At the end of the 2021 season, some Jacksonville Jaguars fans took their frustrations over another losing season out on general manager Trent Baalke, constantly referring to the GM as a "clown" on social media. Scores dressed as clowns to close out the campaign in protest of Baalke's continued employment.
Owner Shad Khan resisted the urge to fire Baalke, and the GM used the "clown" label as motivation.
The opening scene of episode one of The Hunt, an inside look at the Jags' offseason, produced by the club, shows a small clown figurine Baalke keeps on his desk.
"Some fan sent that to me," Baalke said of the clown. "It was a little clown figurine, and I said, 'You know what? I'm going to put it there to remind myself every day why I come to work,' what my purpose is, I guess. It's to prove them wrong."
What a difference a year of winning makes.
Following the team's 9-8 campaign, AFC South title and extraordinary wild-card victory, the vibe in Duvall has changed. Even a Jags fan who started a petition to fire Baalke has rethought his position.
With Trevor Lawrence back on track and Doug Pederson providing steady leadership, things are trending upwards in Jacksonville as offseason hype builds towards the 2023 NFL Draft, where Baalke will have a new challenge ahead.
"The basic way it's different is we have 23 people that pick before us," he said of the draft, where the Jags hold the No. 24 pick after picking No. 1 the past two drafts. "You know, the last couple years, we've had zero, so it's our job to get the board stacked, to work hard with the coaching staff, to get as much information about these guys as we can and make sure we're bringing guys into this culture that fit what we're trying to build here and what we are building here."
There has been a lot of Jaguars hype this offseason, notably after Calvin Ridley was reinstated to join the club. If the draft unfolds well for Baalke, those vibes will likely lead to Jacksonville being the favorites in the division entering the campaign.
But if ever Baalke shades toward getting too confident in the rebuild, he need only look at the little clown on his desk to be reminded of all the doubters.