Even though things cooled off for general manager Trent Baalke, he was undoubtedly under increased scrutiny when the Jacksonville Jaguars offseason began. As was the case with former head coach Urban Meyer, Jags fans were vocal in their desire to get Baalke out of the organization, but ownership kept him and gave him another shot.
Now, with nine days left in training camp, many remain skeptical of Baalke as he has struggled to find success since his early days as a general manager.
NBC Sports’ Patrick Dougherty is among those skeptics, as he ranks Baalke No. 28 in his general manager rankings, which look at the best executives (or groups) in the league.
27. Trent Baalke, Jaguars
Promoted to Urban Meyer’s bodyguard last year, Trent Baalke couldn’t stop the clown car from veering off the road. The Jags fired Meyer but chose to let Baalke consolidate his power. That’s quite a vote of confidence for a general manager whose best idea since Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco was hiring Jim Tomsula. Tasked with rebuilding a roster that won more than six games once since 2010, Baalke at least had to push the easy button on his first major decision. Trevor Lawrence had a nightmare rookie year amid Meyer’s buffoonery, but he remains an enviable building block. Another ranking at No. 32 allowed Baalke to pair Lawrence with EDGE rusher Travon Walker, a talented but curiously unproductive SEC sackmaster. He also hired a “safe” head coach in Doug Pederson, a Super Bowl winner who wore out his hospitality in Philadelphia surprisingly quickly. With a coach and quarterback in place, Baalke threw money at his other issues, lavish deals on Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, CB Darius Williams, LB Foyesad Oluwokun and DT Foley Fatukasi, among others. It’s not the way you’d normally go about it, but most teams don’t usually come off a 3-14 campaign with a quarterback. Nothing in Baalke’s or Jacksonville’s recent history suggests this will be a successful partnership, but Baalke’s stabilizing spring has at least given this arranged marriage a chance to see if there’s any love beyond the dowry.
The Jags’ front office can best be described as “diverse,” with owner Shad Khan describing their approach as “collaborative” this offseason. While this seems to indicate that Baalke and Doug Pederson are working together on front office decisions given his tenure with the team, Baalke’s involvement in those decisions and his history as a general manager deserve a closer look.
Baalke is entering his eighth season as general manager and most of his time as general manager has not been productive. In fact, half of his tenures have resulted in six wins or fewer, including the 3-14 record the Jags amassed last season.
When Baalke found success as a general manager, it was with the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh. From 2011-13, the 49ers were quite impressive, reaching two conference championship games and a Super Bowl. And while they all finished with losses, their team was considered elite with notable names like Colin Kaepernick, Alden Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman leading the way.
However, a power struggle between Harbaugh and Baalke led to things falling apart, and Baalke hasn’t been able to find or connect with the right coach since. Of course, this worried Jags fans coming into the season, as Hahn kept Baalke despite the bad reputation he had among his peers.
After years of finding opportunities as a general manager, Baalke may be his last shot when it comes to leading the front office. That’s exactly why he should be able to coexist with Pederson.
Like his time in San Francisco with Harbaugh, Baalke now has a good coach who excels at coaching the offensive side of the ball and the quarterbacks. Combine that with the fact that Baalke was fortunate enough to draft one of the top-ranked quarterback prospects, and the veteran general manager has the key components for franchise success. He can add to that and make the Jags’ roster as elite as the 2011-13 49ers, but the key will be making better talent evaluations than he has in the past, as well as finding a way to work with Pederson.