COMMENTARY | After a brutal stomping at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars are officially 0-8 - halfway to matching the 2008 Lions for the worst season in NFL history.
If the Jaguars do end up going 0-16, it would be the lowest moment in the team's 18 year existence, which has been filled with disappointment. In fact, the Jaguars may be the unluckiest NFL franchise of the modern era. Yes, the unluckiest - and this is including the Browns, who have had two playoff appearances in the last 24 years, and the said Lions, who on top of the 2008 tragedy had only won 27 percent of their games during the dreaded Matt Millen Era. The Jacksonville Jaguars cannot catch a break. Let me refresh your memory.
The Jaguars as a franchise started off with a bang. Just prior to their inaugural 1995 season, the Jaguars acquired young quarterback Mark Brunell in a trade for a 3rd and 5th round draft pick, Jimmy Smith - who had just been released by the Philadelphia Eagles - and spent their first-ever draft pick on USC left tackle Tony Boselli. After a 4-12 inaugural season, the Jaguars won nine games in 1996 and made the playoffs for the first time.
Many expected the Jaguars to be bounced relatively early in the '97 playoffs. Many felt they should have just been happy to be there. Nobody expected them to do much that year. The Tom Coughlin-led team proved everybody wrong and made it to the conference championship against the New England Patriots. The most notable moment of that postseason was a matchup against the Broncos, who were not only heavily favored to win the game, but the odd-on favorite to win the Super Bowl that year. The young Jaguars went into the Mile High city and defeated the mighty Broncos 30-27, in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history.
From 1997-2000, the Jaguars were one of the best teams in the league, compiling multiple division championships and playoff victories. Brunell was an above average quarterback, receivers Smith and Keenan McCardell were a dangerous tandem, and Boselli was arguably the best blind side protector of the '90s.
Not a bad start to such a young franchise. However, things took an ugly turn for the worst starting in 2000.
In April of that year, the Jaguars spent their first round pick on USC wide receiver R. Jay Soward. Soward was a breathtaking athlete who did not reach his potential at USC due to his apparent lack of concentration and off-field situations. However, the young man's potential was far too great to pass up and the Jaguars selected him with the 29th overall pick in the draft.
Soward was suspended multiple times for drug violations during his rookie season and ended the year with mere 14 catches for 108 yards and no scores. At the conclusion of the 2000 season, Soward was released by the Jaguars. He would never play another down in the NFL.
After subpar seasons in 2001 and 2002, the Jaguars fired Coughlin, hired Jack Del Rio, and drafted Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich - passing on guys like Terrell Suggs, Kevin Williams, and Troy Polamalu in the process.
Leftwich was serviceable when he was healthy, which wasn't often. The 6'5" quarterback's career in Jacksonville was sprinkled with a plethora of injuries, which ultimately harnessed his potential. He was eventually released prior to the 2007 season and has since been a professional clipboard holder. He is currently a free agent.
The Jaguars had a number of draft day disasters that continuously set the franchise back.
In 2004, the Jaguars drafted University of Washington receiver Reggie Williams with the ninth overall pick, ahead of guys like Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, and Ben Roethlisberger. Williams was a frustrating player for Jaguars fans, as he had a louder bark than bite. In the rare instance that he actually caught a football, he would celebrate right then and there on the field, while the rest of the team was trying to set up for the next play. Granted, in his defense, gaining a reception in an actual football game was a foreign concept for Williams - but this guy was doing the electric slide after 4 yard gains. Like Soward, he too had a knack for illegal substances, and was out of the league for good after the 2008 season.
2005 brought the Jaguars Arkansas quarterback-turned-receiver Matt Jones. Jones was a 6'6" freakish athlete who had a number of breathtaking highlights during his collegiate career. Similarly to Soward, Jones had too high of a ceiling to pass up, and general manager Shack Harris selected him with the 21st overall pick; three picks later, some guy name Aaron Rodgers was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. In an unfortunate trend for the team, Jones was yet another receiver with a drug problem, and was released by the team in 2009.
In 2006 and 2007, the Jaguars took UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis and Florida safety Reggie Nelson with their respective first round picks. Outside of the 2008 season, Lewis has been a colossal disappointment while Nelson was traded in 2010 after a depressing start to his career. Nelson would go on to have a semi-productive stint with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Then, in 2011, in what may go down as the biggest mistake in franchise history, GM Gene Smith traded up in the first round to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was coming off a mediocre season for the Tigers. Missouri runs a spread offense, which typically caters to the quarterback, leading to gaudy, unworldly statistics for a signal caller. However, Gabbert put up a mere 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions during his final collegiate season. Smith, made up his mind that Gabbert was going to be the face of the Jaguars after watching Gabbert perform in the Insight Bowl in 2010 - a game in which Gabbert threw a game changing pick-six, which led to a loss.
Gabbert has since won a paltry five games in the span of two and a half seasons, while averaging a miserable 66.4 passer rating and a 5.61 YPA. He is considered one of the biggest busts in NFL draft history.
From 2007 to 2010, the Jaguars selected 31 players, collectively. Of those 31 players, only one is currently on the roster. At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the Jaguars will likely have ZERO players drafted by the team from 2007 to 2011. Zero. That is how Smith, who was fired earlier this year, contributed to this team.
In free agency, the Jaguars have thrown big money at guys like Jerry Porter, Drayton Florence, and Hugh Douglas - all of which were extremely insignificant in their brief tenures with the team. Porter was a guy that had just 11 catches during his lone season with the Jaguars. Due to his large contract, he actually ended up earning over a million dollars per catch.
From 2008 to 2013, the Jaguars have had three GMs, three head coaches, two owners, and six different starting quarterbacks. After a failed rebuilding attempt that started in 2009, the Jaguars were forced to rebuild again in 2012. As of October 2013, they are the worst team in football and an easy punchline for the media.
While the franchise got off to a hot start in the '90s, the team has been a basement dweller for the most part, only making the playoffs twice in the span of 13 seasons.
However, with that said, 2014 should be the start of an ascending franchise. New GM David Caldwell and his staff have a long way to go before their team contends for anything significant, but if they are methodical with their decision making, they can change the culture in Jacksonville. The team will likely have the number one pick in the draft next May, likely take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater - who some consider to be the second best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning - and slowly fill the holes in their roster with their remaining draft picks and the near 30 million dollars in cap space.
The team has hit rock bottom, but the sun will shine on the Jaguars again. Jaguars fans may be the most patient fan base in the NFL, but it will all be worth it eventually. The team will rise again, but there is no denying that they have been the unluckiest franchise of the modern era.
Matt Gonzales is a Jacksonville native who has been following the Jaguars for the last decade. He graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in Journalism and is a contributing freelance writer for both Yahoo Sports and Cover32.com.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattgonzales25.
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