organizations… So some of the practices, some of the structure that works, we got great insight into it. Strengthening the football operations, more staff, that’s part of our goal. We’ve had too flat an organization and we want to add brainpower and more people to strengthen that”.

Tom Coughlin held the EVP title beginning in 2017 during the Doug Marrone coaching era in Jacksonville. That season ended with a trip to the AFC Championship game, but the organization was streamlined after Coughlin was fired in 2019. Khan elected to try a more coach-centric structure when he hired Urban Meyer, a decision that proved to be borderline disastrous. A return to the previous system so quickly after Meyer’s firing would represent a very fast about-face from Khan and the organization.

Many believe that Rick Spielman will eventually be named as the new EVP. The former Vikings GM recently interviewed for a position that would outrank Baalke, though nothing has been made official yet. In addition, the team would have to meet with at least two external minority candidates for the position in order to satisfy the Rooney Rule.

Especially after the hire of former Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson as head coach, the Jaguars are “taking a collaborative approach”, DiRocco writes. With an emphasis on long-term building, as opposed to a less patient, win-now approach with Meyer, more voices being involved in decision making could be a productive first step towards turning around a franchise which has finished at the bottom of the NFL for two straight years.

Jaguars Hire Doug Pederson As HC

Jacksonville’s winding path toward hiring a head coach is coming to an end. Doug Pederson will land the job, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The Jaguars have since announced the hire.

Pederson interviewed twice with the team, which is close to bringing in ex-Vikings GM Rick Spielman for a high-ranking front office position alongside Trent Baalke. Pederson, who led the Eagles to a win in Super Bowl LII, did not coach last season but was connected to multiple jobs during this year’s hiring cycle.

The former Philadelphia HC will soon work with another highly drafted quarterback, and Pederson spoke with Trevor Lawrence on the phone earlier Thursday night, Schefter tweets. While Pederson’s final season with Carson Wentz ended in the Eagles radically changing course, the veteran play-caller will have a chance to work with one of the top QB prospects to enter the NFL in many years.

At the end of this search, the Jags were also linked to recent Raiders interim HC Rich Bisaccia and Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich. The latter was believed to be in talks with the Jags about a deal last week, but momentum stalled. The former Jacksonville first-round pick may well have bowed out of this search earlier Thursday. Leftwich indeed balked at pairing with Baalke, according to Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com.

Pederson, 54, was the first candidate to meet with the Jaguars during the new in-season interview period. He also met with the Bears and Saints in the weeks following that initial Jags discussion.

Pederson clashed with Eagles management during his Philadelphia tenure, and SI.com’s Albert Breer notes his interest in the Jacksonville job cooled a bit because of the Jags’ commitment to Baalke. But Spielman’s potential arrival — for a position that could outrank Baalke’s — may have been enough to convince Pederson. The two share an agent, Breer adds (Twitter links).

The former Chiefs offensive coordinator went 42-37-1 as Eagles HC, with 2020’s disastrous 4-11-1 season heavily impacting that mark. Still, Pederson oversaw one of the most remarkable playoff runs in modern NFL history. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII as the NFC’s No. 1 seed but did so despite being underdogs in all three playoff games without Wentz. With notable assistance from then-OC Frank Reich, Pederson guided future Jaguar Nick Foles to two dominant performances to close out the Eagles’ championship run. The Eagles did not win 10 games in a season again under Pederson, however, with Wentz not playing up to his MVP-level form of previous years.

The Jaguars are attempting to shake off Shad Khan‘s poor Urban Meyer hire, and the team is in need of upgrades at most positions, having gone 4-29 over the past two seasons. Lawrence represents a potentially high-end centerpiece, adding to this job’s appeal despite the franchise’s struggles for most of the past decade and change. The Jags are also set to hold nearly $60MM in cap space, providing more resources for a rebuild. If nothing else, Khan figures to give Pederson plenty of time after the quick Meyer unraveling.

Latest On Jaguars, Rick Spielman

There are more signs pointing towards Rick Spielman being hired by the Jaguars. New details, more importantly, indicate that the position he is close to taking on would outrank that of general manager Trent Baalke (Twitter link via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones). 

[Related: Jaguars Interview Rick Spielman For Non-GM Position]

Specifically, Jones states that “momentum is gaining” for Spielman to “ultimately get a football position that reports directly to owner Shad Khan and is above [Baalke]”. That is an important distinction, given the fact that it was reported earlier this week that Spielman’s role was likely to be that of an assistant GM, allowing Baalke to be more ‘hands-on’ rather than handling day-to-day operations.

Earlier in the day, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that Spielman is headed for, essentially, a president role – something which many thought he would be transitioned to in Minnesota before he was fired. He adds that “there is progress being made” towards the hire becoming official. If it does, that would go a long way to easing concerns over the presence of Baalke, which has reportedly turned certain head coaching candidates away from the team.

On the point of the Jaguars’ HC vacancy, Garafolo also notes that Doug Pederson “would have been high on the Vikings’ list” if Spielman had remained in Minnesota. Between that, and the fact that Pederson has interviewed twice with Jacksonville, the Spielman hire becoming official would certainly point to the former Super Bowl champion getting the inside track for the HC job.

Jaguars Interview Rick Spielman For Non-GM Position

Amidst the confusion and controversy surrounding the Jaguars’ head coaching search, there has been a development of the front office side of the organization. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the team conducted an in-person interview with former Vikings general manager Rick Spielman on Monday (Twitter link). 

[Related: Latest On Jaguars’ Head Coaching Search]

Rapoport details that Spielman interviewed for a “high-level front office position”. However, as his colleague Mike Garafolo tweets, the role he is potentially taking on is not that of GM. That would mean incumbent Trent Baalke, who has been the source of much dismay in the Jags’ fanbase and is thought to be an impediment to the teams’ search for a head coach, is likely to remain in place.

Further to that point, Mark Long of the Associated Press reports (via Twitter) that Baalke was thought to be looking for an executive “to take on an assistant GM role to handle day-to-day operations”. The reason for that, he continues, would be to allow Baalke “to be more hands-on with players on the field”. It would appear, then, that a hire like this would alter, but in a sense, expand, Baalke’s duties in Jacksonville.

Spielman was fired along with HC Mike Zimmer on ‘Black Monday’. That brought his 16-year tenure with the team – which included the last 10 seasons as GM – to an end. While the team is clearly set to move in a new direction, there was a good deal of success during the 59-year-old’s time there. If he were to come to Jacksonville, he would at a minimum represent an experienced voice in front office decisions, and potentially even quell the concerns of interested candidates wary of having to work under Baalke.