What We've Learned About the Jacksonville Jaguars After the Start of Free Agency
Any theory that the Jacksonville Jaguars wouldn't spend money in free agency was debunked when general manager David Caldwell went out and brought in talent to help his team improve on both sides of the football.
Making good use of an abundance of cap space, Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley have finally started to build this roster their way.
Of all the moves this club has made so far, the most telling one came when Caldwell decided to ship former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert off to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming draft and a potential conditional selection in 2015—per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com.
The man who came to Jacksonville in 2011 to be the savior will now go down as arguably the biggest blunder in franchise history.
What was at the midway point of the 2013 season an 0-8 team looking for answers, the Jaguars are being transformed into a well-run franchise, led by one of the most organized and passionate head coaches in the National Football League.
As we move forward and try to recap the madness that is free agency, it's time to check out what we've learned so far about the Jaguars.
1. A New Running Back Has Arrived
Gerhart's arrival could very well signal the end of the Maurice Jones-Drew era in Jacksonville.
A free agent himself, Jones-Drew returning just so he can split carries doesn't make any sense financially.
Gehart's tenure in Minnesota revolved around him backing up Adrian Peterson. Registering just 276 carries over his four-year stint in a Vikings uniform, the 26-year-old tailback comes to Jacksonville with a "fresh" set of legs.
Turning on the All-22 coaches film is a great way to get a feel for Gerhart's mannerisms and overall strengths as a running back.
Fluid on his feet and shifty in the open field, he's a hard-nosed runner who uses his 231-pound frame to barrel over defenders. Though he isn't the fastest player you'll watch on film, Gerhart has the ability to hit a hole and explode to the second level of the defense.
Describing his thoughts on Gerhart, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller said, "It's simple. Gerhart needs an opportunity to start somewhere. He was trapped behind the best running back in the NFL in Minnesota."
Averaging 4.9 yards per carry over the time he spent with the Vikings, it looks like Caldwell has found himself a productive running back who will instantly improve the Jaguars rushing attack.
2. Welcome to "Seattle South"
The "Seattle South" comparisons started when ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant had signed a four-year deal with the club.
From there, things escalated even further when NFL Network's Albert Breer reported that former Seattle DE Chris Clemons was also headed down to Jacksonville on a four-year deal of his own—Tom Pelissero of USA Today noted that Clemons' deal is worth $17.5 million.
But as Gene Frenette of The Florida Times-Union pointed out when comparing the two organizations, "Anyone hoping the the Jaguars can become Seattle South must look beyond Bradley's ability as a defensive architect. The key component is Caldwell quickly becoming the next John Schneider."
With the 2014 draft now just a few months away, it's clear that GM Caldwell has a ton of work ahead of him in order to get this team back into playoff contention.
Without marginalizing the accomplishments of the Seahawks organization, if Caldwell can channel his inner John Schneider and make brilliant personnel decisions, turning the Jaguars into "Seattle South" could become a reality.
3. Caldwell Isn't Afraid to Spend Money
One thing we've learned after the start of free agency is that Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell isn't afraid to spend money.
Signing the likes of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, while bringing back defensive end Jason Babin and cornerback Will Blackmon, proves that Caldwell has no qualms about dishing out duffle bags stuffed full of cash if it will spurn growth within the organization.
The biggest example of Caldwell's declaration to spend came by way of the offensive line.
Before the free-agent market opened it's doors, Coach Bradley last month told Jessica Blaylock and Ryan O'Halloran on 1010XL 92.5 FM, "Offensive line is an area that intrigues us and we'll take a look at the players available. There are some areas there that we could get better at."
Caldwell confirmed that interest on March 11, signing former Denver Broncos offensive guard Zane Beadles to a five-year deal worth $30 million according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan (h/t Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union),
Beadles will now join forces with last year's first-round pick Luke Joeckel, and the two will serve as catalysts to an offensive line that's trying to establish an identity.
4. Re-Signing Chad Henne Makes Sense
Since the 2013 season wrapped up, general manager David Caldwell has stressed his desire to retain the services of quarterback Chad Henne.
The Jaguars GM achieved that goal, inking Henne to a two-year deal worth $8.5 million, with $4.5 million guaranteed—per Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com
By any set of statistics or measurables, Henne struggled last season. If you go by Pro Football Focus' metrics (subscription required), Henne's 2013 was a complete disaster, as the veteran signal-caller ended up grading out as the worst starting quarterback in the NFL.
Though he struggled, those marks don't paint a complete picture of what really took place in Jacksonville.
As a whole, the Jaguars offense trudged through muddy waters last season. A putrid run game that averaged a mere 3.3 yards per carry isn't a great way to give your quarterback ample opportunity to succeed.
Add in the fact that Cecil Shorts was banged up and Justin Blackmon played just four games, and what you get is an environment in which any quarterback would struggle to thrive.
Talking about why the decision to bring back Henne was good for both parties involved, Will Brinson of CBSSports.com said:
He's comfortable in Jacksonville and Jacksonville's comfortable with him. There's a good chance Henne could've earned some coin in free agency with other teams out there needing a quarterback, but bringing him back to the Jags was important from day 1.
Logic dictates that Henne is nothing more than a stopgap option while Caldwell searches for the team's franchise quarterback.
Regardless, his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's scheme and the rapport he's developed with some of the players on this roster, makes him the de facto starter entering the 2014 season.
5. It's All About Defense
Gerhart and Beadles may have been two upgrades on offense, but the bulk of the contracts Caldwell has dished out in free agency have been used to bolster the team's defense.
We touched on the contracts of DEs Bryant and Clemons earlier, but when Caldwell signed former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, the pages of his defensive manifesto became even more compelling.
Getting $16 million, with $5.5 million in guaranteed money (per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun), Hood should be able to slide over to defensive tackle and throw around his 300-frame to help clog up running lanes.
Mix him into an already revamped defensive line, and Jags fans will see a platoon of guys able to help change the complexion of a football game.
In the end, all free agency means is that the quest to rebuild this franchise is officially underway.
From Caldwell's vantage point, that process starts with giving Coach Bradley a defense he can mold into a dominant force.
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