We are just 2 weeks away from the start of free agency, so it is a perfect time for this discussion I have been pondering. Well we all know that Jaguars GM Gene Smith has a “Draft first!” mentality which is good when we saw how he executed his 1st draft. But in today’s NFL you simply can’t ignore free agency. To be fair so far Gene’s free agents put more to the table then the average Shack Harris era FA’s (not to mention the Porter-Florence-Lemon trifecta; which cost around 25 million $ for Wayne Weaver for almost nothing…) But he said the Jaguars will most likely play a very limited role in that time period. In opposite to many fans, I’m OK with that because usally free agents cost a ton of money and if you ignore them, the league will award you compensatory picks.
I like this mentality with one exception… If you have the opportunity to make a boost for a relatively moderate price, then try to sign the guy! I will tell you a story about 2 safeties which illustrate how you can be smart and help your team in a big way in free agency!
On the same day: September 5th 2009 two safeties were released from their teams: Brian Russell from the Seattle Seahawks and Bernard Pollard from the Kansas City Chiefs (I don’t understand that move by KC at all; but that is another story…). So you have 2 free agent safeties which is a position the Jaguars tried to find help with all of 2009! What did we know about these players? Well Russell was not a fan favorite in Seattle because, let’s face it, he is not a good football player; not even close, Bernard Pollard had a spotlight moment when he sent New England QB Tom Brady to IR in week 1 in the 2008 season. So he can hit people in a way they will remember him. And what did Gene Smith do? He signed Brian Russell instead of Pollard and with that he made by far his biggest mistake in his young GM career!
Strong words I know. But I can prove it.
1; Brian Russell continued in to perform in Jacksonville the way he did in Seattle: (with all the respect) the same walking joke! (Well, not much respect) He attempted Reggie Nelson kind of tackles which you really don’t want to see from your secondary. It was pathetic!
2; Bernard Pollard was signed by the divisional rival Houston Texans! And he became a game changer in that secondary. Pollard had a career year, racking up 102 tackles (81 solo), 1.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, as well as 2 defensive touchdowns (Jaguars didn’t have a single defensive TD in 2009…). Pollard played in just 13 games for Houston, but was a major part of the defensive turnaround. That’s how good he was! Not to mentioning he continued his series of “put the Patriots on IR” with a tackle that most likely ruined Wes Welker’s career forever… Don’t misunderstood me: I don’t want to see a player lose his career, but my point is he can hit people in the way you want your team’s safety to tackle people!
3; A player like Pollard would’ve been almost solve our secondary problems! With Pollard at SS; you have Gerald Alexander and Anthony Smith (the replacement of Russell; I will talk about him a bit later) compete for FS; you have Sean Considine at nickel or as a Pollard backup. Instead of the situation that the Jags need to find a new FS in this year’s draft; they would need (IF only!) just depth there! How different that would be!
4; I call it the biggest mistake because with the draft you enter a crystal ball business- copyright by Vic Ketchman. We could argue who should the GM pick; but unless the prospect turns out a solid player, you waste a year finding out you are still in a bad place. Luckily Gene is doing pretty well in that segment so far. But free agency is different. In veteran free agents; you are almost sure to know what you are buying (except maybe injuries). Gene must know what kind of a player Russell and Pollard were based on how they played in Seattle and Kansas City. There was no crystal ball needed there. Just –sadly- a wrong decision in the end of the day!
Now the story had a nice epilogue: Russell was waived, Gene Smith signed Anthony Smith, a decent player, but not on the same level as Bernard Pollard. Ironically Brian Russell was signed by the Houston Texans after he left Jacksonville. How “good” he was there? He was waived 1 month after he signed with Houston. He was thrown out by 2 very bad secondaries twice! (To be fair he resigned from the Texans for the last game because of another injury) but you can see my point: The Jaguars and Gene Smith could have solve the secondary problem long term for a moderate price in free agency. Instead they made the situation temporally worse! Now Bernard Pollard will be a (restricted) free agent; so the Jaguars might sign him; but with much-much more money opposite of the price they could have paid him last September (and I don’t think the Texans will let him walk out from them…).
So yeah; draft is matters; but you can be smart in free agency and can spend your money wisely. I hope that was a good lesson for Gene to consider in this upcoming free agency period!