If the Jaguars ever needed a good offseason, this is the year.
The team has suffered through three of the toughest seasons in franchise history and the coaching staff needs to show that the team is making progress under their leadership. But what does a good offseason look like? What was the best offseason in franchise history?
Some may point to the 1995 offseason when the Jaguars traded for Mark Brunell, signed Jimmy Smith off the street and drafted Tony Boselli. Those were building blocks of the franchise in an expansion year. However, I chose the 1996 offseason as the benchmark for success due to the amazing number of acquisitions in both free agency and the draft that added starters and key contributors to a squad that transformed into a playoff fixture for the next four seasons in a row.
1996 free agency
The Jaguars’ $11 million of available cap room was about over fourth of the league salary cap that year of $40.753 million. With that much flexibility, the Jaguars got to work quickly.
Leon Searcy – The Jaguars signed Searcy on the second day of free agency to a 5-year $17 million contract making him the highest paid offensive lineman in the game.
Eddie Robinson – Robinson signed a 4-year, $10.5 million contract, filling a need at linebacker.
Keenan McCardell – Keenan, perhaps the Jaguars best free agent signing ever, still hasn’t been replaced.
Natrone Means – Means was actually claimed off waivers in March of 1996 after being cut by the Chargers.
John Jurkovic – Signing Jurko from the Packers filled a need on the defensive line.
Dana Hall – Hall, a former Cleveland Browns player filled a need at safety.
Andre Rison – After being cut in July, Coughlin signed the receiver, thinking he could deal with Rison’s personality.
Clyde Simmons – Simmons was cut in August by the Cardinals and the Jaguars scooped him up during training camp.
Six of these signing were year-long starters. Means took over starting RB for James Stewart at the end of season and was a big part of their playoff run that season. Rison started at WR until his poor play, locker room distractions and Jimmy Smith’s production pushed him off the team mid-season.
7 starters in free agency and most of them contributed in multiple seasons.
Curiously the Jaguars signed 3 other players to offer sheets this offseason. Transitional free agents Alonzo Spellman, Quentin Coryatt, and Todd Lyght all had their offers matched by their original teams.
The ’96 draft didn’t have any "Pride of the Jaguars" members, but it was one of the more productive drafts in team history. The immediate starters and role players acquired through this draft completed the transformation of the expansion team into a contender.
Kevin Hardy – Hardy was one of a pair of stars from the University of Illinois. His counterpart, Simeon Rice went to the Bucs. Coughlin picked Hardy the more complete linebacker number 2 overall in the first round.
Tony Brackens – Brackens fell to the 2nd round and Coughlin chose the future franchise sack leader.
Michael Cheever – Cheever’s career ended just over a year later, but he contributed to the Jaguars in 1996, starting 2 games at center.
Aaron Beasley – Beasley, a 3rd round pick became a fixture at cornerback for the next 5 seasons.
Reggie Barlow – Barlow contributed in following seasons by taking over the return duties for kickoffs and punts, as well as working as a wide receiver.
The rest of the draft failed to produce contributors to the Jaguars’ future success. However, 3 long-term starters on defense were taken in the first 3 rounds.
What about this year?
Coughlin was building a team during the offseason with plenty of cap room and a roster that had a lot of holes to fill. His choices this year set the stage for suture success. Will there ever be another year like this? 10 new starters from one offseason isn’t usually what teams want to see. That much turnover makes success hard to realize. In fact, during the ’96 season it took until the end of the year for things to start falling into place.
Is there room on this team for 10 new starters this season? Probably so.
Beadles, Gerhart, Watson, Bryant and Clemons are should begin the season in starting roles. There are still two gaping holes to fill on the offensive line in either free agency or the draft. Who will start the season at receiver opposite Cecil Shorts? That person may not be on the roster yet. If the Jaguars do draft a QB at number three, that would be another starter from this offseason.
Some experts have suggested that this year’s draft is one of the deepest NFL drafts in history. The Jaguars currently hold 11 picks. The number of draft picks could still increase or decrease but no Jaguars draft class has ever been larger than eleven players.
The quality of these new starters will determine how the 2014 offseason will be remembered. It could be a disaster if there are a number of misses. However, the task of building the team in 1996 isn’t that much different than the build that Dave Caldwell is faced with in 2014. Here’s hoping he’s as fortunate as Tom Coughlin was 18 years ago.