The Jacksonville Jaguars free agency efforts so far has been a whirlwind, an up and down experience that has brought us moments of utter joy followed by moments of... "What the hell?"
The team opened up free agency by making a huge splash in signing defensive lineman Malik Jackson to a whopping six year, $86 million contract to solidify the defensive line and, as people seem to be forgetting, improve the pass rush. The team also signed running back Chris Ivory to a five year, $32 million contract to split carries with T.J. Yeldon.
Caldwell found his "franchise free safety" in Tashaun Gipson, and locked the ball-hawking safety up on a five year, $36 million deal. A replacement for one of the most puzzling, awful draft picks in franchise history? You got it, the Jags signed punter Brad Nortman to a four year, $8.8 million deal to replace punter Bryan Anger.
While the Jaguars offensive line made strides last year, there is still much room for improvement. Therefore, Caldwell signed Mackenzy Bernadeau on a two year, $4 million deal to compete and provide depth along the interior offensive line. The word of mouth has been that the team has wanted to move cornerback Aaron Colvin inside to nickel corner, and that can now be done as the team signed cornerback Prince Amukamara to a one year deal (no report on contract details yet) to prove he can stay healthy and lock down receivers on the outside.
Dave Caldwell has made big moves this free agency, filling needs across the board. As of right now, the Jaguars have three new starters on defense, a fixed secondary on paper, a solid two-running back "pound and ground" attack, depth along the offensive line, and a new punter to make us forget about the most confusing third-round pick in team history.
This free agency haul is looking to be the best one yet in team history if the newly signed Jaguars pan out, and there are still players out there, waiting to be signed.
But wait, it looks like we forgot something.
The "influx of pass rushers". Oh boy.
Caldwell reportedly went after top free agent pass rusher Olivier Vernon hard, so hard that Caldwell even went out of his comfort zone to get a deal done, but in the end, the two ends couldn't agree and Vernon signed with the New York Giants on a five year, $85 million deal.
Vernon did not reject Jacksonville for financial reasons alone, so get the irrational thought of "if only Caldwell threw Vernon more money" out of your head. The Jaguars could have offered Vernon somewhere in the ballpark of $100 million and that still wouldn't have changed Vernon's mind from what we know.
Maybe that's a smokescreen coming from Vernon's camp, but his statements make sense -- he wants to be in a big city. New York - 1, Jacksonville - 0.
Vernon very much wanted a five year deal over a six-year deal, and while Caldwell changed his offer to a five-year offer at the last second, it was too late, as the Giants offer was five years all along. New York - 2, Jacksonville - 0.
Money-wise, the Giants offered Vernon $7 million more in his first year of the contract, which was way too much compared to what Caldwell was comfortable offering. Final score: New York - 3, Jacksonville - 0.
As far as Robert Ayers, let's check in on Cole Hartley's analysis for his favorite free agent target.
They'll get Ayers. And he'll get paid.— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) March 10, 2016
Ayers seemed like a very realistic option to be brought in to help bolster the Jaguars pass rush. He visited Jacksonville and was here with the team for almost 24 hours, including attending a dinner with members of the coaching staff, Dave Caldwell, and several Jaguars players, such as newly acquired defensive lineman Malik Jackson.
The visit was going very well. So what happened?
It's very simple, the negotiations fell apart, and it was not about the money.
Ayers put together a great season last year, tallying 9.5 sacks, a career high. While he is 30 years old, he displayed that he very much has good seasons ahead of him in his breakout year last year. He wants to be a starter, he always wants to be on the field.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could offer him that. The Jaguars couldn't.
Ayers signed with the Bucs on a three year, $21 million contract. Caldwell could have blown that deal out of the water. While Ayers isn't worth what Vernon is, Caldwell could have very much offered Ayers around $30 million, and while that would be overpaying, it's not totally unreasonable.
But Ayers was not willing to be a rotating pass rusher, no matter the price. Jacksonville drafted Dante Fowler to be the face of the pass rush, and while he is completely unproven, the team is dedicated to their 2015 first round pick.
If Ayers signed with the Jaguars, he would have been a rotating pass rusher with Fowler, and that was not in his plans.
So, while we all wanted to see Olivier Vernon or Robert Ayers in Jaguars jerseys for years to come, neither of them were comfortable here. That's normal. Some players are picky, some players don't mesh with what we're building here, and you can't force them to. It's impossible and it's unrealistic. Don't blame Dave Caldwell for that, it's just the reality of the situation.
There is a 2016 NFL Draft to take place. There are lower-tier free agents who can be looked over. There are trades that can be made if necessary. None of these situations are ideal, but they are possible. Don't conform to the thought of not having anymore options to improve the pass rush, because they're out there. And don't blame Dave Caldwell... he might have been part of the problem, but he was far from alone.