Free agency review: Jaguars keep busy with high volume of signings
There hasn’t been a lot of noise made on a national scale about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ free-agent signings.
But based solely on the volume of player acquisitions, few teams have been as busy as them in general manager Dave Caldwell’s second year on the job.
No one confused Jacksonville with Denver and New England on the field in 2013, so it makes sense that the Jaguars are taking an approach opposite to the "win now" philosophy of the Broncos and Patriots.
The addition of several defensive linemen further reflects second-year coach Gus Bradley’s background, although he probably would like to bring in another defensive back.
While they wasted no time in filling one of their greatest needs along the offensive line, the Jaguars still haven’t found a center to replace the retired Brad Meester.
Here is a full offseason overview:
DE Red Bryant (four years, $19 million)
Released as a cost-cutting move after six years in Seattle, Bryant should feel right at home with Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator. After addressing the interior portion of their defensive line in free agency a year ago by adding Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, the signing of the 323-pound Bryant represented the first step toward upgrading the flanks of their 4-3 front.
Bryant, 29, started for the Super Bowl champions last year and should impact a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL against the run. Rushing the passer is not where he excels, but the Jaguars would like to believe some of their later signees will help in that area.
G Zane Beadles (five years, $30 million)
Within the first hour of the free agency period, the Jaguars announced Beadles had left the Denver Broncos to join them. He’ll start at left guard and ought to be difference-maker on an offensive line that has given up 50 sacks two years in a row. The Jaguars went 4-12, the same record the Broncos had during Beadles’ rookie season.
Beadles made the Pro Bowl in 2012 but was regarded in some quarters as having regressed somewhat during the Broncos’ march to the Super Bowl, where the entire team had a game to forget. His arrival should make tackle Luke Joeckel’s second year in Jacksonville a bit smoother, and it means Will Rackley will likely move to right guard and take over the spot left vacant by the release of Uche Nwaneri.
RB Toby Gerhart (three years, $10.5 million)
Gerhart turns 27 next week and is coming off a season where he had only 36 carries for the Minnesota Vikings but averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. That combination of low mileage and high productivity, along with a reasonable price tag, made him a more attractive option to the Jaguars than trying to re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew.
While his speed is adequate at best, the 231-pound Gerhart has the reputation of being able to fight for extra yardage and should serve as a complement to Jordan Todman.
LB Dekoda Watson (three years, $6.25 million)
After splitting time with Jonathan Casillas during his final season in Tampa Bay, Watson could push incumbent Russell Allen at one of the Jaguars’ outside linebacker spots. He also has the versatility to be used as a pass-rushing defensive end. Jacksonville beat out Buffalo, San Francisco, New England and Cleveland for his services.
DE Chris Clemons (four years, $17.5 million)
At 32 and a year removed from major knee surgery, Clemons is something of a risk. Like Bryant, he became available after being released by the Seahawks. Clemons said he felt back to 100 percent by the time they made their run to the Super Bowl, so if he can stay healthy, the Jaguars should have an improved pass rush.
DT Ziggy Hood (four years, $16 million)
Hood never panned out as hoped in Pittsburgh after the Steelers made him a first-round pick, but the Jaguars are confident that no longer being in a 3-4 scheme should allow him to flourish. Hood prides himself on having a non-stop motor, and his proven durability from his time with the Steelers doesn’t hurt either.
It took almost a week for the Jaguars to get themselves a new wide receiver, a position where rookie Ace Sanders had to learn in a hurry because of Justin Blackmon’s off-the-field problems. Doss was not a featured receiver with the Baltimore Ravens but had his moments a year ago on offense and special teams.
The starter from Week 6 on, Henne never gave much thought to catching on elsewhere, and the Jaguars clearly wanted him to stay. Next year will mark his third season in Jacksonville. Should the Jaguars surprise the draft experts by using the third overall pick on a quarterback, Henne will still go into training camp as the first-stringer. His familiarity with the system of offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch should make Henne more confident at age 29.
CB Will Blackmon (two years, $1.875 million)
Whether it was filling in for injured rookie Dwayne Gratz early in the season, used as a nickel, in punt coverage or as a punt returner, Blackmon ended up being a versatile and valuable addition. He’ll turn 30 in October and seems very much at ease as the stabilizing influence of a young secondary.
DE Jason Babin (three years, $8.275 million)
Babin led the Jaguars in sacks (7.5), quarterback pressures (19) and forced fumbles (3) while being one of only three players to start every game for them on defense. They released him but chose to bring him back after Babin agreed to have his contract restructured. Jacksonville is where he wants and hopes to end his career.
TE Clay Harbor (two years, $3 million)
Harbor, like Henne, agreed to remain with the Jaguars before the free agency period officially kicked off. He came to them via waivers from Philadelphia prior to the start of last season and ended up making 24 receptions, only one fewer than what Marcedes Lewis had.
T Sam Young (two years, $1.475 million)
When Joeckel went down in early October with a season-ending ankle injury, the Jaguars claimed Young off waivers from Buffalo. He was used primarily as a backup to Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor.
Toby Gerhart: Last season, the Jaguars saw with Justin Forsett what a gamble it can be bringing in a running back with limited starting experience. That being said, Gerhart was able to distinguish himself as both a runner and receiver whenever he filled in for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. He’s tough to stop between the tackles and should benefit from a revamped left side of the line as well as 15 to 20 touches a game. And if you place much stock in the Wonderlic test, Gerhart had the highest score of any running back in the 2010 draft.
WR Trevor Price, Seattle Seahawks (1 year, $570,000)
Not a major loss, mainly because Price was an example of "out of sight, out of mind." He never could stay healthy and spent all of the 2013 season on injured reserve.
Maurice Jones-Drew: The second-leading rusher in franchise history with 8,071 yards — only he and Fred Taylor have as many as 3,000 — Jones-Drew attracted no attention until it was reported Wednesday that he visited the Pittsburgh Steelers. If that’s where the soon-to-be 29-year-old running back signs, it should make for an intriguing subplot when the Steelers visit Jacksonville this season.
Blaine Gabbert: The signing of Beadles was largely overshadowed on a national scale by the trading of Gabbert, who had come to embody the Jaguars’ questionable drafting decisions of years past. He was shipped to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick.
Keeping Henne was the last nail in the coffin for Gabbert’s time in Jacksonville. Oddly enough, he’s scheduled to make more money next season with the 49ers than Colin Kaepernick, who has guided them to the NFC championship game in consecutive years.