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Jaguars free agency grade: How did Dave Caldwell do?

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The first wave of free agency is over. How did the Jaguars do?

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It looks like the Jacksonville Jaguars are about done with free agency for 2016. There may be one or two more signings, but the major ones are done.

Overall, a lot of gaps were filled -- a free safety who knows what he's doing in Tashaun Gipson, a replacement for Sen'Derrick Marks in Malik Jackson, and a potential shut down cornerback in Prince Amukamara were signed, including others. But the biggest need of all in a pass rusher was missed out on entirely. Olivier Vernon chose the bright lights of New York (and slightly more money) over Jacksonville and Robert Ayers chose a better opportunity and more snaps with Tampa Bay.

So, how did the Jaguars do in free agency this year?

Malik Jackson

At the time, a home run. The Jaguars made the first big splash across the league, getting a disgruntled Jackson to commit to an agreement and then signing him to a contract that could earn him upwards of $90 million. Did we overpay him? Yes. Does Jacksonville -- a small market with a lame duck head coach and defensive coaching staff -- have to do that? Yes. It was a strong signing out of the gate.
Grade: A

Chris Ivory

Another strong agreement before the free agency window officially opened. Ivory is going to be a great complement to T.J. Yeldon and although it's on the offensive side of the ball, running back was a position of need. Ivory and Yeldon will help keep each other fresh and Ivory can specifically help as a better short-yardage guy on short third downs and near the goal line.
Grade: A-

Brad Nortman

Bryan Anger "wasn't willing to negotiate" according to Dave Caldwell and punter became a low-threshold priority. Just go get a decent guy and don't let it take you away from the top priority of the offseason: upgrading your pass rush. Unfortunately, while Nortman is more consistent and outkicks his coverage less often, his net average is only 0.7 yards better than Anger's. But he's not Anger and his contract guarantees are all in Year 1, so yay.
Grade: B

Tashaun Gipson

The saving grace of the first day. Gipson was injured in 2015, but he was a Pro Bowl-caliber free safety for the Cleveland Browns in 2013 and 2014. He was the AFC's interception leader in both of those seasons and at just 25 years old, he can be a fixture for the Jaguars defense. A very, very good signing. The second-best of the free agency period by Jacksonville.
Grade: A

Mackenzy Bernadeau

A former seventh-round pick, Bernadeau played in all 16 games for the Dallas Cowboys last year. He's a versatile lineman who can play both guard positions and center and while a player like Jeff Allen would have been ideal, this is still a fine depth signing from Day 2.
Grade: C

Prince Amukamara

I liked Janoris Jenkins as the top cornerback prospect in free agency, but Amukamara can be a force in this league. Injuries have held him back, but he bet on himself signing just a one-year prove it deal and if he can be anything like Davon House, the Jaguars could have lucked into a solid Day 3 signing.
Grade: B

Misses

Whew. Here's where it gets ugly. Before free agency even started, they bowed out early in the race to sign Mario Williams who would have helped with the team's pass rush problems. He decided to sign with the Miami Dolphins for $8 million per year, but at the time the thought was the Jaguars would go hard after younger and more talented pass rushers like Olivier Vernon and Robert Ayers, so not closing the deal was fine.

Then, the Oakland Raiders surprised everyone and put up more money for potential OTTO linebacker Bruce Irvin. He was thought to be a lock for the Jaguars by everyone from NFL Network's Jeff Darlington to ESPN Seattle. This was a fumble at the goal line.

On the first day of free agency, the team went hard after Olivier Vernon, but the New York Giants outbid them (slightly) and the thought of playing in New York was much more enticing than playing in Jacksonville, according to Vernon and his agent David Canter.

Now the available pass rushers were wearing thin, but there was still one name available that was arguably still a top-tier prospect in this class: Robert Ayers. In the end, it came down to what seemed to be similar contracts and Ayers decided the opportunity for more playing time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was better than in Jacksonville.

Overall

The Jaguars upgraded their roster in almost every position of need except their biggest one: edge rusher. It's hard to call a free agency class good when you fix all but your biggest problem. What's even more damning is that this is not a good draft class for edge rushers and so that leaves second-year player Dante Fowler (who was injured his entire rookie season) to carry the burden of leading the pass rush. It's going to be more of the same in 2016 because the Jaguars were afraid to overspend on the greatest position of need and get a guy like Williams or Ayers.
Grade: C+