Jaguars paid for character when they signed Christian Kirk, the investment paid off

• Jaguars WR Christian Kirk got a top-market deal in 2022

• Jacksonville knew the kind of player they were getting

• Kirk now reflects back to the moment he signed with the Jags

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) is interviewed after practice Monday, Aug.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) is interviewed after practice Monday, Aug. / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2022 season with lots of questions and rightfully so. At the time, Doug Pederson was trying to undo all the damage Urban Meyer had done during his lone season at the helm. Similarly, Trevor Lawrence was trying to bounce back, from an underwhelming rookie campaign. Wide receiver Christian Kirk, for his part, was set to prove he wasn't overpaid when he signed a top-market contract in free agency. He passed the test with flying colors and just recently, he shared what was going through his head at the time.

Zak Keefer of The Athletic recently had a sitdown with Kirk and took a look at how things unfolded from his perspective. The veteran receiver says it bothered him to see all the negative headlines about the contract he signed, noting that he stored the worst posts.

However, he got reassurance from his teammates and focused on showing he was the player the Jaguars thought he was when they gave him a four-year deal worth $72 million. The whole feature is worth reading but you need a subscription to The Athletic to read it.

One of the Jaguars' top goals last year was to get Trevor Lawrence a better-supporting cast. This led them to sign Zay Jones and Christian Kirk, along with tight end Evan Engram in free agency. Their strategy raised eyebrows across the national (and some local) media. Jones had only tallied more than 600 yards in a season once in his NFL career before joining the Jags. On the other hand, there were questions about Kirk's capability as a WR1.

A second-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, Kirk had never had a 1,000-yard season in the desert. Similarly, he was never the No. 1 target on the offense, often taking a backseat to DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Larry Fitzgerald. Then again, being part of a loaded receiver corps is precisely the reason he hadn't gotten many opportunities to make plays in Arizona.

Kirk squashed any doubts about his impact and the contract he signed with a strong start to the 2022 season. In his first three games for the Black and Teal, he hauled in 18 receptions for 267 yards with three touchdowns. He went on to play a huge role throughout the year, giving Lawrence the No. 1 target he sorely missed in 2021. The former Texas A&M Aggie went on to lead the team in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,108) and touchdowns (eight).

The Jaguars paid a premium for Christian Kirk and they are pleased with their investment

Right out of the gate, players are worth what a team is willing to pay them. In Kirk's case, the Jags they were willing to fork out $3 million or $4 million more than other clubs in free agency. They got lots of flak for it but they knew what they were getting. Not long after, receivers such as A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, or DK Metcalf got bigger deals, so it's fair to say that Jacksonville was ahead of the curve.

The fact that Kirk went on to have a career year validated the Jaguars' decision to pay a premium for his services. But leaving aside the financial side of things, there's something else that stands out in Keefer's profile on Kirk: The Jaguars were paying for character, players who wanted to work hard and set the example in order to build a winning culture.

The Jags got one of such players in Kirk but he wasn't the only one. They also went after right guard Brandon Scherff and linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, both of whom have been named team captains in back-to-back seasons. And although Kirk doesn't have the distinction, he's been a leader on and off the field. In fact, one of his goals in the offseason was to become more vocal in the receivers room.

One year later, it's fair to say that Kirk has met expectations and then some. Alongside Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones, expect him to once again make an impact for the Jaguars in 2023.

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