Key Additions: Zane Beadles ($6M per year), Red Bryant ($4.8M), Chris Clemons ($4.4M), Ziggy Hood ($4M), Toby Gerhart ($3.5M), Dekoda Watson ($2.1M)
Key Re-Signings: Jason Babin ($2.4M per year)
Key Losses: Maurice Jones-Drew (Raiders)
Major Cuts: Uche Nwaneri ($3.7M cap savings), Russell Allen ($2.5M), Blaine Gabbert ($2M-trade)
Free Agency Thoughts:
The biggest signing was grabbing G Zane Beadles away from Denver on a $6 million a year deal. As is standard for the Jaguars there was no signing bonus which may have driven the average price slightly higher, but either way I think they went too high for a player whose success could be linked to the QB he played with in Denver. Still hes young and should help upgrade a terrible offensive line, a major need for the team.
Defensively there was a great deal of tinkering with the line. In Red Bryant and Chris Clemons they were able to bring in two solid veterans with a championship pedigree from last season. Such moves do carry risk as often I think players from those teams exhibit a letdown season, though with both being players unwanted by the Seahawks there could be a chip on their shoulder. Neither contract carries financial risks beyond 2014, which is important, as both are on the older side. They should be familiar with the system in Jacksonville so the learning curve might not be as steep for others making their use as potential one year stopgaps likely worthwhile.
Ziggy Hood could be very effective at $4 million a season. He is younger and has potential to improve. If he fails they will release him with no penalty after just one season. If he plays well he could be a bargain at the price. Jason Babin opted out of his contract only to re-sign a favorable deal for Jacksonville with minimal guarantees. He has use as a situational player.
I do question the contract given to RB Toby Gerhart. The Jaguars ended up making Gerhart the highest paid free agent running back of the offseason and there really was little to base that number on. Gerhart has flashed at times in very limited duty behind Adrian Peterson, but more often than not the “star” backup never really lives up to expectations once given the ball. It is only a three year contract and the position itself is cheap, but I tend to think there was a better deal out there for them if they waited longer.
The fact that the Jaguars were able to get a draft selection in return for Blaine Gabbert was one of the steals of the century. Gabbert’s salary was guaranteed which should have made it even harder to trade him, but they found a suitor in the 49ers. The Jaguars finally stopped trying to convince themselves that there was some kind of shining light inside his numbers and for that alone should get a passing grade on the season.
Before free agency began the team did make some moves including retaining QB Chad Henne on an incentive laden contract. There is little downside to the move and the team did play better with Henne than without him last year. He’s a veteran arm and by wrapping him up early they avoided the chance of losing him to a team like Oakland, Houston, or Cleveland who would be just as desperate to find a QB.
The Jaguars also swung and missed at C Alex Mack this year. Mack was a transition player which meant the Browns could match any offer sheet, which they did. Could Jacksonville have made their move earlier in free agency so that other centers may have been available if they lost out on Mack? I think that’s a valid criticism. They may have expected the Browns to spend more money in free agency or to extend a player like Joe Haden to put them in a harder position to match but that never materialized. This probably leaves the draft for filling the position with higher upside talent.
Overall Grade: B
This is one of those free agent classes where there could be some strong upside at reasonable costs if things break right. It could also prove to be completely uneventful with the team moving on quickly from each player. Whether by design or not they did seem to make their biggest targets players with good reputations from quality organizations like the Seahawks, Broncos, and Steelers and I think that often helps build a football team. There are some building blocks already in place that could turn to these players for advice on approaching the good and bad of a season. There may have been a few other positions they could have attacked and losing out on Mack certainly hurts, but they may have added some more pieces that should aid them in turning the franchise around in the next two seasons.