Jaguars free agency developments baffling at first glance

From left: Tight end Julius Thomas, defensive tackle Jared Odrick, defensive end Tyson Alualu and defensive end Ryan Davis.

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed four free agents earlier this month who will each be a larger cap hit for the 2015 NFL season than Ndamukong Suh will be for the Miami Dolphins.

At first glance, that seems like a head-scratcher. Those developments become even more baffling to the casual observer upon seeing that the $9 million cap hit by Jared Odrick is almost 50 percent larger than that of Suh, the defensive tackle who will be replacing Odrick to a large extent.

Odrick, Julius Thomas, Jermey Parnell and Davon House weren’t part of the conversation on a national scale the past two weeks. If anything, the Jaguars were in the news for the free agents they were unable to sign. DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher, wound up leaving the Dallas Cowboys for the Philadelphia Eagles while wide receiver Randall Cobb chose to stay with the Green Bay Packers.

Considering they ranked 31st out of 32 teams in both total offense and passing offense, the Jaguars showed little hesitation in using a chunk of their cap space estimated at more than $65 million on trying to improve on that side of the ball. Whether they spent wisely or simply overspent will take at least a year to determine. It’s still not clear if the signings a year ago of running back Toby Gerhart and guard Zane Beadles were cost-effective moves.

General manager Dave Caldwell suggested earlier this week at the owners meetings in Arizona that the Jaguars might not be done.

"There are still talented players out there," Caldwell told jaguars.com. "When we get back at the end of this week and the beginning of the week, we’ll regroup as a personnel staff and coaching staff, see what’s out there and where we can improve."

Here’s an overview of the Jaguars’ free-agency moves to this point.

COMING

Jaguars claim running back Bernard Pierce off waivers

TE Julius Thomas (five years, $46 million)

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Thomas is an adept pass-catcher not only when lined up next to a tackle but when used as a slot receiver. When healthy, he was one of Peyton Manning’s top targets the last two years in Denver. But Thomas’ time with the Broncos included several ankle injuries, and his statistics in their postseason games were not all that hot. Then again, the Jaguars haven’t made the playoffs or finished above .500 since 2007. "I was so fortunate in Denver to play with a ton of great players, guys that are in the Hall of Fame or future Hall of Famers … I was able to learn a lot from those guys," Thomas said after his signing. "And anything I can to pass on, encourage, pick somebody up, those are all things I’m going to do to help out anybody on this team."

DT Jared Odrick (five years, $42.5 million)

Except for a season-ending leg injury as a rookie with the Dolphins in 2010, Odrick has been the picture of health. That’s good news for a defensive line which used the same four starters through the first 14 games of last year but saw both Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks go down with knee injuries after that. The Jaguars finished 26th in total defense and 27th against the run, and the 27-year-old Odrick has developed into more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher. He’s also versatile enough that the Jaguars can use him at the end spot opposite Chris Clemons or Adrian Branch.

T Jermey Parnell (five years, $32 million)

Despite starting a total of only seven games the past three years with the Cowboys, primarily when right tackle Doug Free was hurt, Parnell will have a larger base salary in 2015 than Luke Joeckel, the tackle selected by the Jaguars with the second pick in the 2013 draft. Like Thomas, the 316-pound Parnell began his college athletic career as a basketball player and is something of a latecomer to football. He had just one penalty (for five yards) and did not give up a sack last season as the Cowboys ranked ninth in the fewest allowed with 30. The Jaguars surrendered a franchise-record 71 quarterback sacks, with rookie Blake Bortles going down 55 times, and used three different starters alongside first-year right guard Brandon Linder.

CB Davon House (four years, $24.5 million)

Davon House

As they did with Parnell, the Jaguars splurged on someone with a comparatively small body of work when it comes to starting in the NFL. House was a fourth-round pick by Green Bay in 2011 and started in a total of only 14 games, with a shoulder injury sidelining him for the final three games of 2014 but not the playoffs. His first start came against the Jaguars in 2012, a game in which he blocked a punt by Bryan Anger. House’s junior and senior years at New Mexico State saw him play for DeWayne Walker, who begins his third year under Gus Bradley as the assistant coach for a defensive backfield which intercepted but three passes in 16 games last season.

LB Dan Skuta (five years, $20.5 million)

The most experienced of their free-agent signings, Skuta comes to the Jaguars from the San Francisco 49ers. He started 11 games for them at an outside linebacker spot in his second year after joining them as a free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals, and he had most productive season by far in sacks with five. When the Niners trounced the Jaguars 42-10 in London in October 2013, he returned a fumble 47 yards for the last of their touchdowns.

S Sergio Brown (three years, $7 million)

Sergio Brown  

Undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2010, Brown built himself a reputation – first with the New England Patriots, then with the Indianapolis Colts – as a fearless special-teams performer. But he made eight starts and defensed six passes last year at free safety, and the Jaguars envision him challenging Josh Evans for the starting job there. "He has very good speed," Bradley said of Brown during the owners meetings. "He covered a lot of ground."

