The Jacksonville Jaguars missed out on their top free agent prospect on Wednesday when the New York Giants signed Olivier Vernon to what was reported as a record deal for a defensive end... five years, $85 million, and $52.5 million guaranteed. In his first year alone, Vernon will make $29 million.
It was also reported that the Jaguars were "right there, money wise" but couldn't close the deal.
Was the contract structured in a way that was less player-friendly than the Giants? Did general manager Dave Caldwell not put up enough total cash? Would Olivier rather spend the next chapter of his career in New York over Jacksonville?
Or was it a combination of all three?
Peter King followed the saga as it happened on MMQB.com and wrote about what he was seeing from teams, front office personnel, Vernon's agent David Canter, and Vernon himself as the clock ticked down to 4pm EST on Wednesday and free agency began. If you haven't read it yet, do so.
As it pertains to the Jaguars, they were in it from the minute the Miami Dolphins removed their transition tag, and separated themselves from the pack. Early on, according to King, it was a three-team race: the New York Jets, the Jaguars, and the New York Giants. But the Jaguars made a crucial error early in their negotiations.
"The Giants and Jets are willing to give Vernon a five-year contract. Jacksonville prefers a six-year deal. Why is five preferable? Simple: [David] Canter wants Vernon to be able to have one more big negotiating chance. If he signs a five-year contract, he’ll be a free agent again at 30—and 30 is better, younger, than 31."
The Jaguars stayed with six years until 3:30pm EST when it was obvious that Vernon wasn't going to budge on the length of contract. They went down to five years, but the swing and a miss was already in effect.
Total value of contract
According to Canter, Jacksonville and New York's offers "were almost [the] same" but front-loading it gave the Giants the edge. The Jaguars were offering $7 million less than the Giants in the first year and there is more deferred money and slightly less guaranteed money. Five-year deals in the NFL aren’t totally guaranteed, and the Giants’ guarantees mean a lot to Canter. Though Jacksonville’s total dollars are close, the early years are weighted in the Giants’ favor. Jacksonville came close in total dollars, but the early years are weighted in the Giants’ favor, says King.
NOTE: An earlier version of King's story said the Jaguars were offering $12 million less in the first year of their offer. King has changed that to say $7 million less.
"Give credit to Jacksonville," Canter said later. "They were moving mountains to try and make this work."
King also notes there was some scrambling to get it done in the 11th hour, but it was too late. Vernon hangs up with the Giants shortly after 4pm EST and when Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley calls in, the decision has been made.
"I don’t need to talk to Jacksonville," Vernon says.
New York vs. Jacksonville
But if there's a piece that looms large, it's the fact that the thought of playing in Jacksonville was seemingly a disadvantage, rather than the irrelevant point we sometimes paint it to be for new players looking in from the outside.
"I’ve been in Miami all my life, 25 years," says Vernon. "It was like, I know New York is probably a little more faster paced, but I am a city guy myself and I think it will probably be a little better for me than Jacksonville. I don’t know if I would have been comfortable in Jacksonville, just with the whole environment. It’s a beautiful city. I’ve been there, I’ve played there twice, but I just don’t know if I would have been comfortable over there."
That sentiment is echoed by Vernon's agent, Canter.
"The excitement of being a New York Giant—there was something sexy about New York that there wasn’t in Jacksonville, and I could see that in Olivier."
With what looks to be more than $50 million in cap space after Wednesday's signings, a good round of second-tier free agents on Thursday could make up for the disappointment of not securing Vernon.