3 key offseason decisions that will pay off for the Jaguars in 2024

• Here are 3 crucial moves that will be huge for the Jaguars next season.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (1), center, holds up his new jersey next to general manager Trent Baalke, left, and head coach Doug Pederson during a press conference Friday, April 26, 2024 at EverBank Stadium’s Miller Electric Center.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. (1), center, holds up his new jersey next to general manager Trent Baalke, left, and head coach Doug Pederson during a press conference Friday, April 26, 2024 at EverBank Stadium’s Miller Electric Center. / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

Failing to make the playoffs in 2023 was a wake-up call for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were expected to be contenders but ultimately came crashing down. One of the reasons the Jags faltered was their lack of impact moves last offseason. They have since taken a different approach.

Instead of solely building through the draft, Jacksonville wasted no time addressing several needs in free agency. Owner Shad Khan has come out and said it's not a sustainable strategy. He's right. That said, the Jags had to sign a handful of players who could have an immediate impact and help them bounce back.

On the other hand, the Jaguars didn't need to mortgage their future in hopes of making a playoff run in 2024. Instead, they made a few key moves in free agency and the draft that will help pay dividends short and long term. These three stand out the most.

3. Letting Calvin Ridley walk and drafting Brian Thomas Jr.

The Jaguars wanted to keep Calvin Ridley and rightly so. Although he was responsible for a handful of puzzling mistakes, he was their best receiver in 2023, registering 76 receptions for a team-best 1,016 yards with eight touchdowns. However, they would've owed the Atlanta Falcons a second-round selection, as part of the trade they made the year prior, if they had re-signed the Alabama standout before free agency began.

For that reason, the front office let Ridley hit the open market, with the hopes that they were going to be able to bring him back. For a brief moment, it seemed like they were going to pull it off. But out of nowhere, the Tennessee Titans swooped in and outbid them. The Jags could've matched their rival's offer but chose not to.

While losing Ridley hurts, the Jags didn't have to part ways with their second-round pick, which they used to select defensive tackle Maason Smith. Moreover, they used the savings to lure defensive tackle Arik Armstead in free agency.

If that wasn't enough, the team's brass managed to find a potential replacement for Ridley in Brian Thomas Jr. Along the way, they managed to acquire three extra selections. Thomas is an unproven talent but has all the tools to become Jacksonville's WR1 for years to come. So far, the early reviews have been positive.

Ridley might post better numbers than Thomas in 2023 but the latter could turn out to be the better pro down the road.

2. Signing Arik Armstead in free agency

As noted before the Jaguars inked Arik Armstead in free agency. The former Oregon Duck will give the interior defensive line a massive boost. Last year, they couldn't create inside pressure or stop teams from running the ball. Having Armstead in the mix should help fix both issues. Even though he's never made the Pro Bowl, he's been among the best defensive tackles in the league since the San Francisco 49ers drafted him 17th overall in 2015.

The fact that the Jaguars were able to sign Armstead at a reasonable three-year deal worth $43.5 million (annual average of $13.5 million) makes it even better.

But leaving aside his impact on the field, Armstead will have a huge presence off of it. He'll be a great mentor to youngsters on the offensive line, such as Maason Smith, Jordan Jefferson, and Tyler Lacy.

1. The Jaguars rewarded Trevor Lawrence and Josh Allen

In past years, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't make a strong effort to retain their core players. Former general manager David Caldwell hardly ever rewarded the team's best players and instead looked to trade them for future assets. That approach eventually left the roster devoid of talent.

Since taking over in 2021, Caldwell's successor, Trent Baalke, has done a full 180-degree turn when it comes to giving long-term extensions.

While Baalke didn't make many splash signings in his first season at the helm, he brought in several key free agents in 2022 that helped the Jaguars make the playoffs that year. Last offseason, the general manager took a more conservative approach and failed to shore up several position groups.

It looks like Baalke realized he needed to be more active. Besides taking care of several needs in the draft, he gave long-term deals to Trevor Lawrence and outside linebacker Josh Allen. Negotiations with the latter were a bit rocky at first but he ultimately got a deal that reflects his status as one of the best pass rushers in the league.

On the other hand, contract talks with Trevor Lawrence went relatively smoothly, at least from an outside perspective. In the end, the Jaguars locked up their franchise quarterback and if he bounces back like he's expected, the deal could turn out to be a bargain.

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