Gene Frenette: Jaguars losing OT Taylor a test of GM Trent Baalke's draft acumen

·7 min read
Jaguars' offensive tackle Walker Little (72), seen here during last year's training camp, is a second-round draft pick (2021) investment that must pay off now that Jawaan Taylor left to sign an $80 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jaguars' offensive tackle Walker Little (72), seen here during last year's training camp, is a second-round draft pick (2021) investment that must pay off now that Jawaan Taylor left to sign an $80 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sometimes one of the toughest strategies for an NFL front office is formulating a game plan of how much it’s willing to pay a productive player to remain with the franchise.

That’s precisely the situation the Jaguars and general manager Trent Baalke faced with right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, and pass-rusher Arden Key going to the Tennessee Titans for a three-year $21 million payday.

The Jaguars could only go so far trying to keep both players, one of whom hit a pot of gold to play for a Super Bowl champion and the other wanting a legitimate opportunity to earn a starting job.

It’s not that Baalke didn’t want Taylor or Key, but he had no realistic shot to keep either player. The separation was certainly about money, but not all of it.

Moving forward, this becomes a test of how Baalke constructed the roster and his ability to replace proven players. And at this time, nobody on the Jaguars’ roster outside of Trevor Lawrence is indispensable, though several players are important cogs.

Every team spending crazy money the way the Jaguars did last year in free agency, plus later pulling the trigger on acquiring receiver Calvin Ridley, reaches a point where the strategy to become a sustainable winner must take them in another direction.

In addition to exercising financial restraint, the Jaguars must trust that players they drafted like tackle Walker Little can fill the void left by Taylor’s departure.

Despite Little’s injury history at Stanford, it didn’t deter Baalke from using a second-round pick (45th overall) on him in the 2021 draft. It’s now way past time to find out how well that investment is going to pay off.

Whether Little slides into Taylor’s spot or goes back to left tackle if knee-impaired Cam Robinson isn’t ready to start the season, the Jaguars believe he’s a long-term answer at tackle.

Baalke, who was unfairly vilified by a vocal segment of the Jaguars’ fan base during the turbulent Urban Meyer 2021 season, has made a lot of right moves in the past year. He got much better value out of the free agency class – Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, Darious Williams, Foye Oluokun among others – than anyone forecasted.

Now it’s time to see if players such as Little, Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd can live up to their high draft status. Other Baalke selections like Travis Etienne, Tyson Campbell, Andre Cisco and Lawrence all paid dividends in their second season.

A GM is entrusted to acquire good personnel and determine at the appropriate time whether the price tag to keep that talent is worth it.

Baalke deserves high marks so far for signing free agents and being solid in the draft. His arrow is pointing up after the Jaguars’ 2022 playoff run. One way to keep that trend going is seeing replacements for Taylor and Key perform at a similar or better level next season.

Minshew vs. Jaguars would be good theater

If one thing can be gleaned from the Gardner Minshew two-year tour of duty with the Jaguars, it’s that the popular quarterback is only interested in going to a team where he can compete for a starting job instead of being content as a backup.

By signing Thursday with the Indianapolis Colts, who will almost certainly draft a quarterback in the No. 4 slot, Minshew at least has a shot at starting until the Colts’ rookie QB (possibly Florida’s Anthony Richardson) is ready to take over.

That means it’s possible the Jaguars could face their former popular QB, which would be a much-anticipated matchup. Despite losing 10 of his last 11 starts, Minshew would relish the opportunity to beat his first NFL employer.

Minshew is good enough to have a run of a decade or more as an NFL quarterback, likely more as a backup than a starter. But he has so much moxie, you can never count him out.

NCAA tournament trivia

Kansas’ Bill Self is the only coach in this year’s tournament with a chance to capture a third NCAA championship. Can you name the three other coaches Self would tie with three titles on their resume if the Jayhawks win? Answer at bottom.

UF football/hoops fade at finish

Florida’s embarrassing performance in a 67-49 home loss to UCF Wednesday in the National Invitation Tournament had a familiar look to it. Three months ago, the Gators’ football program also ended their season with an eyesore 30-3 defeat to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Not that expectations were high for either team, considering UF basketball was missing star center Colin Castleton (broken hand) and Gator quarterback Anthony Richardson opted out of the bowl game to focus on NFL draft preparations.

Still, it was a terrible look for Todd Golden’s program to play most of the second half against UCF like it had checked out. The 49 points was the least the Gators scored at home since beating Auburn 43-40 on January 13, 1962, back when there was no shot clock or three-point line.

The top priority for Golden should be retaining UF’s best player, Riley Kugel, who wouldn’t commit after the game to staying in Gainesville. Teammates Kowacie Reeves and Niels Lane entered the transfer portal within 24 hours of the UCF loss.

Tough act to follow for JU’s Haney

When Darnell Haney took over the Jacksonville University women’s basketball program, school administrators hoped he could keep a tradition of sustained winning established under his former boss, Yolett McPhee-McCuin.

But unlike Tom Wasdin five decades ago, who kept the men’s basketball Dolphins relevant after they went to the NCAA title game in 1970 under Joe Williams, the Lady Dolphins under Haney couldn’t duplicate the magic they had with McPhee-McCuin, now the head coach at Ole Miss.

Women’s college basketball is a tough sell in northeast Florida. It’s hard to recruit enough difference-making players, though McCuin and her magnetic personality pulled it off.

Haney, 64-75 overall and 32-48 in ASUN play, was plagued by injuries at times, but the bigger issue is McPhee-McCuin set an awfully high bar. The Dolphins were a formidable challenger to Florida Gulf Coast, the league’s most dominant program in any sport, during her tenure, but Haney won only one ASUN tournament game.

Whoever JU hires to replace Haney will face the same uphill battle. Five years after her departure, Coach Yo still casts a long shadow.

Quick-hitting nuggets

As much as free agent tight end and Bolles School product Hayden Hurst wanted to stay with the Cincinnati Bengals, the team put a higher priority spending big money on offensive tackle Orlando Brown, so Hurst, 29, accepted his best offer from the Carolina Panthers (3-years, $21.75 million). Cincinnati was also willing to let Hurst walk because it’s loading up for extensions next year for Burrow and receiver Tee Higgins. Hurst better hope whichever quarterback Carolina drafts with the No. 1 pick pans out.

Considering the Los Angeles Rams gave up two first-round draft picks and a fourth-round choice to acquire Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars in 2019, it was surprising they dealt him to the Miami Dolphins for only a 2023 third-rounder and tight end Hunter Long. Ramsey, 28, is right in his prime and for all of his diva ways, he’s still one of the top two or three cornerbacks in the NFL. The Dolphins practically stole him.

NCAA trivia answer

Self can tie three coaching legends in North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Indiana’s Bob Knight and UConn’s Jim Calhoun if he wins his third NCAA title. Those with more than three are UCLA’s John Wooden (10), Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (5) and Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp (4). (904) 359-4540

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars' best move was to let OT Taylor leave, trust Walker Little fills void