This is something Jacksonville Jaguars fans have long suspected. It may even be something they felt they have “known.” But, rarely have they had verifiable proof that, yes, some players have turned down the Jaguars to go play elsewhere because they wanted to win. Plain and simple.
Back in the 2014 offseason, the Jaguars were thought to have high interest in free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, even going so far as to bring him in for a visit. Ultimately, he would sign elsewhere. When these sorts of things happen, the fans are left to their own speculation as to why. It’s possible that the Jags did not offer the most money. Maybe the player had a relationship elsewhere. Or perhaps the player wanted to win, and didn’t see the Jaguars organization as a likely place to do that.
Sanders recently appeared on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, and as an aside, confirmed Jaguars fans’ fears:
As a reminder, the Jags were coming off a horrific 3-13 record heading into their second season under head coach Gus Bradley. While many fans subscribe to the notion that “money talks” in NFL free agency, certainly the ability to win also comes into consideration as seen here. But, hey, the Jags were still able to land their crown jewel of that free agency class in the form of Toby Gerhart.
Why does this matter for the Jaguars now?
You might be thinking, “that’s ancient history,” and in terms of how it impacts today’s team, that particular free agency whiff has zero impact. However, the idea that it isn’t always about the money, that sometimes players want to go to a place where they feel they will at least have a chance to win, is still relevant.
Most Jaguars fans entered last offseason practically salivating at what the team could accomplish. After all, they had just ousted the previous, failed regime, and while many observers did express reservations about new, first-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer, the team was still poised to select a generational talent in Trevor Lawrence. Additionally, the team had an enormous pile of cap space available to go out and buy several new starters. Fans couldn’t wait!
And then, free agency opened, and the Jags landed… tight end Chris Manhertz. No offense to Manhertz, but he wasn’t exactly the splash fans were expecting. Free Agency went on to leave Jags fans less than impressed in 2021, and they would be proven right as the ensuing season unfolded. In addition to a number of other factors … ahem – Urban Meyer … the Jaguars’ lack of talent was clearly a major contributor to their poor record.
Many Jags fans would point to Trent Baalke in concert with Meyer as the source of the Jaguars’ offseason futility. Was he targeting the wrong players? Was he too tight with the team’s wallet? Why was he not getting new, great players? By the end of the season, Jags fans were furious with Baalke.
Well, we don’t know for sure why the Jags’ 2021 free agency haul was so anemic. But, we do know players do actually care about winning. And, if most free agents from around the league were looking at the Jaguars’ situation in the 2021 off-season, and thinking, “Yeah… I don’t know if I want to go play with a rookie quarterback and a first-time head coach,” Trent Baalke may have had little to do with last year’s free agency futility.
That seems especially plausible now, given how the same general manager seemingly turned into a different person in 2022, handing out contracts like they were candy bars on Halloween. And with a Super Bowl champion head coach to present rather than a guy with a checkered past in college football, Baalke may have had a lot more to work with when approaching prospective free agents.
Winning matters. And a winning culture matters. Doug Pederson likely represents that for many people, including free agents around the NFL. After the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2022 free agency bonanza, Trent Baalke may be witnessing that more than anyone else right now.