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Jaguars need GM Trent Baalke's experience, but 2021 could be a trial run

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars promoting Trent Baalke to general manager may not exactly mesh with the franchise’s fresh start under new coach Urban Meyer. But the move does make some sense, giving Meyer an experienced executive who can help him through the adjustment to the NFL.

Meyer said he’s spent the past year researching the NFL via conversations with some of his former players, as well as coaches and executives, and also dove into learning about the salary cap. But there’s obviously a huge difference between knowing the basics and actually operating under the salary cap, evaluating personnel and handling the day-to-day operations of an NFL team, as Baalke did as the San Francisco 49ers' GM from 2011 to 2016 before joining the Jaguars as director of player personnel in 2020.

However, here are two important things to know about the Meyer-Baalke pairing: The call to retain Baalke was Meyer’s, and this is essentially a one-year tryout for Baalke, who has been the interim GM since Nov. 29.

Though Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer reported that owner Shad Khan lobbied Meyer to keep Baalke, Meyer had the final call. Khan made it perfectly clear that Meyer is calling the shots when he said he wanted to change the way he’s had the franchise operate since he purchased it in November 2011 and put the coach at the forefront.

“We need to be a coach-centric team and organization, where the head coach really has to lead the kind of players he wants, the kind of team we need to be,” Khan said. “And the general manager, myself, we have to support that mission. And somehow, someway, that had been lost.”

That means Meyer is essentially the GM without the title and the franchise will be shaped by his vision. Baalke will have significant responsibility, especially when it comes to contracts, salary cap, player evaluation and the draft, but Meyer ultimately has final say.

It’s a similar situation to the Carolina Panthers' hiring of coach Matt Rhule last year. Owner David Tepper hired Rhule -- who had coached in the NFL for just one season as the assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants in 2012 -- away from Baylor and retained Marty Hurney as the general manager, pairing the inexperienced Rhule with a 27-year NFL executive.

That lasted only a year, however. Rhule and Hurney didn’t mesh: Per ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton, Hurney was “old-school,” but Tepper and Rhule wanted an analytical and data-driven person in the role. Rhule and Hurney got along well personally, but it wasn’t a good fit philosophically and the Panthers fired Hurney last December. (Hurney is now the Washington Football Team’s GM.)

Could that be the case in Jacksonville with Meyer and Baalke? We’ll have to see, but there will be people Meyer trusts who are aligned with his blueprint for the franchise working under Baalke. If there are major disagreements over player evaluations, whom to pursue in free agency or any other areas in which Meyer is clear about what he wants, then this could be a one-year deal between the two.

Baalke has been a successful GM. He spent six seasons in San Francisco and hired head coaches Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, and Chip Kelly before being fired along with Kelly after the 2016 season. However, San Francisco went 51-44 and made three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship Game during his tenure.

After Baalke became San Francisco’s GM in 2011, he hired Harbaugh away from Stanford and the 49ers went 13-3. Baalke received NFL Executive of the Year honors from Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America. San Francisco made the Super Bowl the following season, losing to Baltimore 34-31.

That résumé clearly impressed Meyer and made Baalke his choice to help him begin reconstructing the franchise.