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Jaguars still tough sell as contender

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been in the AFC South basement for years. The last time that Jacksonville won the division dates back to 1999, when it was still called the AFC Central. Since 2008, every season has either seen the Jaguars finish in third or last place, showcasing mass ineptitude.

Once again, this offseason was filled with Jacksonville throwing money around like a frat kid at a blackjack table. The Jaguars spent lavishly on corner A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell, adding to a roster that saw an influx of free-agent talent last year that included Malik Jackson, Chris Ivory, Kelvin Beachum, Prince Amukamara, Tashaun Gipson and more. The result? Jacksonville went from five wins down to three, and head coach Gus Bradley was shown the door.

This year, we’re all somehow supposed to believe it’s going to be different. Doug Marrone was elevated to head coach after working as an offensive assistant under Bradley, and he’s tasked with trying to get this moribund franchise back on track. Marrone, who coached one year with the Buffalo Bills and went 9-7 before utilizing his opt-out clause, has his work cut out for him.

For starters, Marrone will need to get a much better performance out of quarterback Blake Bortles. Many were excited about the former first-round pick after his 2015 showing, which included 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns, albeit with a league-high 18 interceptions. Last year, the wheels came off in a major way as Bortles watched his mechanics erode into chaos. The former Central Florida star threw another 16 interceptions, while throwing for an inflated 3,905 yards.

Bortles has the physical gifts to play the position, but he’s been saddled with a rancid offensive line and poor mechanics, made worse by lousy coaching. Unfortunately, there is not one reason to think the line will be any better this year, as Jacksonville continues to tinker without actually adding high-end talent. The front office did acquire Branden Albert for Julius Thomas this winter, but Albert has been a malcontent, seeking a new deal despite mostly mediocre play with the Dolphins during his three years in Miami.

Beyond Bortles, Marrone has other hurtles to clear. The Jaguars have a long-instilled culture of losing, something that has taken a serious toll on the fans. Jacksonville must break through the malaise and start energizing the people of Duval County. Without that, the Jaguars have no home-field advantage to speak of. In that same vein, Jacksonville has a contract to play at least one home game in London every season, further hurting the cause.

The notion Jacksonville could be better this season is valid; it would only need to win four games. The notion that the Jaguars can make any real noise? That’s a stretch for a team that hasn’t done anything notable in a decade.

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