The Jacksonville Jaguars saw their season end on Sunday, but there are a multitude of reasons to be excited about 2018 and beyond.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have nothing to be ashamed of.
Jacksonville, which was widely expected to miss the playoffs for the 10th straight season, won the AFC South before beating the Buffalo Bills and stunning the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC playoffs. Against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Jacksonville took a 20-10 lead before the Patriots put on a stirring comeback, scoring two touchdowns in the final nine minutes to end Jacksonville’s season.
Still, there is nothing that should diminish the accomplishments of a young team with a ton of talent. Jacksonville isn’t scheduled to lose any significant contributor from the 2017 season, making the future all the brighter. The Jaguars, which are largely built on their aggressive, attacking defense, have Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, A.J. Bouye, Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngaloue and Marcell Dareus locked up for years.
Perhaps the best news is that the team can pivot away from quarterback Blake Bortles if it wants. The Jaguars are due to pay Bortles $19 million for the 2018 season, but can cut him before the new league year in March for no penalty. In a wonderful twist for the fans in Duval County, there are a bevy of good signal-callers available in free agency including Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford. Alex Smith might be available via trade, likely costing a draft pick or two.
If there is any concern on the horizon, it’s the rising amount of talent in the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts are going to have a new head coach and hopefully, a healthy Andrew Luck under center. The Houston Texans have Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus returning to a team that looked very dangerous before Watson tore his ACL at the midseason mark. Then there are the Tennessee Titans, who reached the AFC Divisionals before firing Mike Mularkey and replacing him with Mike Vrabel.
Even with that, Jacksonville should be confident. The Jaguars will have a projected $17.6 million in cap space, which can more than double if Bortles is shown the door. That kind of money can go a long way toward landing an upgrade at quarterback and then fortifying the rest of the offense, presumably adding some weapons on the outside and at tight end.
It always stings to lose in the playoffs, with the hurt intensifying with each step taken. For a while, Jacksonville and its fans are going to wear the defeat, hoping that it can make another run next year that sees two more victories tacked onto the end.
For now, the pain endures, but so does the belief that better days are ahead for a team that should only be starting its ascension into being a title contender.