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Byron Leftwich Can Turn the Jacksonville Jaguars Around

Ryan Phillips
NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC Divisional Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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Reports from Tuesday evening are claiming Byron Leftwich will be named the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 42-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator will get his first head coaching gig back where his playing career started. Leftwich, perhaps more than anyone, knows the challenges of playing in Jacksonville. That's why he has a great shot at turning the franchise around.

The Jaguars selected Leftwich with the No. 7 pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. The Marshall product spent four largely unsuccessful seasons with the team, but did manage a winning record (24-20) despite struggles in finding consistency. Despite prototypical size for the position (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), Leftwich struggled with his accuracy. After stints with the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers and Buccaneers, Leftwich's career was done in 2012 at 32 years old.

It didn't take long after his retirement for Leftwich to land a good coaching gig. Bruce Arians hired him as a coaching intern with the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 and by January of 2017 he was named the team's quarterbacks coach. He then served as interim offensive coordinator in 2018. He was fired in December of 2018 along with head coach Steve Wilks. A few days later, Arians hired Leftwich as his offensive coordinator with the Buccaneers.

In his three years in Tampa Bay, Leftwich led Jameis Winston to his best season, then worked with Tom Brady in 2020 and 2021. He was a significant part of the Bucs winning Super Bowl LV. Tampa's offense was 23rd in DVOA in Leftwich's first year, then jumped to third in 2020 and first in 2021. In 2020, Arians said Leftwich had been running the offense by himself and didn't know why he was passed over as a potential head coaching candidate.

Leftwich is credited for his positive attitude, the collaborative way he works with players and an exceptionally high football IQ. The fact that he's worked under a proven coach like Arians, and earned the trust and respect of a guy like Brady while winning a Super Bowl immediately gives him credibility.

The Jaguars are a unique franchise that present unique challenges. They play in an incredibly small market, the owner is flirting with moving his team to London part time, and the team has been bad for most of the franchise's existence. Leftwich knows all of this from his time as a young quarterback there.

If he is the Jaguars' next head coach, Leftwich won't be walking into as big a disaster as the team's 3-14 record might show. He'll have an all-everything young quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, plenty of talented skill players like James Robinson, Trevis Etienne, Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones, more than $61 million in salary cap space, plus the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Things could be worse.

While the top pick is likely to be used on an edge rusher -- either Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux -- the Jags could use the top pick in the second round, plus two third-round picks to upgrade the offense. There's a lot of room to improve the roster, and quickly.

No, Leftwich will not be taking over a ready-made contender. But the Jaguars are in pretty great shape despite their recent on-field performance. They already have their quarterback, have gotten him some weapons, have a number of great draft assets and an ocean of cap space. As far as rebuilding situations, this is pretty ideal.

Leftwich will bring his career full circle if he is indeed hired by the Jaguars. He knows the challenges that job presents and might be better suited than anyone to take them on.

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