It’s the closing of day three, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have been anything but quiet. As the analysis of each free agent signing continues, and as the Jaguars continue to add more talent to their young roster, I’d like to take a brief overview of everything that has happened in the last week.
Last week saw the Jaguars take care of their own free agents. Quarterback Chad Henne was re-signed last Friday, giving the Jaguars a starter at the position who is familiar with Jedd Fisch’s offense should Bradley decide not to start a rookie signal caller week one. While many would complain about the move, saying that the Jags won’t be competitive until they bring in either a quality free agent (which there aren’t any at all in this year’s free agent crop) or they draft Bridgewater/Manziel/Bortles (none of which are a lock to be a franchise player), in all actuality it is a good move bringing Henne back. Yes, Henne leaves much to be desired, but at this moment in time he is the best option. Drafting and starting a rookie QB, investing the time and resources in one, and completely failing can kill the future of a football team. Henne provides a veteran presence until a younger option presents itself.
Before we begin talking about the big moves that Caldwell and company have made so far, it’s also important to look at the rest of the in-house free agents that Jacksonville retained. TE Clay Harbor was re-signed for two years and will make a serviceable second tight end. He has more to offer in the passing game than the run game, but one could do much worse than Clay Harbor when talking in terms of what role he will play. Wide receivers Mike Brown and Kerry Taylor were tendered offers. Mike Brown had some pretty good moments last season while catching 32 passes for 446 yards and 2 TDs, and Taylor started coming along down the stretch. The two should battle for 4th and 5th receiving duties. RB Jordan Todman was tendered an offer, and he showed massive potential at times (76 rush, 256 yards, 2 TDs; 14 rec, 116 yards and 1 TD). OT Cameron Bradfield was re-signed and OT Austin Pasztor was tendered, bringing the two tackles who manned the edges along the offensive line back for 2014. It was a less than ideal situation for both of them, and considering the circumstances, both played well at times. Bradfield has been the swing tackle for Jacksonville for a few years now, and Pasztor showed that he could quite possibly compete for a starting position. OT Sam Young was re-signed, and while not much is known about him seeing as how he’s seen little action since coming into the league as a 6th round pick by Dallas in 2010, he will be competing for a roster spot keeping the spirit of competition alive. Finally, CB Will Blackmon will be back for 2014. Added to the roster during preseason, Blackmon became a key player in the secondary, finishing the season with 41 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble and 1 TD (the forced fumble, fumble recovery and TD all happening on the game winning play against Tennessee).
Even though these moves are of the less-heralded variety, considering the price paid for each and the potential each player brings and the roles they will play, they are moves that are worthy of note.
Which brings us to the “big” moves of free agency…
With the retirement of Brad Meester, the release of Uche Nwaneri, the inconsistency of Will Rackely and with the possible departure of Maurice Jones-Drew, it was obvious heading into free agency that both the interior of the offensive line and the running back position were of the utmost concern.
OG Zane Beadles was signed to a five year, $30 mil contract with $13 mil guaranteed. Beadles was a second round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2010 draft. He made the pro bowl in 2012, and really he’s just solid overall. He will be paired with 2013 first round pick Luke Joeckel on the left side as Caldwell continues to solidify an offensive line that has been horrid as of late. Beadles is automatically the best offensive lineman on the Jaguars roster. Continuing with improving the offense, Jacksonville brought in RB Toby Gerhart from Minnesota. A 2010 second round pick by the Minnesota Vikings, Gerhart has spent his entire career backing up Adrian Peterson. Since coming into the league, he’s rushed for 1,305 yards and five TDs. His best year came in 2011 while filling in for an injured A.P., rushing for 531 yards and a TD. Gerhart isn’t what one would call an elusive running back, but he does have the physicality to be a workhorse and handle the majority of the carries in a backfield that already has some upside with 2013 5th round pick Denard Robinson who should get more opportunities and recently tendered Jordan Todman.
Last year when it came to the defense the focus was on improving the secondary. This year the emphasis is obviously the front seven. Jacksonville is now the proud new owners of a pair of former Seattle defensive ends. DE Red Bryant was signed last week after being let go by the Seahawks, and just yesterday DE Chris Clemons was signed after Seattle re-signed Michael Bennett. Both are a little long in the tooth, but they both bring years of experience to a young Jaguar defensive line. Seattle bookends from a Super Bowl winning pass rush. Red Bryant isn’t necessarily a sack artist, but he brings a disruptive element at the defensive end position that Jacksonville is simply lacking. Chris Clemons brings 58 career sacks to the LEO. The two are immediate upgrades. All of a sudden the Jacksonville front four is looking pretty formidable with Bryant, Miller, Marks and Clemons. Now that’s an improvement.
Staying on the defensive line, Jacksonville also signed former 2009 1st round pick DT Ziggy Hood from Pittsburgh. There’s no way around it. Hood was a bust with the Steelers, but he won’t be counted on to be some kind of game changing defensive tackle. He’ll simply be a rotational player in Jacksonville. LB Dekoda Watson was brought in from Tampa Bay as well. He’s really not a known commodity, but after doing some research, he’s a player that can play SAM and has some pass rushing ability. He’s only 26, and he definitely has some upside and room to grow in his game. He is definitely the player I’m most curious about. Jason Babin voided the last two years of his contract, only to re-sign today. He had 7.5 sacks last year playing the LEO. It was apparent he could no longer be relied upon to be that pass rush specialist he once was, but now with the defensive line rotation consisting of Bryant, Miller, Marks, Clemons, and Branch, Babin should find himself more comfortable, and much fresher during games.
Finally, how could I possibly discuss Jaguars free agency without acknowledging the Gabbert trade? Caldwell traded QB Blaine Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers for a 6th round draft pick. The Jaguars now have 11 total picks in May. That is just flat out amazing.
Heading into free agency, I did not anticipate this kind of activity. The guys being brought in aren’t pro bowlers. They are just pros-something the young roster desperately needs. With enough cap room to continue making moves and 11 picks in this year’s draft, I can’t wait to see what kind of team takes the field in September.
-David R. Johns