Team owner Wayne Weaver talked with about 10 players Monday, then had a lengthy meeting with Del Rio. The coach explained what went wrong this season and outlined a plan to fix things. Weaver responded by asking Del Rio to give up control of the defense.
Weaver also made it clear that Del Rio needs to make the playoffs in 2011 to keep his job.
"If we're not in the playoffs, it's pretty apparent we'll have a different coach," Weaver said.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis said players will embrace Weaver's challenge.
"Pressure either makes pipes burst or makes diamonds," Lewis said. "We're going to make diamonds. We're heading in the right direction. We almost made the playoffs this year. We know how close we are. We know we can get it done."
Weaver declined to renew contracts for Del Rio's assistant coaches, meaning they will be on one-year deals next season. So if Weaver fires Del Rio and his staff in 2011, it would only cost the small-market franchise a little more than $5 million.
Only Philadelphia's Andy Reid, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and New England's Bill Belichick have been with their NFL teams longer than Del Rio. All of them have made the Super Bowl. Del Rio, meanwhile, has one victory in two playoff appearances.
That looked like it might change this season, but the Jaguars (8-8) ended with a three-game losing streak and blew a chance to clinch the AFC South title. Jacksonville ended last year on a four-game slide, and the team is 4-11 in December and January under Del Rio the last three years.
Del Rio, 66-65 with the Jaguars, is the first coach since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to lead the same team for eight years without winning a division title.
Weaver has shown patience with the franchise's progress, even keeping Del Rio after he changed front-office personnel following the 2008 season and parted ways with a large portion of the roster.
Weaver said he only took into account the last two years during Del Rio's evaluation, not the entirety of the coach's eight-year Jacksonville tenure.
"There's no point in looking back," Weaver said. "We made a conscious decision to dismantle our roster."
Del Rio is expected to address the media Tuesday. The coach said last week he believed he was getting the most out of this bunch.
"Anybody that's studied football understands that we are absolutely squeezing the very most out of this football team," Del Rio said. "There's no question we are an achieving football team. We have been the last couple of years. It's maybe not been portrayed that way. ... That's what we've been able to do despite being right in the middle of a rebuild."
Weaver acknowledged that the defense hasn't shown enough progress, one reason he turned things over to coordinator Mel Tucker. The Jaguars ranked 28th -- even worse than the team's inaugural season in 1995.
The Jaguars signed free-agent defensive end Aaron Kampman during the offseason, then used their first four draft picks on other defensive linemen. The Jaguars finished with 26 sacks, 12 more than 2009, but really struggled in the secondary.
"Defense has not grown," Weaver said. "It goes back to we have not used our draft picks the way we should."
Del Rio missed on several early round picks, including first-rounders Reggie Nelson (2007) and Derrick Harvey (2008). Del Rio also whiffed on linebacker Clint Ingram and defensive ends Brian Smith and Quentin Groves.
General manager Gene Smith took over personnel decisions in 2009, and the Jaguars have plenty of talent that makes Weaver feel like he has an "ascending team."
That includes 32-year-old quarterback David Garrard. Although the Jaguars expect to draft another quarterback in April, Weaver said the plan is to stick with Garrard as the starter. Garrard threw a franchise-record 23 touchdown passes this season, but he also had 15 interceptions, was sacked 33 times, fumbled in key situations and struggled against intricate defensive schemes.
"I felt like I had a pretty good year and a year we could build on," said Garrard, who missed Sunday's season finale following finger surgery.
Said Weaver: "Do we expect more from David? Yes. We think we'll get more. We think that David is going to continue to grow."
The challenge now becomes selling tickets in a tough economy with Del Rio at the helm and Garrard under center -- again. The Jaguars sold enough tickets to avoid any blackouts in 2010, but still had pockets of empty seats that Weaver called an "eyesore."
"Fans are going to have to trust me," Weaver said. "I've made bad decisions in my life, but I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't make a lot more good ones than bad ones."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press