The Jacksonville Jaguars reaffirmed their commitment to the running game by signing Andrew Norwell, and the move is well received by analysts.
For the past three years, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been the big winners in free agency. In 2016 and 2017, it wasn’t that surprising because the team had an embarrassment of riches in terms of salary cap space.
In 2018, it’s a bit more surprising because the Jaguars didn’t have nearly as much cash at their disposal compared to the previous few seasons.
That didn’t stop general manager David Caldwell and vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, as the Jaguars were aggressive in pursuing the targets they wanted.
The big fish of course was former Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, arguably the best overall player available this offseason.
The Jaguars are paying Norwell a lot of money, the most for any offensive lineman in the NFL in fact, but there’s arguing that he’s a massive upgrade.
So far, the grades look good.
Bill Barnwell over at ESPN begrudgingly gave the signing a good grade:
"G Andrew Norwell, JaguarsGrade: BWe found what the Jags were saving money to add! If you’re going to sign a free agent, it might as well be a 26-year-old coming off a first-team All-Pro appearance, as is the case with Norwell…Big-ticket guards haven’t always translated well to their new locations, but Norwell’s a worthy risk for a team whose interior offensive line play on either side of Brandon Linder hasn’t been very good."
Connor Orr over at Sports illustrated had a similar take:
"Was left guard the most pressing need in Jacksonville? Of course not, and certainly not when considering agent Drew Rosenhaus negotiated the highest average-per-year salary of any offensive lineman for Norwell. But the Jaguars are committed to rushing the ball back to the AFC title game, and Norwell is a huge part of that formula. — Jonathan JonesGRADE: B+"
Continuing the ‘B’ trend, Ryan Van Bibber over at SBNation is also tentatively sold on the move:
"Grade: BInterior line didn’t seem like a massive need for the Jags. They already had a pretty effective run game last year and the fifth-best sack rate, but this makes both of those areas even better. Norwell, according to PFF, was the best pass blocking guard in the league last year. One less excuse for Blake Bortles to stink.Still, five years at $66.5 million and $30 million fully guaranteed feels like a luxury move."
Finally, Pro Football Focus, who absolutely loves Andrew Norwell and had him as one of the highest graded offensive lineman in 2017, gave the Jaguars an A.
"Grade: AContract details: 5-year, $66.5-millionBottom Line:The Jaguars took a huge step in fixing what was clearly their biggest need. Their offensive line now features three above average to very-good starters who should help propel the Jaguars’ rushing attack into a more efficient version of itself."
Analyzing any move in free agency is a two-step process – how much did the team spend, and how much of an upgrade does the player present?
Things get a bit hazy for complicated moves, like the Kirk Cousins signing where the Minnesota Vikings are paying a substantial premium for what might be an extremely modest upgrade over what they had last year. With the Norwell signing, the upgrade is so significant that it’s hard not to like the move.
The Jaguars are clearly committed to running the football and the lack of success in that regard in their final game of the season was indictment on the offensive line play. The Jaguars got good to great play out of the center and two tackles for parts of the season, but the guard play was clearly lacking.
Now the only question the Jaguars have to answer up front is whether or not they want to bring in competition for right guard A.J. Cann, a guy who hasn’t progressed enough to warrant another contract with this team.
B/B+ seems about right for this move, if only because the Jaguars had to pay quite a bit of money for Norwell. This is the price you pay when you target the top of the market, but the chances of this move working are pretty high.