JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars had secured the team’s first division title since 1999 and first playoff appearance since 2007, but in the days before the Jaguars played host to Buffalo in an AFC wild-card game, owner Shad Khan didn’t want to talk about whether he was considering contract extensions for Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone.
That would be something better left to the offseason, Khan said then.
“I don’t think this is something I’d be addressing at this point,” he said. “This just happened a year ago, OK? So it’s three years for everybody. I think they’ve done a great job, and I would like nothing better -- I’m not sure this is the right time to really discuss that.”
That might have meant Khan didn’t feel it proper to publicly discuss extensions before the season ended. Or he might have wanted to see how the playoffs went -- in which case, the team’s surprising run to the AFC Championship Game would certainly be additional reason to extend its executive VP of football operations, general manager and head coach past 2019.
However, it might be in Khan’s best interest to wait a little longer before deciding to commit additional seasons and money to the trio. As good as the 2017 season was for the Jaguars, it is the aberration and not the norm. The Jaguars have been bad for nearly a decade, and one season isn’t proof the franchise has absolutely turned the corner and will annually be one of the favorites in the AFC.
There are plenty of examples of teams that flopped after a very good season:
The 2016 Miami Dolphins went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and the second time since 2001. However, they lost their playoff game and then went 6-10 in 2017, both for the same reason: an injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Now, there’s doubt as to whether Tannehill, who signed a four-year, $77 million contract with $45 million guaranteed that expires after 2020, is indeed the team’s franchise quarterback.
The Indianapolis Colts made the playoffs in Andrew Luck's first three seasons (including the AFC Championship Game in 2014) but haven’t won more than eight games in any season since and nobody seems to know if Luck will ever be the same player because of shoulder issues.
The Baltimore Ravens made the playoffs for five consecutive years, capped by a Super Bowl title after the 2012 season, but have made just one playoff appearance and posted only two winning seasons since. Quarterback Joe Flacco has started all but six games (torn ACL) since that five-year streak began in 2008. The Ravens’ once-dominant defense has eroded, and coach John Harbaugh’s seat is getting pretty warm.
Injuries, aging talent, missing in the draft and free agency, and poor game-day management can send a team tumbling from the playoffs to a losing record relatively quickly, and it can be a long, arduous climb back. The solid franchises are consistently successful, and right now the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are the model.
The Patriots have made the playoffs in 15 of the past 17 seasons and have won five Super Bowls in that span. The Steelers have made the playoffs 12 times in the past 17 seasons and have a pair of Super Bowl victories in that stretch. Their consistency in an era in which parity rules the league is remarkable.
The Jaguars knocked off the Steelers and could have (and should have) beaten the Patriots. They did it by building on some successful drafts (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue and Telvin Smith) and signing the best free-agent class in franchise history (A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell and Barry Church). The Jaguars also were remarkably healthy and got a career year from quarterback Blake Bortles, who might not be back in 2018.
Can the Jaguars duplicate that success in 2018? The AFC South, on paper, could be the most competitive in the league. They will play a first-place schedule that includes Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New England and Super Bowl champ Philadelphia.
Maybe Khan wants to see if Coughlin, Caldwell and Marrone can do it again before making any additional commitment. Former GM Gene Smith convinced Khan in 2012 that the team was a player or two away from competing for a title, but the Jaguars instead went 2-14. Khan has not forgotten that.
The trio is under contract through the 2019 season, so there is no rush. Khan might have already made up his mind, but you couldn’t blame him for waiting to see if the Jaguars' success can be sustained beyond one season.