5 contract decisions that will pay off for the Jaguars in 2023

The Jacksonville Jaguars took a conservative approach in free agency to avoid handicapping their ability to make big moves in future years. Yet, they still managed to make a handful of smart contract decisions. Here are the best five.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan talks with the team's first round draft pick Anton Harrison as they walk.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan talks with the team's first round draft pick Anton Harrison as they walk. / Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY
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No. 2 Jaguars decision that can pay off: Not paying a premium for Arden Key

Here's another player that got off to a slow start to his NFL career but eventually flourished. A third-round pick by the Las Vegas Raiders, defensive end Arden Key was seen as a potential steal but was a non-factor in his first three NFL seasons.

Being pressed into action might have hindered Key's development, as the Raiders didn't truly have any other pass-rush options in his rookie seasons. And by his second season, the former LSU Tiger had tumbled down the depth chart.

The Silver and Black had seemingly seen enough of Key and waived him in 2021. The San Francisco 49ers swooped in and claimed him. That was probably the best thing that happened to him as he went on to register 6.5 sacks as part of the Niners' pass rush rotation. Not only that, his stock got a boost and helped him get a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Jaguars last offseason.

Again, Key made the most of his opportunity and became a key cog on the Jacskonville defensive front. Although he only logged 4.5 sacks, his flexibility to line up at different spots across the defensive line allowed his teammates to make plays. But as valuable as he was, he had a supporting role, not a featured one, which is why the Jags didn't offer him a top-market contract.

Key felt disrespected by the offer — whatever it was — and agreed to a three-year deal, a $21 million deal with the Tennesee Titans. Jacksonville hasn't found a true replacement for Key but hopes either rookie Yasir Abdullah, third-year pass rusher Jordan Smith or even 2020 first-round pick K'Lavon Chaisson can pick up some of the slack in 2023.