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The Jaguars only have themselves to blame for the Jalen Ramsey debacle

In the last two years, the Jaguars have made all the wrong moves and alienated their best players.

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey in uniform, mouthguard hanging outside helmet.
Jalen Ramsey has requested a trade from the Jaguars.

Jalen Ramsey was every bit the player the Jacksonville Jaguars hoped he’d be when they drafted him top five in 2016. But now the two-time Pro Bowler is headed to the Los Angeles Rams.

The good news for the Jaguars is that the trade ended up getting them the haul they were after. About a month after Ramsey first demanded a trade, the Jaguars relented with a trade to the Rams that nets them first-round picks in 2020 and 2021, as well as a fourth-round pick in 2021.

The bad news is that a great player — the only First-Team All-Pro they’ve drafted in the last 13 years — is gone.

His Week 2 sideline spat with Doug Marrone wasn’t the reason Ramsey requested a trade. That was just the tip of the iceberg. It was a brouhaha with a Jaguars executive after that game — reportedly executive vice president Tom Coughlin — that officially caused the cornerback to ask to be on another team.

The reality, though, is that the cornerback’s frustrations with the Jaguars were brewing for a long time. And frankly, how could they not be?

Twenty months ago, the Jaguars played in the AFC Championship against the Patriots. Had it not been for a poor officiating call in that game, the Jaguars likely would’ve gone to the Super Bowl too. In the nearly two years since, much of that roster has fallen apart.

Jacksonville did everything possible to alienate its best players and create the mess it currently has on its hands. When Ramsey asked for a trade, they had won just two of their last 14 games, and all that losing had taken its toll.

“I just want to fucking win,” Ramsey said in a press conference less than 24 hours after reports surfaced of his request. He didn’t say much else during his presser, a change of pace for a player who’s refreshingly honest — sometimes to a fault — about his thoughts. This time, he didn’t have to spell things out, though.

It’s clear Ramsey lost faith that the Jaguars are an organization capable of turning things around. If not for a shockingly strong start to the career of sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew, the Jaguars very well may be a winless team right now. It’s not hard to understand why Ramsey wanted out.

Just one defensive player has received an extension in the last 2 years

Jacksonville’s 2017 season was a success because of its elite defense. No team in the NFL allowed fewer points, yards, plays, or time of possession per drive than the Jaguars that year. That defense forced a franchise-record 33 turnovers and finished with 55 sacks.

Six Jaguars made the Pro Bowl then, all of them defensive players: Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Malik Jackson, Telvin Smith, A.J. Bouye.

Yet, the one player who was rewarded handsomely for the Jaguars’ deep postseason run was turnover-prone quarterback Blake Bortles. He signed a three-year, $54 million contract with Jacksonville that included $26.5 million in guarantees, despite finishing that 2017 season 20th in passer rating.

It, unsurprisingly, blew up in the Jaguars’ face.

Bortles didn’t magically transform into a quarterback worth that kind of money. He continued to throw too many interceptions and struggled when injuries wiped up much of the offensive talent around him in 2018. He was released after the season and the Jaguars are eating $16.5 million in salary cap space just to have Bortles off the team.

The significant investment for the Jaguars in the 2019 offseason was again at quarterback. The team dished out a four-year, $88 million deal to Nick Foles with $50 million guaranteed — bidding against themselves in the process.

It’s not the Jaguars’ fault that Foles suffered a broken clavicle less than 10 minutes into the season. It is their fault that the overpriced contract is a big reason why salary cap space is running low.

It wasn’t until the end of August when a key defensive player finally got a contract. Myles Jack — a player who wasn’t a member of the Pro Bowl sextet in 2017 — signed a four-year, $57 million contract before the 2019 season began.

But in the time between that AFC Championship run and Jack’s extension, much of the dominant defense was gutted. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safeties Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church were all released, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was traded to the Rams, and cornerback Aaron Colvin left in free agency.

Ngakoue, who tallied 29.5 sacks in his first three seasons — more than any other player in his draft class — held out from training camp in hopes of a new contract and didn’t get one. Ngakoue isn’t even half the mercurial personality that Ramsey is, but voiced his displeasure about how the negotiation played out.

Ramsey also made his desire for a new contract known in 2019 and was told it wasn’t even worth asking.

That decision made sense with Ramsey under contract through the 2021 season, thanks to the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.

However, three of the four players picked ahead of Ramsey in the 2016 NFL DraftJared Goff, Carson Wentz, Ezekiel Elliott — have already signed lucrative extensions that make them among the highest-paid at their respective positions. Meanwhile, Ramsey is making about $3.6 million in 2019, despite having a strong argument as the top cornerback in the NFL.

While he wants a raise, Ramsey brushed off the suggestion that it’s the reason for his trade request. But he did mention that he was happy to see Jack get a contract extension, and told the media multiple times that Ngakoue deserves one too.

Ramsey’s dissatisfaction with the Jaguars’ roster-building strategy was understandable, especially when the team was terrible on the field too.

The Jaguars’ coaching is failing the talent

One of the most surprising aspects of Jacksonville’s fall from grace was the amount of coverage busts allowed by the previously dominant defense. For some reason, the Jaguars opted to play a puzzling amount of zone defense in 2018, leading to coverage lapses.

That’s been true in 2019 too. The Chiefs carved up the Jaguars in Week 1, recording 491 total yards and 40 points due to gaping holes in the Jacksonville secondary.

The Jaguars defense has too many veteran players to make those kind of mistakes, but it’s also worth questioning why the team is playing that way. There was no secret sauce to Jacksonville’s success in 2017: It bullied teams up front and locked down receivers with a pair of top-flight cornerbacks.

Ramsey is fed up with the team not getting back to what made it great in the first place:

Doug Marrone’s decision to ignore Ramsey’s pleas for a challenge in Week 2 initially seemed like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Ramsey denied that was the case.

“Requesting the trade was something that has kind of been building for over a little bit of time,” Ramsey told Nate Burleson. “It was more about the front office and the organization.”

According to Ramsey, it was a postgame meeting with the front office was sealed the deal. “Some disrespectful things were said on their end that made me definitely walk out and call my agent as soon as I walked out,” Ramsey added.

Alas, nearly two years of bad choices by the Jaguars led to the molehill quickly becoming a mountain.

A trade became an inevitability

This saga didn’t have to end with Ramsey getting traded this season. The Jaguars were asking for two first-round picks and change, and that’s what they got mostly because they had no sense of urgency to move him for anything less than that price.

It helped too that the whole damn league wanted Ramsey.

Owner Shad Khan advocated for keeping the cornerback. According to the Associated Press, Khan had several meetings to try to resolve the conflict and was reportedly ready to give Ramsey the contract he wanted.

But Ramsey didn’t back down on his request. He told Burleson, “I’m not sure if I’ve played my final game for the Jags yet or not, but my trade request still stands.”

Still, it seemed like a situation that could be resolved in the offseason — especially after Ramsey helped the team beat the Titans, 20-7, in Week 3. It looked like Ramsey planned to continue to play good football for the Jaguars all year. It was, after all, in his best interest to continue proving he’s worth a pricy investment.

Having Ramsey on the field was a good situation for the Jaguars to keep benefitting from. But it was also in Ramsey’s best interest to stay healthy, so when his back wasn’t quite feeling 100 percent, there was no reason in his mind to play through it. He sat out the Jaguars’ last three games and the defense struggled as a consequence.

His absence pushed the trade request into an inevitability and now he’s a member of the Rams. The Jaguars got their asking price, but before they celebrate too much, they should ask themselves how they ruined such a good thing so fast.