Sure, last year’s signings didn’t work. But these are the guys who are going to fix our problems!
That’s essentially the approach the Jacksonville Jaguars have taken – once again – in their effort to build up their team through free agency.
In 2015, a statistically good Jaguars offense that used a combination of young picks inspired enough confidence for Jacksonville to go out and sign a barrage of key free agents. However, none of them really worked out.
Playoff star Malik Jackson landed the largest contract in 2016 free agency at six years and $90 million, but struggled to get himself on a single highlight reel last season. Veteran running back Chris Ivory, signed for three years, promptly had the worst season of his career. Tashaun Gipson, brought in from the Browns on a five-year deal, saw his production drop off severely.
This offseason, the Jaguars were supposed to have cleared their heads by bringing former Super Bowl-winning head coach Tom Coughlin into their front office after sinking back to a 3-13 record in 2016.
That doesn’t appear to have changed the franchise’s thinking, however. Armed with the third-most cap space in the league coming into free agency, the Jaguars took a look at the top names available and said, “Those guys. Get them.”
The Jaguars made 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell, age 30, the NFL’s ninth-highest-paid defensive lineman with a four-year, $60-million contract. Campbell was arguably the most notable defensive free agent available, but he’s already played nine seasons at an enormous size, creating the risk that his career could end at any time. He could very well be dominant, but setting him up to be the highest earner on the Jaguars is recipe for disappointment.
Breakout cornerback A.J. Bouye was expected to make north of $12 million on the open market, but the Jaguars took things up a notch, signing the potential one-year wonder to a five-year, $67.5-million contract. Bouye will be paired with Jalen Ramsey, who will likely prove his superior after excelling against top receivers in his rookie season. As a member of the Texans’ top-ranked defense last year, Bouye was a star. However, the cornerback will be depended on to do a lot more in Jacksonville with less support, and that kind of situation didn’t turn out well when Jackson came over from the Broncos in 2016.
As a replacement for Johnathan Cyprien, who signed with the Titans, the Jaguars picked up strong safety Barry Church on a four-year deal worth more than $6 million per season. Cyprien was not much of a player in coverage, but neither is Church. In a draft that’s well-stocked with solid defensive backs, throwing money at Church, who’s proved average at best, is a waste of funds.
After another 3-13 season, the Jaguars were expected to be in the market for some upgrades this offseason, though presumably now armed with the wisdom they paid to learn in 2016: Adding a bunch of big-money players doesn’t automatically equate to more wins. All the big names get overpaid in free agency, and the Jags had money to spare – but Coughlin’s arrival was supposed to lead to more intelligent moves, not simply making more big splashes.
Between last offseason’s barrage of additions and the expectation that quarterback Blake Bortles would continue to develop, there was a sense of hope around the Jaguars. Bortles spent the season sinking to new lows, and now the Jaguars have made a virtually identical set of free-agent splashes. The Jaguars will have to show their improvements on the field if they want to avoid being treated like the laughingstock that has made the playoffs twice in the last 17 seasons.
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