JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- How does a team go from minutes away from a Super Bowl appearance to picking in the top 10 of the NFL Draft?
For the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, there were two reasons. One was the me-first syndrome, which had players worrying about their own business, rather than the team. The second was "press clipping-itis," a disease that has stricken many a talented, young team -- meaning they stopped putting in the work.
The Jaguars' locker room frayed like an old blanket, and it could never get back to the same type of feeling the team had in 2017 when they surprised everybody and went to the AFC Championship Game. That was a game they led by 10 in the fourth quarter over the New England Patriots, only to see Tom Brady do Tom Brady things in a comeback.
Last year's team finished 5-11, but it was a year of turmoil. There were off-field issues and distractions, but the locker room was a mess as well. There were whispers about it all season, but now we're hearing it for certain.
"We had a bunch of individuals who wanted things for themselves, pay time for certain guys if you know what I mean," Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook said. "Those guys, I love them to death, but they're selfish ball. It's a team sport. You have one person feuding with another person, and then you've got that same person that's cool with two or three other people and then they are going to shy away from that same guy as well because they feel like they are turning on their brother. Or the person they are driving with when they leave the facility. So it's tough.
"With that being said, it's going to separate people. That's in everyday life. That's not just in the locker room. It's everywhere."
Jaguars corner A.J. Bouye backed up Westbrook's claim.
"We were focused on individual success," Bouye said.
As the young group came apart, veteran defensive end Calais Campbell tried to bring it back together, team sources said. He was rebuffed by many of the younger players in a disrespecting way at times.
That's how bad it was inside that building in 2018. Quite frankly, the Jaguars got full of themselves. There were also players more concerned with what they were getting paid.
"I understand money comes into the picture, but at the end of the day we all need to find that love for the game again we had two years ago," Westbrook said. "There were no expectations so we wanted go out there and we wanted to take it. Everything we fought for we earned it. We pretty much got lackadaisical."
Some of those players are now gone, but those who remain plan to learn from their mistakes. You can't just show up and expect to win.
Whether it was star corner Jalen Ramsey popping off in a national magazine article that caught the ire of team president Tom Coughlin or running back Leonard Fournette showing up out of shape and not fully into the playbook, it was a bad year all the way around for the Jaguars.
Even coach Doug Marrone admitted he had to change some of the ways he did things because it went so off the rails. The players say things are much better now.
"It's a new year," Bouye said. "We understood that we have to stick together."
It helps to have quarterback Nick Foles to lean on now too. He was signed as a free agent for $22 million a year away from the Philadelphia Eagles, a team he led to a Super Bowl victory 17 months ago, winning Super Bowl MVP in the process.
"He's a great leader," Bouye said. "He's taken control of the offense and we love him. He's a great quarterback. He's a Super bowl MVP. He's won at the highest level. We're all trying to get to where he's been. He's showing us how to be a pro, habits and everything, and just his approach to the game."
Harmony might be the biggest acquisition this team can make this season.
Expect Ngakoue to get paid sooner rather than later
The Jaguars opened camp with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue holding out in a contract dispute. Entering the final year of his deal, Ngakoue wants to be paid $20 million per season, but is scheduled to make $2.25 million this season.
The Jaguars are said to be willing to pay $19 million a season, which means they are not far apart.
In talking to sources, this seems like a deal that will get done. The team loves Ngakoue as a player, which is why they want him in camp and happy. They don't want him to show up on August 5 -- the day he will show up to make sure he gains an accrued season towards free agency -- an unhappy player.
The problem is the Jaguars traditionally don't like to negotiate with a player who isn't in camp. Even so, I think this is a deal that will get done at about four years and $20 million per season.
The Jaguars could opt to make him play out this season and then use the franchise tag him on him in 2020 if he has a big year. That isn't likely, but it is a card the Jaguars have in their pocket.
One other thing playing to their advantage is they drafted pass rusher Josh Allen in the first round. His ability to get sacks could hurt Ngakoue's value if he were to sit out games.
But I think the Jaguars brass sees this is a must-win season, which is why it makes sense for them to pay the defensive end.
Good and bad on the offensive line
The good news for the Jaguars on the offensive line front is the interior is healthy again. Center Brandon Linder, who missed seven games last season after injuring his knee in Week 10, is back working in full. Left guard Andrew Norwell played through an ankle injury last season and missed five games, but he's back healthy. Right guard A.J. Cann also battled some minor injuries but he re-signed with the team as a free agent.
The bad news is the tackle situation. Projected left tackle Cam Robinson still isn't working after tearing his ACL in Week 1 last season and the right tackle spot is currently being held by Cedric Ogbuehi, a Bengals castoff. But look for rookie Jawaan Taylor to be the starter early in the season, maybe even in Week 1.
If it's Robinson and Taylor starting at tackle, that's a year of starting experience since Robinson missed all of last season, which is a concern. Why Robinson isn't working is a bit of a mystery since his injury was 11 months ago.
Getting more from the receivers
The Jaguars' receivers remain a big question mark, but the mere addition of Foles will make the group that much better. With Marqise Lee still recovering from a knee injury, the top three receivers are Westbrook, D.J. Chark and Chris Conley, who signed as a free agent from the Chiefs.
Chark has improved his route-running from his rookie season, while Westbrook looked smooth in the work he did the day I watched practice.
"I am a lot more comfortable," Westbrook said. "I feel like I have the leeway to make the moves I was making in college. Now I have that confidence and swagger about me that I can trust it now."
A positive start for Fournette
Fournette showed up to camp in seemingly much better shape than he did a year ago when he was overweight and looked slower. He showed more pop on his runs Thursday, which is a must for this team. Fournette is never going to be a guy who consistently makes people miss, but he can be an effective straight-line runner. If he can get to 1,200 yards this season, the Jaguars will be OK with that.
One thing to keep an eye on this season is his being used more in the passing game. The team has been happy with what they have seen from him in the new offense under John DeFilippo, which could mean he would end with more than the career-best 36 catches he had in his rookie season in 2017.
New faces starting at safety
One of the things to keep an eye on in the preseason is the back end of the Jaguars defense. There will be two new starting safeties in second-year player Ronnie Harrison and third-year player Jarrad Wilson. They take over for Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson.
It's never a bad thing to get younger on the back end, but the experience could factor in here. Harrison, who looked more like a box safety coming out of Alabama, looks thinner and faster now in this scheme. He could be the breakout star on their defense in 2019.
"They came in last year and made plays," Bouye said. "We trust those guys. The work they put in the meeting room and out here on the field, we know they are going to do their best."
Back up the truck for Ramsey?
Jalen Ramsey showed up for camp in, which was a message being sent: I will get paid.
It just won't be this year.
The Jaguars will likely extend his deal next year and I expect him to become the highest-paid defensive back in the league. Ramsey is the best corner in football when he's at his best.
He didn't play to that last year for a variety of reasons, but look for a big year from Ramsey in 2019.