Jacksonville Jaguars in Driver's Seat for Trevor Lawrence After Ngakoue TradeAugust 30, 2020
Let the cries of "Tanking for Trevor" begin because the Jacksonville Jaguars are well on their way to securing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Jacksonville entered a full-blown rebuild once it traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Minnesota Vikings whether the organization is willing to admit its current direction or not. On paper, the Jaguars are the NFL's worst team entering the '20 campaign and best positioned to eventually claim the future top selection, thus securing a franchise quarterback prospect.
In this case, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the likely target, especially since the ACC is slated to play this fall while Ohio State's Justin Fields may not have the opportunity to do so.
Nothing could make the Jaguars' direction more obvious than the opportunity to flip Ngakoue to the Vikings for a 2021 second- and conditional fifth-round draft pick, giving them valuable future assets and added financial flexibility.
Sure, Ngakoue was a malcontent who demanded a trade and refused to sign the franchise tag. His willingness to negotiate a deal for considerably less than the actual franchise allotment says everything about how badly he wanted out of Jacksonville.
Some might even argue the move is addition by subtraction as the Jaguars attempt to rid their locker room of any potential disruptions.
With all of that in mind, Jacksonville's roster is less talented today than it was yesterday after the organization traded its franchise player. The significance of such a move only adds to the previous perception that the squad is the league's worst, as Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged it months ago.
The steps the team took throughout the offseason and even beforehand signal a major transition. One organizational source even told NFL.com's Michael Silver the franchise sees itself in a "functional retool," as it should. The amount of turnover throughout the franchise within the past year is staggering.
Less than three years ago, the Jaguars played in the AFC Championship Game and held a second-half lead against the New England Patriots before falling short of a Super Bowl appearance. Jacksonville looked like an ascending franchise on the strength of a dominant defense. Life came at it fast, as Establish the Run's Evan Silva noted:
Since October, the Jaguars traded Ngakoue, quarterback Nick Foles, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. The front office also declined Marcell Dareus' contract option for this fall and released wide receiver Marqise Lee.
Would running back Leonard Fournette be next in line? The Jaguars answered that question by waiving their lead back on Monday.
Originally, the Jaguars shopped the 2017 fourth overall pick before and during this year's draft while looking for a middle-round selection in return because Fournette is viewed as "a negative locker-room presence," per Silver. The team's leading rusher made sure to congratulate Ngakoue on his way out the door:
What the Jaguars still have is a young and talented, albeit mostly unproven, roster.
"I think we're gonna be young and hungry and tough—and I think they're gonna come together," head coach Doug Marrone said. "For me, it's exciting."
Jacksonville is now one of the league's most asset-rich franchises. The team ranks fourth with $30.3 million in available salary-cap space, which can be rolled over to next year and the front office can add to a projected $58.7 million for 2021, per Spotrac.
The team already has two picks in both the first and second rounds of the '21 draft after making 12 selections this past April, including the additions of cornerback CJ Henderson and edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson in the opening frame.
To be fair, the Jaguars will go out and compete, because they're mostly young and don't know any better. They have some intriguing pieces in place with Henderson, Chaisson, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., right tackle Jawaan Taylor, defensive end Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack and even quarterback Gardner Minshew II.
"If you asked me whether I preferred to play Cam [Newton], Andy Dalton or Gardner, I'd say Gardner," an NFL assistant coach told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "He's younger, he can make plays when things aren't perfect and he's accurate.
Although, Minshew's status with the team is entirely reliant on how the squad finishes this season, since an organization isn't going to go into a second season with a sixth-round pick as its starting signal-caller if the team finished with a top-three, if not No. 1 overall, draft pick.
The systematic deconstruction of the previous roster makeup sets Jacksonville up for failure while simultaneously placing the franchise in the best possible position to improve its long-term health.
It's doing everything possible to obtain the golden ticket, which would result in drafting the most discussed and desired quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck entered the league eight years ago. As Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer mentioned, other organizations are also loading up on draft assets in an attempt to acquire Lawrence, though the approach will be moot for all but one.
Lawrence isn't a perfect prospect, like Luck seemingly was, but the junior quarterback certainly fulfills many of the requirements NFL teams want in their offensive commander.
He's 6'6" and 220 pounds with unique movement skills thanks to his deer-like strides. His calm, cool demeanor under duress and high-pressure situations resonate throughout the Tigers program. No questions about arm talent or toughness exist. Yes, Lawrence needs to improve his decision-making and consistency with ball placement, especially downfield, but the 20-year-old uber-prospect should continue to grow by way of additional reps and experience (as long as college football ensues as planned).
The Jaguars will have competition to be the worst the NFL has to offer.
Their '95 expansion era classmates, the Carolina Panthers, underwent massive organizational and roster upheaval this offseason. The Cincinnati Bengals aggressively attacked the offseason after selecting LSU's Joe Burrow with this year's No. 1 overall pick. They should be better than last season's 2-14 performance, but their growth will likely be incremental. The Washington Football Team endured sweeping change across the franchise and could undergo even more among the ownership group. The level of uncertainty Ron Rivera and Co. face doesn't bode well from an on-field perspective.
Each of these squads will likely compete to become the NFL's worst, but only one has been earmarked throughout the league for the spot. As Breer relayed, the Jaguars were already considered the "Trevor Lawrence Team" based on their future-driven approach to this past offseason.
The chosen one is coming to reclaim a franchise, and the Jaguars have done everything in their power to place the organization in a position to go from a functional rebuild into a near-complete teardown with renewed commitment after previous personnel and on-field failures.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.