The Jacksonville Jaguars’ free agent signings have helped shape the 2017 playoff race

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Calais Campbell /

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed two players to massive contracts this offseason. Those moves are paying off and have shaped the playoff picture.

Heading into 2017, expectations were relatively low for the Jacksonville Jaguars for most people outside of north Florida.

In a vacuum, the Jaguars looked like a solid team, especially after another impressive free agent haul and rookie class.

Signing star defensive players in A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell gave the Jaguars one of the deepest and most talented defenses in the NFL, but folks clearly wanted to see it actually come together after years of watching Jacksonville blow it on free agent acquisitions.

As Bill Barnwell over at ESPN discussed, those moves have worked out and they’ve been critical to shaping the AFC playoff race in 2017:

"12. The Jaguars sign A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell.While the Jaguars quietly leaped from 26th in defensive DVOA to 12th last season, their defense was still missing a few critical components. General manager David Caldwell had assembled a young core of talent around players such as Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey, but his forays into veteran free agency had mostly struck out, with guys such as Davon House, Jared Odrick and Dan Skuta all failing to make the grade and losing their jobs.You would have forgiven both the front office and ownership if they had decided to sit out free agency and build around their young core, but the Jags went back into the veteran market and signed a pair of gems. Campbell has wreaked havoc up front, racking up 11.5 sacks, which ties him for the league lead. He also has taken pressure off emerging star (and Perfect 53-Man Roster member) Ngakoue, who racked up 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on Sunday, including the game-sealing strip of DeShone Kizer in the fourth quarter.Bouye, who really had only one season of notable effectiveness in Houston, has joined forces with Ramsey to form the best cover duo in football. Teams terrified of throwing Ramsey’s way have looked toward Bouye and been burned, with Bouye victimizing Kizer for the UCF product’s fourth interception of the year on Sunday. The Jaguars have been remarkably healthy on defense — their 11 starters and top three reserves have all made it through 10 contests without missing a single game because of injury — but their big-money free agents are playing like difference-makers."

Barnwell’s last comment is a little bit concerning – most teams have to deal with injuries to key contributors at some point.

Defensively, the Jaguars have been very fortunate.

The same story can’t be said for the offense, where the loss of Allen Robinson for the year has hampered the passing game and highlighted the lack of the depth on the wide receiver depth chart.

The Jaguars clearly didn’t do enough to upgrade some positions on offense, but their focus on the defense has resulted in one of the most dominant groups of the decade.

The Jaguars aren’t just on track to have the best defense in the NFL this year, they are on track to post historic numbers that rank with the greatest defense ever.

In an era where the rules favor the passing game, the Jaguars have assembled a group of players that make it damn near impossible for a quarterback to look good.

A big reason has been the outstanding play of A.J. Bouye and Calais Campbell.