WR Bryan Walters (N/A)

He has been more of a kick returner than a receiver during his time with the Seattle Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings and the San Diego Chargers. One of the league’s few players from an Ivy League school (he went to Cornell), Walters ranked 17th in punt returns last season with a 7.7-yard average for the Seahawks. The Jaguars’ Ace Sanders was 22nd with a 7.1-yard average.

RB Bernard Pierce (one year, $660,000)

Perhaps the most puzzling move by the Jaguars came when they claimed Pierce after the Baltimore Ravens released him following his arrest for driving under the influence. A third-round pick in 2012, Pierce rushed for 366 yards and two touchdowns last season. But for an organization which remains hindered to a degree by the off-the-field problems of wide receiver Justin Blackmon, adding him seems to be out of character.

Jaguars president Mark Lamping receives five-year contract extension

STAYING

DE Tyson Alualu (two years, $6 million)

The last remaining player from their 2010 draft class, Alualu has not missed a game in five years with the Jaguars since being taken the same year as Suh and Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy. He has gone from a starter at defensive tackle to a backup end and is coming off a career-low 30 tackles, although that included two sacks in the final five games.

DE Ryan Davis (one year, $585,000)

Davis was an exclusive rights free agent who finished third on the Jaguars in sacks, trailing only Marks and Clemons, despite his limited playing time. He fits right in on a team with several players who weren’t drafted out of college such as wide receiver Allen Hurns, defensive tackle Abry Jones, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and long snapper Carson Tinker.

T Austin Pasztor (one year, $660,000)

He made 12 starts at right tackle in 2013 and eight starts last year before rupturing his left hamstring during the Jaguars’ win over the New York Giants. Pasztor will likely have to settle for a backup role following the arrival of Parnell.

BEST ADDITION

Julius Thomas. Tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor combined for three touchdown receptions last season. Thomas had 12 by himself. While Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee all had their moments as rookies, the Jaguars absolutely needed a receiver who causes opposing teams to take notice. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson will find ways, both conventional and otherwise, to integrate Thomas into an offense which reached the end zone just 24 times.

NEXT MOVE?

Running back Jordan Todman, outside linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, offensive lineman Jacques McClendon, fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou and safety Sherrod Martin all remain unsigned. Todman’s lame-duck status could mean the Jaguars will take a running back at some point during the draft April 30-May 2 in Chicago. They have the third pick in the first round for the second year in a row, and much of the speculation of late has them selecting Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., presuming USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams goes to the Tennessee Titans at No. 2.

GOING

WR Cecil Shorts III (two years, $6 million with the Houston Texans)

Cecil Shorts III  

He led the Jaguars in receptions with 53 despite missing three of their first five games with hamstring problems. But Shorts averaged a career-low 10.5 yards a catch and scored but one touchdown. Those statistics drove down his market value to where he received less than half of what the Cleveland Browns shelled out for Dwayne Bowe over the same length. Shorts joins a team which just cut its ties with possible future Hall of Famer and longtime Jaguars nemesis Andre Johnson.

LB J.T. Thomas (three years, $10 million with the New York Giants)

Already a valuable contributor on special teams, Thomas started the final nine games of last season at middle linebacker after Paul Posluszny went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Ironically, he helped spark the come-from behind victory over the Giants by recovering a fumble by Eli Manning in the end zone for a touchdown.

DE Red Bryant (released, saves $4.5 million in cap room)

Cheerleader gallery

A starter in every game for the Jaguars after being claimed off waivers from the Seahawks, Bryant had three years remaining on his contract. The decision to retain Alualu and to bring in Odrick signaled the end for a seven-year veteran who turns 31 next month.

CB Teddy Williams (two years, $1.8 million with the Carolina Panthers)

A college track star claimed off waivers in November from the Chicago Bears, Williams saw action on special teams in the Jaguars’ two games against the Texans.

WORST LOSS

J.T. Thomas. Provided Posluszny gets a clean bill of health at age 30, this might not be a bad loss at all. But Thomas embodied the type of versatile, overachieving player prized by Bradley. The money he’ll receive from the Giants includes a $3 million signing bonus, and $4.5 million is guaranteed. Not too shabby for someone who made $645,000 in the second of his two years in Jacksonville.

HAPPY TRAILS

Cecil Shorts III. At 27, he should have several productive years ahead of him, even if the Texans’ current quarterback situation is a three-way scramble between Ryan Mallett, Bryan Hoyer and Tom Savage. Shorts was well-liked by coaches, teammates and fans, and he was a total professional in dealing with members of the media. His return to Jacksonville next season as a visiting player should be welcomed with open arms.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.