When you talk about the best free-agent signings of all time in Jaguars history, where do you place Calais Campbell?
Looking back at all the free agents the Jaguars have signed in their history, we can put together a pretty impressive list. From Leon Searcy, Keenan McCardell, and Kyle Brady on offense, to A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and Paul Posluszny on defense, the Jaguars have had some very good free-agent signings. But who is the greatest of all time? Let’s look at a few candidates.
First, the offense. You have to protect the quarterback’s blindside, and offensive tackle is where you start. Searcy was signed in 1996 and became the starting Right Tackle.
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Did he say right tackle? How does the right tackle protect the quarterback’s blind side? When the quarterback is left-handed, as Mark Brunell was. He was key to Brunell having the time he needed to throw the ball. Brunell was very successful at it because of Searcy.
Searcy played in 63 of 64 games in his Jaguars career, starting all of them. Another impressive stat – the former first-round pick out of Miami had nine total penalties called on him in those 63 games, and no penalties for the entire year in 1996 & 1997.
Another player that helped Brunell become a top quarterback was Jimmy Smith. Smith played 11 years for the Jaguars and is easily the best wide receiver they’ve ever had. He was also among the best in the game when he played, has more receiving yards (12,287) than over a dozen Hall of Fame pass catchers (including Michael Irvin, Shannon Sharpe, and Harold Carmichael) and many of his contemporaries (including Keyshawn Johnson, Rod Smith, Chad Johnson, and Joey Galloway).
The most impressive thing about the Jaguars signing Smith? He was a street free agent, having spent one year in Dallas and then out of the NFL in 1993 due to injury and on the street in 1994. They picked up a guy who had been out of the NFL for two years? That’s a great signing.
Add McCardell to the list. Starting opposite Smith for six years, they made up what was arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL at that time. He ranks 34th all-time in receiving yards.
Another offensive free agent to consider is Kyle Brady who spent eight seasons in Jacksonville. Smith is clearly the best free agent the Jaguars’ have signed on the offensive side of the ball in their history.
The defensive free agent signings are going to spark some conversation.
Defensive end Joel Smeenge spent six years with the Jaguars. So did linebacker Mike Peterson. A.J. Bouye is still fresh in our minds. But, for me, the argument for the best defensive free agent the Jaguars have ever signed comes down to two players – Paul Posluszny and Campbell.
Posluszny signed with the Jaguars in 2011 and played seven years with the team before his retirement. “Poz” was unquestionably the leader on defense during his time with the Jags, and he was a mentor to the team’s young linebackers. Telvin Smith could be seen shedding tears at Posluszny’s retirement press conference.
Having spent just one year together, that’s clear evidence of his impact on the younger players. It’s a shame his drive and talent was wasted on an underperforming team for six of his seven years with the team. And his leadership has been missed. If the team had been more talented during his time would he have made more than one Pro Bowl appearance? It’s quite possible.
That brings us to Campbell. Having just three years with the team doesn’t help him when you’re looking for the best ever free agent signing. Having spent the last three years on the team does help because people tend to lean toward the more recent players when talking about the best ever – they’re fresher in the mind.
Campbell made a lasting impression on the fan base, and on his teammates. He was a leader on the field and the leader in the locker room. He set the example on how to conduct yourself as a player. Toss in three consecutive Pro Bowls and he gets the nod over Posluszny.
So it comes down to Smith on offense and Campbell on defense.
Smith’s career with the team was much longer, which helped him put up the numbers he did at wide receiver. He is possibly the best offensive weapon this team has ever had. If someone was arguing in his favor I wouldn’t blame them one bit.
But I’m giving the title to Campbell. An NFL Pro-Bowler all three years with the team helps, and who’s to say he wouldn’t have had a fourth straight year had the Jaguars not traded him. Plus he is the current NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Campbell’s leadership that puts him over the top. As talented as Jimmy Smith was, he wasn’t nearly the leader for this team. That is the trait the Jaguars will miss the most this season and might be a reason the team underperforms again this year.