A 2-11 stint mired in controversy led to the firing of Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer just 13 games into his NFL coaching debut. The Jags pressed the reset button and began a coaching search for his replacement. Several names swirled the rumor mill, and the decision ultimately led to former Philadelphia Eagles head man Doug Pederson returning to the sidelines for the 2022 season.
The former NFL quarterback turned coach went 42-37-1 in 80 games with the Eagles, famously winning Super Bowl LIII in an upset over the New England Patriots. Pederson’s Eagles made the playoffs in three of his five years.
Pederson broke into professional coaching as quality control coach for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He coached quarterbacks for a few years and went on to become the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid.
One immediate difference between Pederson and his predecessor is demeanor. The Jaguars now have a player-friendly coach who knows how to push the right motivational buttons rather than attempt to dictate every facet to the Nth degree. On the heels of a catastrophic year, a good ole boost in team morale arrives along with Pederson.
Pederson fully embraces his roots in a West Coast-based system but has spread elements. When it comes to actually calling plays, Pederson is unafraid to take chances (see: Philly Special) and looks to establish game plans based around exploiting matchups. He’s an aggressive yet balanced play-caller but is even better at designing the call sheet.
Absolutely every single aspect of Pederson’s system finding success in Jacksonville centers on what he can get out of Trevor Lawrence. The 2021 NFL Draft’s first overall choice started hot in his pro debut and sputtered to one of the least inspiring rookie performances among highly touted freshman passers. In Lawrence’s defense, he was surrounded by chaos and limited offensive talent.
It will be Pederson’s chief task to get Lawrence on the right footing. Being a former quarterback himself, Pederson’s experiences as a Super Bowl-winning coach, 13-year player, and developer of young quarterbacks has the Jaguars feeling like they made the best choice in what was a crowded field of viable candidates.
The coaching staff is rounding out with prominent hirings of Press Taylor to be the offensive coordinator and long-time NFL coach Mike McCoy being tabbed as Lawrence’s positional coach. According to Pederson’s introductory press conference, he’s expected to handle the play-calling duties. Taylor’s role will focus on game planning and likely serving as the passing game coordinator. He was on Indianapolis’ staff last year as a senior offensive assistant and previously was a member of Pederson’s coaching team in Philly as a QBs coach, among other roles.
In Pederson’s five years coaching Philadelphia, his offenses were mostly balanced:
Rank by highest percentage of passing attempts
The West Coast offense thrives when it can remain balanced enough to keep defenses off-guard, which creates reliable play-action passing, the ability to successfully run bootlegs, and effective zone-read options.
Play-calling tendencies are complex, so it’s not an automatic transcendence to a different year or franchise, but we have a pretty good sample size from Pederson’s time with the Eagles that didn’t feature wild swings in style. An example of what would create disparity to the extreme is a poor defense tends to produce more passing attempts than what might be desired, whereas a team that can consistently jump out to a lead usually is closer to even-keel, if not run-heavy. Considering Pederson’s teams were never more pass-happy than 9th and no worse than the 11th-lowest ratio, his consistency is evident.
First and foremost, it all comes down to protecting Lawrence. The Jaguars have three 2021 starting offensive linemen scheduled to enter free agency. Look for ’21 second-rounder Walker Little to replace Cam Robinson at left tackle. Ben Bartch was rock-solid filling in for A.J. Cann, a long-term starter who played only four games last year due to injury. With Cann facing free agency, look for Bartch to enter as the starting right guard.
From the skill position side of the equation, Jacksonville has a strong running game to rely on with James Robinson and Travis Etienne (foot) expected to be in the mix to an unknown degree. The former is proven; the latter talented enough to command respect. Both can contribute on all three downs.
WR DJ Chark Jr. is set to become a free agent as he looks to rebound from a fractured ankle. His sophomore year positioned the LSU product as a potential WR1 entering Year 3, but Chark’s 21-game absence over four years has made him a liability. He also is largely a deep threat and should be a WR2. The free-agent pool at the position is quite deep, which suggests he’s on the way out the door.
Tight end is a major area of need, especially in this offensive system. Look for the Jaguars — a team with deep coffers — make a strong bid for one of the top players available on the market, such as Dalton Schultz on a long-term pact or Zach Ertz as a short-term stopgap to reunite with Pederson.
Otherwise, the Jaguars are in fantastic shape to do as they please in free agency. This is the fifth-youngest team with an average age of 25.71 and has 51 players under contract. The defense doesn’t face much in the way of worrisome personnel losses, so it will be closer to retooling than rebuilding.
Only two teams have more cap space, and Jacksonville is an increasingly attractive location as Pederson looks to bring stability to a team with one of the most promising young passers since Peyton Manning entered the league. And to sweeten the pot for perspective incoming free agents, Florida doesn’t have a state income tax.
Fantasy football takeaway
There’s not going to be a great deal of fantasy contributors to discuss until the offense fills out a little more at wideout and tight end. We need to see more playmakers in the picture before anyone can suggest Lawrence will dramatically ascend based on maturation or Pederson’s tutelage alone.
WRs Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault had all of the chances in the world in 2021 to shine, and neither player was able to live up to even the most modest of preseason expectations. It’s not even a guarantee Jones will remain on the roster. Due to bonus structuring, he’ll cost $2.71 million in dead money to trade him post-June 1, but trading Jones after that date is nearly double. Cutting him before or after 6/1 nearly doubles the dead cap space. At 32, it’s unlikely anyone will trade for him coming off a down year.
The underachieving Shenault remains on his rookie deal, so the likeliest scenario sees the Jags making a big-money push for a legitimate No. 1 wideout, such as Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson or possibly Davante Adams should Aaron Rodgers retire.
As mentioned, tight end remains unresolved, but the history of Pederson’s offense points to a strong fantasy contributor just waiting for a nameplate to be stitched onto a jersey.
We’ll revisit the fantasy football outlook as player movement settles after the upcoming draft.