Jacksonville Jaguars' Gene Smith Must Balance the Team's Future with His Own

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistJuly 31, 2012

Smith is leaning on Mularkey to keep the team together.
Smith is leaning on Mularkey to keep the team together.Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE

I don't envy Gene Smith.

Three years into his tenure as general manager, the Jacksonville Jaguars have won just 20 games, and have started training camp with hold outs for two of their biggest stars.

In both cases, Smith is tasked with protecting the long-term interests of the team at the possible expense of short-term results.

There's little question he is handling the hold-out of Maurice Jones Drew correctly. Virtually no one outside of the running back's inner circle believes he should get a new deal. The NFL is a passing league, and there's no need to overpay running backs, even the most talented ones.

Doing the right thing could cost Smith his job, however. If the Jaguars lose Jones-Drew for any extended period of time, the odds are good the offense will suffer. While it's right for the team to hold its ground, doing so may well sacrifice the 2012 season.

If that was the only issue facing Smith, he would deserve our sympathy, but unfortunately, the troubles run deeper.

Justin Blackmon still isn't in camp either. While Pro Football Talk insists the sides are talking, the hang-up is over long-term protections for the franchise.

While Smith tries to protect the future of the team, many are reporting that the offense is having a tough start to camp.

For a GM with a more secure job, these calls would be easy to make. Smith has a responsibility to do what's best for the franchise, but you have to wonder if he'll survive in his position long enough to reap the benefits.

Will owner Shad Khan be patient with him if his hard-line stance ends up retarding the growth of the offense leading to another sub-.500 season?

Will the fans patiently endure more promises of next year, after waiting so faithfully through a protracted rebuild?

The good news for Smith is that the players who are in camp seem to be responding well. It's entirely possible the team will show no ill-effects from the absences of Blackmon and Jones-Drew.

Unfortunately, anything but winning won't satisfy the fanbase. While it's true fans are on the side of management now, in the long run, gaining fan support at the expense of the players is a losing proposition. Fans don't buy tickets and merchandise with the GM's name on the back. The die-hards will understand, but the casual fan won't be so kind.

Jacksonville needs the casual fan.

The Jaguars need to build up their players in the eyes of fans, while at the same time protecting the best interests of the team. Smith needs Jones-Drew and Blackmon, but he needs them on his terms.

Meanwhile, valuable days continue to be crossed off the training camp calendar without the two biggest offensive weapons being present.

No, I don't envy Smith at all.