When Gus Bradley was introduced as the fifth head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he said what sold him on coaching here was one word: "passion."
Fast-forward to present day and despite their overall record, this team has displayed an amazing amount of passion and desire to get better with each passing week.
Serving as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks under head coach Pete Carroll, Bradley witnessed one of the most passionate head coaches in the NFL build a powerhouse. Using the NFL draft as his weapon of choice, Carroll has crafted one of the most impressive rosters this league has seen in years.
The exciting part for Jaguars fans is that Bradley and general manager David Caldwell have a real opportunity to emulate that same formula right here in Jacksonville.
With just a few weeks left in the season, it's time to find out why the 2014 offseason will be a turning point for this franchise.
Growth and Improvement
Talking about his general manager and head coach in a conversation with Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union, Jaguars owner Shad Khan said, "I thought Dave and Gus were absolutely the two right guys for the job and as the season has unfolded, if I could be convinced more, I am."
Boasting a 4-9 record, the Jaguars have turned a disastrous start into one heck of a rebuilding campaign. With dynamic players like Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders and Maurice Jones-Drew all playing well, this Jaguars offense is oozing with promise.
Defensively, it's been a growing process. Take rookie safety Jonathan Cyprien for example. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cyprien started off the season with nine-straight negatively graded performances.
But after enduring that rough patch, Cyprien has looked much better as of late, registering positive grades in three out of his last four games.
It's improvement like this that should get Jaguars fans excited about the future. Clearly with Bradley in charge, players have responded to his leadership and done their absolute best to get better.
The Hunt for a Franchise Quarterback
The biggest point of emphasis for the Jaguars this upcoming offseason will be pursuing the services of a franchise quarterback.
But as long as the Jaguars continue finding ways to win football games, the path to drafting that franchise QB will continue to get smaller.
Looking at Bleacher Report writer Matt Miller's big board, the ideal quarterback for the Jaguars to draft would be University of Louisville superstar Teddy Bridgewater.
Although he has some flaws to his game, Bridgewater has shown on film that he possesses just about every quality you would want in a starting quarterback. From his outstanding vision in the pocket to his keen accuracy, there's no question Bridgewater would be a wonderful addition to this blossoming Jaguars offense.
Sadly, winning three out of their last four games, the dream of Bridgewater now appears to be nothing more than well, a dream. So what happens if they miss out on the Louisville signal-caller in next year's draft?
Fueling the fire of Cutler's chance to hit free agency, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said during a Q-and-A session with fans on ChicagoBears.com, that he wasn't sure about using the franchise tag on the 30-year-old quarterback.
With Yahoo! Sports reporting that Jacksonville will have an estimated $40 million in cap room this offseason, the Jaguars could make a play to land the veteran quarterback.
Throwing for 23,224 yards and 149 touchdowns in his career, Cutler has proven that he is a quality starting quarterback in this league.
Whether it's signing Cutler, drafting Bridgewater or going after another prospect in the upcoming draft, the Jaguars front office has to realize that the success of entire offseason hinges on landing a top-tier quarterback.
For all of the growth we've seen from this Jacksonville defense, one of the biggest areas they need to address this offseason is adding guys who can get after the quarterback.
Registering a dismal 23 sacks so far this season, the Jaguars have had major issues attacking the line of scrimmage. If Bridgewater's name has been called by the time the Jaguars are on the clock, this team has to consider drafting an elite pass-rusher with their first-round pick.
Going back to Matt Miller's draft board, some of the most intriguing pass-rushers that stand out are South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
Although both players appear to be transcendent talents on tape, Clowney would be the better fit for Jacksonville's 4-3 defensive scheme.
Possessing an Incredible Hulk-like amount of speed and power, there's no question Clowney would improve this Jaguars defense right away.
But despite his obscene skill set, and the mountain of promise he brings as ESPN's Todd McShay points out (subscription required), Clowney has generated some concerns because of the lack of effort he's displayed in recent weeks.
No matter who they settle on, the Jaguars have to secure a bunch of quality players who can obliterate opposing quarterbacks every chance they get.
Finding Free Agents
With the luxury of having a potential $40 million in cap space to spend during the 2014 offseason, the Jaguars will get a chance to address some positions of need in free agency.
The main problem with luring any of these potential free agents down to Jacksonville is well, it's Jacksonville.
It's going to be Khan, Caldwell and Bradley's job to make sure free agents buy into the culture they've built and, perhaps, overpay some players to join this team.
Names like Michael Bennett, Alterraun Verner and Henry Melton would be great additions for this punishing style of defense.
|Notable 2014 NFL Free Agents|
|Eric Decker||Wide Receiver||26|
|Darren McFadden||Running Back||26|
|Hakeem Nicks||Wide Receiver||25|
|Jeremy Maclin||Wide Receiver||25|
|Henry Melton||Defensive Tackle||27|
|Michael Bennett||Defensive End||28|
For the Jaguars, the 2014 offseason is a crucial chance for this team to turn things around.
Whether we're talking about chasing a franchise quarterback or bringing in free agents to help bolster this roster, it really is an exciting time to be a Jaguars fan.
Just think, a year ago former general manager Gene Smith and head coach Mike Mularkey were running the show. Now with Shad Khan, David Caldwell and Gus Bradley in-charge, a quality football ecosystem is being constructed right before our very eyes.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless noted otherwise.
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