Gene Frenette: Jaguars are getting Trevor Lawrence, so America should just deal with it

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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Trevor Lawrence, seen here holding the MVP trophy after beating Notre Dame for the ACC Championship, is going to the No. 1 NFL draft pick for the Jaguars. Like it or not, America will have to accept the fact the Jaguars could be on a path to sustained success.

Maybe it’s because nobody in the NFL world saw this coming in mid-September, back when the Jaguars fired that season-opening salvo at the Indianapolis Colts, followed by a questionable Myles Jack pass interference penalty from maybe knocking off the Tennessee Titans,

The Jaguars at that time looked, you know, possibly decent before it all imploded. Even as the season progressed, with them becoming a piñata on defense, then Minshew Mania turning into crickets and the team resuming their customary place of irrelevance, there was no real inkling of a franchise-transforming moment about to hit.

As long as the hapless New York Jets remained winless and in control of the No. 1 draft pick, the Jaguars were a blip on the football radar.

But in a span of eight days, thanks to the Jets’ unexpected resurrection from a football coma, the Jaguars and Jacksonville have suddenly become a target of national derision for reasons other than having a league-worst 52-123 regular-season record since 2010.

More:Trevor Lawrence returns to scene of worst performance, only loss of college career

All due to a two-word affliction — Trevor Envy — that has permeated a significant portion of the NFL landscape, especially the New York area.

Suddenly, it’s as if the Jaguars and their black-and-teal faithful have pillaged and burned property, ridiculed motherhood and hanged Joe Namath in effigy.

Who knew that all it took to earn punishment in the football universe — other than coaching a team blowing an important game or being a phone when Bill Belichick doesn’t like what he hears — was to win the draft rights to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Since Jaguars’ fans began rejoicing immediately after locking up the top NFL draft pick Sunday, they’ve had another reason to celebrate. Just seeing people on social media and national pundits come at their team/city for, in their view, somehow being unworthy of college football’s golden boy. So it makes them feel extra warm inside, knowing the Jaguars are about to land one of the most coveted draft prizes ever and can also rub it in the critics’ faces.

For once in the franchise’s brutal history, something went gloriously right and Jaguars’ supporters are not only reveling in their fortune, but enjoying those who grimace at Lawrence being Jacksonville-bound.

One of the more perplexing Twitter reactions came from respected ESPN veteran journalist Jeremy Schaap, an 11-time Emmy award winner. He says he has long favored the NFL not awarding its top pick to the league’s worst team, despite it being common practice across the major pro sports landscape.

But then Schapp followed that up by tweeting: “Jacksonville doesn’t deserve Trevor Lawrence; the Jags deserve relegation.”

More:Gene Frenette: With Trevor fever spreading, a Jaguars' blowout loss never felt so good

Seriously, what have the Jaguars done, beyond losing, to deserve that level of vitriol? Is the fact Schapp happens to be a New York City native and resident, and maybe partial to the Jets, behind such an extreme line of thought?

I don’t know, but the negativity directed at Jacksonville’s franchise and the city itself because the Jaguars happened to land the No. 1 pick is clearly a jealousy thing. There’s no other explanation.

Jacksonville has long been thought of as an NFL outsider anyway, ever since the city sprung the upset of landing an expansion franchise in November, 1993. The league even tried delaying the announcement of a second team after giving one franchise to Charlotte, all in hopes that St. Louis’ ownership group or maybe Baltimore could get their act together. Both candidates fumbled, and owner Wayne Weaver’s more unified Jacksonville group capitalized on the turnover.

Over the last decade, the Jaguars and, by extension, Jacksonville has been an easy punching bag. It probably doesn’t help that the city keeps struggling to develop a vibrant downtown, but the football team’s dreadful record is what largely triggers the contempt.

And now that Lawrence is presumably heading to Jacksonville, the delirium in the 904 has been met with a lot of are-you-kidding-me reaction from the NFL world. There have been off-base comments about Trevor losing potential endorsement dollars because he’s not going to New York, a take that is both ignorant and laughable.

Just look at the current two most marketable NFL stars in quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, the 1-2 commercial punch for State Farm insurance. They play for the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, both among the six smallest league markets.  

The most prominent pitchman in NFL history, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning (remember him imploring the butcher in a MasterCard commercial to “Cut That Meat?”), didn’t see his off-the-field wealth take any hit because he played in small-market Indianapolis for most of his career.

Lawrence as NFL-ready as he'll ever be

Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from wondering if Lawrence will pull a John Elway or Eli Manning and force a trade to a different team. I’m still answering emails on whether Clemson’s quarterback might simply return to school, even though he already has a degree, to avoid coming to Jacksonville.

Look, Lawrence is as NFL-ready as he’s ever going to be. There isn’t one aspect of his game or profile (accuracy, toughness, mobility, aptitude,  character, etc.) up for questioning no matter what happens in Friday’s College Football Playoff matchup with Ohio State.

Does anyone honestly think Lawrence, a small-town guy from Cartersville, Ga. (pop. 20,000), would not feel comfortable in Jacksonville? Or that he would delay his NFL entry and the instant lifetime wealth – last year’s No. 1 pick, Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow, received $36.2 million in guaranteed money – that comes with it?

Yet many on social media, scoffing at the notion of Trevor becoming a Jaguar, continue to float the idea that those long, blond locks will somehow be suiting up elsewhere.

One tweet on Tuesday from @Anna_lewis35, a Tennessee Titans fan, seemed to relish in that fantasy, saying: “It’s gonna be funny as hell if Trevor Lawrence goes back to school and all these Jags fans have been talking s--- for nothing.”

Of course, none of this would be happening if anybody but Lawrence was the presumptive No. 1 pick. Nobody was trashing the Bengals or their fans last year in anticipation of landing LSU’s Burrow, who had just come off the most phenomenal college season anybody could possibly script.

No, this is all about the Jaguars, a team accustomed to being the object of so much disdain, finally catching a huge break that could potentially put the franchise on a path of sustained success. If they hire the right coach-GM combination, make quality use of their 11 draft picks and $80 million-plus in salary cap space, there’s no telling where this generational quarterback could take the Jaguars.

Maybe that’s what really irks the national naysayers. They see this highly-coveted prize likely coming to Jacksonville and, deep down, it scares them.

The Jaguars and their fan base have suffered through years of misery, so how could you not expect them to revel in the hope of what Trevor Lawrence can bring? Just deal with it, America, and let Jacksonville enjoy the ride for however long it lasts. (904) 359-4540

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