JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Running back Fred Taylor wanted to end his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, hoping to join the small list of standout players who spent an entire NFL career with the same team.
He won’t have the chance.
The Jaguars released Taylor on Monday, parting ways with their all-time leading rusher after 11 seasons and continuing the team’s offseason makeover.
Head coach Jack Del Rio and team owner Wayne Weaver flew to Fort Lauderdale earlier Monday to meet with Taylor and deliver the news. Del Rio made it clear the Jaguars have no plans to re-sign Taylor, who turned 33 last month and was scheduled to make $6 million next season.
“We felt like the best thing for this football team is what it has to be about,” Del Rio said. “We feel good about the talented group of backs that we have … and as you work through it, it’s difficult to come up with a role that’s going to be acceptable for everybody.
“It makes it awkward. It makes it difficult. We came to an agreement on what the best course of action was as a football team.”
And that was to move on without Taylor, who ranks 16th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 11,271 yards, 81 behind John Riggins.
Releasing Taylor was no surprise since he clearly had become the second option behind Maurice Jones-Drew. But deciding to not even try to bring back the longtime team captain was somewhat shocking, especially since the Jaguars endured chemistry issues last season after letting go of some veterans and bringing in high-priced free agents Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence.
The Jaguars released Porter and Florence last week. They also parted ways with longtime personnel chief James “Shack” Harris, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson and a few other assistant coaches.
Taylor was next in line.
Del Rio said it was time to turn the offense over to Jones-Drew, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who has scored 40 touchdowns in three seasons. Former second-round draft pick Greg Jones also is expected to see more touches.
“This was a difficult decision to come to, but a decision that had to be made despite how we all feel about Fred,” Jaguars general manager Gene Smith said. “We all respect and appreciate what Fred has done, and we feel that he can still play in the NFL, but in our current situation, we believe this is the right move at this time.”
Taylor, the ninth overall pick in 1998, made his first Pro Bowl in 2007 after running for 1,202 yards and a career-best 5.4 yards per carry.
The Jaguars had hoped to see the same production last season. But Taylor finished with 556 rushing yards and averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry behind an injury-riddled offensive line. It became obvious — even to Taylor — that the team needed to get Jones-Drew more involved.
Taylor spent the final three games of the season on injured reserve after tearing ligaments in his left thumb.
Although Jacksonville never gauged trade interest in Taylor, Del Rio said he believes the running back will have a shot with another team.
“He’s got some talent,” Del Rio said. “I’m sure there is going to be some interest in him. I can’t speak for other teams. I know Fred’s done a great job taking care of his body and has been a complete stud in the time we’ve been here. I’ve said that several times. He’s been a good teammate, he’s been a guy that’s all about winning and I’ve been impressed with the way that he’s conducted himself since I’ve been here.
“You don’t turn 33 without losing a step, but he’s clearly worked hard. He’s worked hard to allow himself to play at a high level. To hold off talented youngsters, you’ve got to do that, and he’s worked his tail off to have that be the case.”