Too many cooks in kitchen for Titans, Jaguars

Posted March 22, 2012 @ 2:37 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

The Jets on Wednesday got their man, then temporarily lost their man, then got their man again. The Jaguars played it cool when they thought their man was a Jet — then went all in without really going all in to try and swoop him away from the Jets — then failed to get their man again.

Of course, there was also another fairly well-known QB who found a new home this week and a story coming out of New Orleans you might have heard about.

Just another crazy day in the NFL, I guess.

But for the purposes of this column, the plan is to focus on the Jaguars — as well as another AFC South team that in the past few weeks taught us yet again why NFL owners should focus on being owners and let their football people focus on football. In the case of both the Jaguars and the Titans, and namely Titans owner Bud Adams and Jaguars new owner Shahid Khan, their inability to show restraint cost their teams, perhaps dearly.

Can I blame Adams for trying to lure Manning, one of the more beloved athletes ever in the state of Tennessee and a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, to his club? Hardly. The acquisition of Manning could have been a game changer, instantly propelling the Titans to become serious AFC South contenders and perhaps even more. But the club’s failed pursuit for a guy whose position was already pretty well set in Nashville might have prevented it from landing another game changer, Mario Williams, who would have immediately fixed the issue that ails the Titans more than any other — getting after the QB.

In fairness, I think the Titans’ consolation prize, OLB-turned-DRE Kamerion Wimbley, was a nice get for the club. Multiple times this offseason, GM Ruston Webster showed his ability to call an audible when required, first tossing his initial, logical free-agency plan out the window to go after Manning before quickly setting his sights on the next-best remaining pass rusher once Williams and Manning were off the table. But that won’t stop me from wondering if Williams wouldn’t have scheduled a trip to Nashville after his visit to Buffalo. And it certainly won’t stop me from wondering how dangerous Williams might have made a young, ascending “D” that is clearly still a playmaker or two away.

By comparison, I also can’t really blame Khan for his desire to land Tim Tebow, whose popularity in his hometown of Jacksonville likely rivals Manning’s in Tennessee. Still, it’s hard to argue that Khan didn’t place dollar signs ahead of trying to improve his team when he ordered GM Gene Smith and his staff to try and acquire a player whom Smith had zero interest in. Khan admitted after buying the team that his expertise was not football, yet he couldn’t avoid stepping on Smith’s toes because of the magical allure of Tebowmania.

The problem for the Jaguars now is that Khan has started down a slippery slope. I can count on one hand — minus virtually all five fingers — the number of times when an owner has successfully delved into the football operations. After all, there is a reason why owners hire GMs.

But after his first few months on the job consisted of sticking to the business side, Khan has dipped his toe in the football waters and it would be naïve to think it won’t happen again. Actually, it would be naïve to think it won’t happen again with Tebow once Mike Tannenbaum and Co. finds out how impossible it is to have such a polarizing and powerful figure on the team. John Elway had the ultimate out — Peyton Manning — but having a four-time league MVP hit the free-agent market and allow a team to hit the reset button without fear of fan backlash was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Tebow is likely to become available again in the future and it says here that Khan will again ignore the input of his football folks to try and bring Tebow home.

While Webster is off to a nice start as the Titans’ lead decision maker, there is less confidence from league observers regarding Smith’s ability to make the Jaguars a contender. However, he is the guy Khan signed off on receiving a three-year extension before he took over ownership of the team, which means Smith is the guy Khan is going to sink or swim with — for now. Different people provide different timetables on how safe Smith is in Jacksonville. I, for one, think he will have the 2012 season, at least, before Khan assesses what improvement Gabbert and Smith’s other draft picks have shown with the aid of a new coaching staff, hand-picked by the GM.

However, if things quickly deteriorate this season and Khan finds it necessary to make a move, I can’t help but wonder the impact Khan’s meddling ways will have on his ability to land a well-respected GM whenever that time comes.