Hiring Doug Marrone Raises as Many Questions for Jacksonville as It Answers

The Jaguars found their new head coach, but what does it really mean for the franchise?

The last question of the Jacksonville Jaguars' press conference announcing the new head coach and executive vice president of football operations was about the possibility of bringing in Ryan Nassib as quarterback competition.

Clearly, the new era in Jacksonville is flourishing.

The Jaguars were the first to fill a piece of the coaching vacancy puzzle on Monday afternoon when they hired interim head coach Doug Marrone for the full-time job. Marrone took over as the interim head coach in Week 17 after Gus Bradley was fired and won the permanent gig over a field that included at least five other coaches who were interviewed. That list included Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels, and Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

Jacksonville didn’t just hire a head coach, though. They also hired a new executive vice president of football operations in Tom Coughlin, which gives him final say over the 53-man roster. Along with that, the Jaguars gave general manager Dave Caldwell a one-year extension to match the three-year deals given to Marrone and Coughlin, though it appears his powers have greatly decreased with the two additions.

There’s a lot to take in with these hirings, so let’s examine a few of the big takeaways from Jacksonville.

Marrone Improvement

This will be Marrone’s second head coaching job in the NFL.

His first, a two-year stint with the Buffalo Bills, did not end with his firing. Instead, it was Marrone walking away from the franchise on his own accord.

The marriage between Marrone and the Bills was never smooth -- there were rumblings of the coach being incredibly thin-skinned during his tenure -- but Buffalo did improve in his two years at the helm. In the year prior to Marrone’s hiring the Bills were 6-10 and ranked 24th by our nERD metric, which is our calculation of how good a team really is, based on expected point differential against a league average team.

In Marrone’s first year, the Bills again went 6-10 but were a much improved team by nERD and our Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

In just his second year, the Bills improved to 9-7 and were a borderline top-10 team.

Year Record nERD (Rank) Adj. NEP/P (Rank) Adj. Def. NEP/P (Rank)
2012 6-10 -4.61 (24) 0.04 (17) 0.10 (31)
2013 6-10 -1.33 (18) -0.03 (24) -0.01 (8)
2014 9-7 3.00 (11) 0.00 (26) -0.05 (2)

It’s hard to tell how much of the improvement came from Marrone, though, because the unit with the best year-to-year uptick came on the defensive side of the ball. The launch to one of the league's best defenses also involved a switch in coaches.

Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator in 2013 when the defense went from second-worst in the league to a top-10 defense. Then the next jump came under Jim Schwartz in 2014 after Pettine was hired as head coach for the Cleveland Browns.

Part of a head coach's job is to identify good assistant coaches, and it appears that was a skill Marrone had for the defense. He won't be making a new hire for the Jaguars, as Todd Walsh will stay on as coordinator. However, almost every other defensive coach was let go.

Nathaniel Hackett was the offensive coordinator for those two years under Marrone, which saw E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton at quarterback for the Bills. Hackett was also on the Jaguars' staff and was promoted to offensive coordinator this past season after Greg Olson was fired after Week 8.

Hackett is expected to be kept on as the offensive coordinator, but the offense did not improve in the second half of the season when he was in charge.

Jaguars Offense NEP/P Passing
Weeks 1-8 0.02 0.03 -0.03 43.67%
Weeks 9-17 -0.03 -0.01 -0.07 41.80%

In all, the offense finished the 2016 season ranked 24th in the NFL after adjusting for opponent strength and play volume.

Quarterback Conundrum

The biggest question hovering over the future of the Jaguars is the status of Blake Bortles. The former third overall pick has one more year on his rookie deal at a $6.57 million cap hit and a fifth-year option available that will need to be decided upon by early May.

During the press conference, Coughlin claimed unenthusiastically, “Blake Bortles is our quarterback,” but the statement came with the same enthusiasm as the Baldwins claiming Stephen as part of the family. Questions surround Bortles’ future with the team because he frankly hasn’t been any good.

There were 39 quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times during 2016, and Bortles ranked 30th among them in Passing NEP per drop back. The year before that, he was 27th of 46 to meet that baseline.

While, after three years, many would claim enough has been seen of Bortles, especially with little else surrounding him expected to change, it appears the Jaguars are going to give the quarterback at least one more year to prove himself.

Should the Jaguars pick up the fifth-year option, it is only guaranteed for injury, which would again allow the team to part ways following 2017 with no dead money on the cap.

Future Outlook

Among the teams with coaching vacancies this offseason, it’s arguable the Jaguars presented the best young talent on a roster.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are plenty of promising young players. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was the sixth-most targeted cornerback in the league in 2016 but finished 17th in yards allowed per pass and 15th in Success Rate among 82 corners targeted least 30 times, per Sports Info Solutions Charting from Football Outsiders.

The defense as a whole was a rather impressive unit that ranked 14th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and should continue to develop.

Even after the Jaguars shelled out cash during free agency last offseason, they’re still projected to have the seventh-most cap space heading into the 2017 offseason, and that’s before figuring in the likely releases of veterans such as Jared Odrick and Julius Thomas.

Jacksonville didn’t take a new or exciting approach to hiring a new head coach -- it was pretty much the opposite -- but with the current talent in place and a placement in the worst division in football, there’s definitely an opportunity for the Jaguars to reach the potential many have thought they had over the past few seasons.