Other than the way Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have lit up the NFL trade market the last few days, no other team or general manager seems to be quite as active as the Jacksonville Jaguars and GM David Caldwell.
With a salary cap war chest of more than $68 million before the official start of free agency earlier this week, Caldwell and the Jaguars have addressed almost every single area of the concern and then some.
And they might not be done.
Considering how last season played out, Caldwell likely viewed the offseason as an opportunity to both tear down and rebuild Jacksonville. The 2014 Jaguars put together a 3-13 campaign, ranking second-to-last in the NFL in points scored per game (15.8), the defense ranked No. 26 overall in both points and yards allowed, and the offensive line completely failed to protect rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who was sacked 71 times, 13 times more than the next closest team let up.
But as teams began negotiating with free agents, and whether the NFL allows it or not, news started spreading of Jacksonville’s big haul. The lowly club, which has enjoyed limited success in its short time in the NFL, suddenly became a hot destination with its hefty war chest and location in a state without an individual income tax.
Other than the offensive line, the most glaring need was a reliable pass-catcher for Bortles, which came in the form of tight end Julius Thomas. Totaling 24 touchdown receptions the last two seasons, Thomas signed a five-year, $46 million contract with $24 million guaranteed, immediately taking over as Bortles No. 1 option.
The rush defense was a major issue as well, so Caldwell swiped defensive tackle Jared Odrick from the Miami Dolphins, at the cost of $42.5 million over five years, with $22 million guaranteed. The Jags were No. 27 overall against the run last season, and with the AFC South rival Indianapolis Colts acquiring running back Frank Gore, and the Houston Texans already possessing the dangerous Arian Foster, a major upgrade was needed along the defensive line.
Other major additions to the defense included cornerback Davon House, previously of the Green Bay Packers No. 10-ranked secondary, for $25 million over four years, with a rather slim $10 million guaranteed. And veteran outside linebacker Dan Skuta also inked a five-year deal worth $20.5 million.
Formerly a major contributor to the devastating San Francisco 49ers defense, Skuta’s signing can serve two purposes. For one, he’ll help out against the run while cementing a Jaguars pass rush that ranked sixth in the NFL with 45 sacks last season.
Skuta will also provide some insurance for leading linebacker Paul Posluszny, who’s one of the best tacklers in the league, but missed the last nine games of 2014 after tearing a pectoral muscle attached to the tendon in his right shoulder. Skuta’s presence should also aide the development of second-year linebacker Telvin Smith, who was second on the team with 104 tackles in 16 games last year.
Further sprucing up the secondary, Caldwell also landed veteran cornerback Sergio Brown on a very cap-friendly deal worth $7 million over three years, with $1 million guaranteed, but could be bumped up to $9 million in total compensation depending on playing time, USA Today reported.
Brown and House will both go a long way in aiding last season’s leading tackler and cornerback Johnathan Cyprien, who totaled 114 tackles and four passes defended in his second season.
But perhaps the best move Caldwell and Jacksonville made was swiping right tackle Jermey Parnell from the Dallas Cowboys. A 28-year-old behemoth of a lineman at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Parnell agreed to a five-year, $32 million, with $13 million guaranteed only months removed from helping DeMarco Murray become the NFL’s leading rusher.
The Jaguars were also reportedly interested in Murray, and had the cap space to land him, before he came to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday. Fans were trying to help the franchise in their push for Murray, putting a billboard in the process, but to no avail.
Nevertheless, Jacksonville freed up even more cap space when they released defensive end Red Bryant on Thursday. The Jaguars added another $4.5 million in cap room, and still have $31 million to spend, according to the Florida Times-Union.
The Jaguars don’t necessarily have to shell out all of those dollars. Per the league and players’ CBA, NFL teams are required to spend 89 percent of their available cap in cash, and the Jaguars have already used up 82.2 percent, ESPN reports.
But that does leave some extra space to make yet another signing. Specifically, Caldwell was asked by the Associated Press about the team’s possible interest in embattled defensive end Greg Hardy.
Currently on the commissioner’s exempt list, Hardy is free to sign a new contract but likely faces a suspension from league after he avoided domestic violence charges last year. Caldwell would tell the AP “it’s not our job to judge” and that the team would “consider” signing Hardy.
Assuming the Jaguars and Caldwell would like to maximize their cap rather than paying Hardy during his expected suspension, there are several defensive linemen available.
Johnson will reportedly meet with the Minnesota Vikings, and Fairley the Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams, but no deals seem imminent, which could be just enough opportunity for Caldwell and the Jaguars to pad what’s already been the biggest spending spree in franchise history.