In early 2013, Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley tore down the Jaguars roster like old, tacky wallpaper. The team then drafted five defensive backs -- an ambitious attempt at setting a foundation for coach Bradley's secondary of the future.
In 2016 (the future), there's a strong possibility that poached players -- not homegrown talent -- will occupy three of the four starting spots within this secondary. If all goes according to plan, a team nationally praised for it's "build through the draft" methodology will employ Davon House, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara in it's defensive backfield -- all names that have been built alongside some other NFL franchise.
To me, this is not an emblem of draft incompetence. Drafting was always just one half of the blueprint.
When Seattle's defensive coordinator arrived in Jacksonville and the Jaguars snatched five defensive backs right away, there was an implicit mold set in place -- a mold built out of scrap, length, and physicality. Over time, however, this template has been stretched by poor play in the secondary. The Jaguars defense ended last season gasping for outside help -- an issue that Caldwell promised to patch by the start of the 2016 season.
Free agency was always part of the plan. When a salary-rich team sits in a position to buy starting talent, then there's no reason not to do so. I do see the irony born out of plugging starters into a defense that was always supposed to be "built through the draft," but I admire the rationality as well.
I'd argue that acquiring talent -- not just drafting talent -- is the central objective when building a team from the ground up. Caldwell has hit on a QB and other key pieces of the team. Free agency was always meant to be utilized for the misses.
In fact, almost every position targeted by the Jaguars in that notorious 2013 draft -- aside from strong safety and kick returner -- was again targeted by the team in this year's free agency pool. I guess fixing mistakes turns from a luxury into an obligation when you have a cap-wallet as big as the Jaguars do.
Overall, I think spending to replace in-home talent is a good thing. I know for a fact, however, that a many people don't share my stance on this subject.
This is a— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) April 5, 2016
I understand both sides of the argument. It's easy to look at the recent evolution of the Jaguars secondary, for example, and think, "they messed up."
Only one of those five defensive backs drafted in 2013 -- Jonathan Cyprien -- is likely to start next season. And, hell, not many of us particularly want him to. The safety lining up behind him -- Tashaun Gipson -- is a Pro Bowler taken from the Browns this offseason.
If all goes according to plan, the Jaguars' two outside corners will be veteran cornerbacks that stolen from the NFC -- Davon House last offseason, and Prince Amukamara this offseason. Aaron Colvin, a 2014 draft pick, will most likely man the nickel spot.
Gone from this secondary snapshot are Dwayne Gratz, Demetrius McCray, Josh Evans, Jeremy Harris and James Sample -- Jaguars DB draft picks from 2013-2015. A few of these players could see playing time in 2016, but shouldn't if all goes according to plan. It's easy to lift this group as an example and call Caldwell out on not batting a thousand.
It seems many fans are willing to do so.
You could also spin this situation another way. Yes, many recent Jaguars draft picks have been disappointments -- the secondary group is far from an exception. But, by investing in outside talent, other parts of the team should improve in the process.
Thanks to the addition of Amukamara, Aaron Colvin is no longer being elbowed into an outside corner spot. He can focus on the nickel role -- the position we all want to see him man.
By adding Tashaun Gipson at free safety, strong safety Jonathan Cyprien should be able to play a more natural role -- perhaps a responsibility closer to the line of scrimmage. Cyprien's utility should increase in the process.
Whether or not this secondary can improve upon lasts season's performance is yet to be seen. What you can see, however, is that Caldwell is using every channel available to him in an effort to make improvements in the defensive backfield.
Whatever concoction of in-house and outside talent that happens to be, it'll most likely be for the best.