Like Vic, I'm usually of the mindset that paying big money for a free agent is a bad idea. Free agents usually are older players with either declining performance, attitude problems, or obscene monetary demands. They're often players with upside that teams pay as though they have already reached that upside in the hopes that they eventually reach it. The last five free agents with average annual values (AAV) of $4 million or above that the Jaguars have signed are:
2010: Aaron Kampman (4 years, $24 million, age 30)
2009: Torry Holt (3 years, base salaries of $13 million total, total value up to $20 million, age 32)
2008: Drayton Florence (6 years, $36 million, age 27)
2008: Jerry Porter (6 years, $30 million, age 29)
2007: Tony Pashos (5 years, $24 million, age 26)
Of these signings, Kampman has been worth it for one year. Pashos was worth it for about two years. Porter and Florence were never even average for the Jaguars. Holt was okay, but probably wasn't worth the money either. When they were signed, fans were excited about all of them, but even at the time the Florence and Porter signings were looked at as frivilous given their past performance. Pashos' performance dropped off the map fairly quickly, and Holt only made as much as he did due to his "crafty veteran leader" status; he was never worth that much to begin with. Overall, in the recent past the Jaguars have flopped when giving more than $4 million annually to free agents. That's why it's such a surprise that I think they should ABSOLUTELY sign at least one big-money free agent this offseason. Here's why:
This post would be made moot by a new CBA that changes the parameters for free agency. However, given how the free agency landscape looks at this point and judging from the early expected departures, this year's free agent crop is STACKED, not only with very good players, but young good players. I'm sure plenty of these players will be franchised or re-signed, but as of right now the free agent crop includes the following very good young players (age in 2011 season in parentheses):
QB: None (not a surprise)
TE: Marcedes Lewis (27), Zach Miller OAK (25)
S: Quentin Mikell (31), Eric Weddle (26)
As you can see, there is buckets of talent available in free agency. That's a total of 36 players. I would be surprised if every single one of these 36 players did not get at least $4 million AAV this offseason. If you'll notice, most of these guys are younger players, some of which play for teams that either can't afford to re-sign them or don't wish to retain them for whatever reason. Now let's look at logistics:
- Even if, say, 75% (27) of these guys re-sign with their current team, that still leaves nine very good players available to be signed.
- The top four teams will be unable to sign a free agent until one of theirs leaves. That doesn't restrict a whole lot of these players; most of them are from teams that are unlikely to make the conference finals or aren't in the playoffs. That leaves 28 teams.
- Some teams aren't going to be willing to sign big-money free agents. I would assume that a few bad, smaller-market teams that are several players away, such as Carolina or Buffalo, won't be willing to pay big for free agents. In fact, Carolina has four players on this list (Williams, Kalil, Johnson, Marshall); if they sign anyone, it'd be their own guys. Let's say there are five teams that won't be willing to spend big on free agents, which is probably a bit low, but would leave 23 teams.
- Some teams don't have the money in their budget for big-money free agents, and some teams just aren't fans of big-money free agents in general. Let's say this eliminates five more teams and brings us to 18 teams left with the means and opportunity to spend on a big-money free agent. Let's assume that the Jaguars fall into this group.
If there are nine big-money free agents (I think this is low) and 18 teams with the means and opportunity to spend on those players, that means one out of every two teams remaining will get one of these big-money free agents. These guys, for the most part, are not just guys with upside, or players with attitude issues, or anything like that; they're just talented young players that want to be paid according to their performance on the field. For a team with so many gaping holes on defense, the Jaguars are in prime position to grab an extremely talented player for nothing more than salary. A guy like Barrett Ruud, Chad Greenway, Eric Weddle, Charles Johnson, or Richard Marshall would dramatically improve the Jaguars' defense. Ryan Kalil would be a great signing as a young, Pro Bowl (doesn't mean a ton, but he's ProFootballFocus' #7 overall center) center to take the reins from Meester. I do realize that Lewis is on this list, and I do expect the Jaguars to retain him; my argument is that this team should keep Lewis AND add another player, if not two. There is a lot of talent available in free agency, and a lot of teams will use this opportunity to make their rosters better. The Jaguars should make sure they're one of those teams.