The Jaguars are a terrible football team, and one of the biggest disappointments of the 2018 season. And now, 10 months after facing the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and a day after losing to the Bills, the team has fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
"We would like to thank Nathaniel Hackett for his hard work and dedication to the Jaguars organization, and we wish him and his family the best moving forward," coach Doug Marrone said in a statement. "These are always tough decisions, but as head coach, I have to do what I think is best for this football team."
Hackett arrived in Jacksonville with Marrone in 2015 and he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2016. The Jaguars' best offensive showing came last season, when they ranked 16th (15th in passing, 12th in rushing), according to Football Outsiders' metrics. But replacement-level was as good as this group would be; in 2016, they ranked 27th (23rd in passing, 28th in rushing) and through 11 games this season, they were 28th (28th in passing, 24th in rushing).
It's unfair to blame Hackett for just how poorly the Jaguars performed; he was stuck with Blake Bortles, who was given a three-year, $54 million extension last offseason. Running back Leonard Fournette, the fourth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, missed six games this season with a hamstring injury, and he was ejected in Sunday's loss after fighting with a Bills player. And then there's the offensive line, which has been decimated by injuries. Fair or not, Hackett's being blamed for this mess.
Warren Sharp makes a convincing case why Hackett deserves criticism. Meanwhile, Hackett told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport shortly after his dismissal that he thought he was meeting with Marrone to discuss benching Bortles.
"It wasn't anything negative," Hackett said. "(Marrone) just decided to make a move. I guess he didn't think I was good enough, that's the only thing I can think of. It's a shock."
Back in January, as the Jaguars were making their way through the AFC with playoff wins over the Bills and Steelers, Hackett conceded that Bortles, the 2014 first-round pick, remained a work in progress.
"We've had some ups and downs, we've had some good stats, some bad stats, some good wins, some really bad losses," Hackett said at the time. "It's been one of those things, he's awesome and I'm really lucky to coach him."
That luck has run out. This season Hackett appeared afraid to trust Bortles with little beyond handing the ball off. He attempted just 18 passes in Jacksonville's demoralizing Week 11 loss to the Steelers -- in a game they led 16-0 -- and Bortles was 12 of 23 for 127 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions on Sunday against the Bills.
And while we're not surprised Marrone felt like he needed to do something -- the Jags have now lost eight straight -- here's the thing: Bortles is still in Jacksonville. After an offseason in which the organization was uninterested in Case Keenum, Kirk Cousins and Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback position is bordering on a full-blown crisis. Benched earlier this season for Cody Kessler, Bortles carries a $21 million salary-cap hit in 2019 and would count $16.5 million in dead money if he was released, according to Spotrac.
As it stands, the Jaguars will have a top-10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and they should seriously consider finding their next franchise quarterback, even if that means eating Bortles' salary. In case you're wondering, in our latest mock draft we had Jacksonville taking Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert.