The Jacksonville Jaguars weren’t quiet during the first day of NFL free agency, but there were no marquee players confirmed by the team. That said, from the heavily reported connections, we can safely assume a few players will be announced as official members of the team during the 1:00pm EST press conference.
So how did the team do yesterday? We grade each of the players.
OG Andrew Norwell: 5-year deal worth $66 million ($30 million in guarantees)
The Jaguars have shopped at the top of the free agent market the last two off-seasons, with the signings of Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, and A.J. Bouye. The Jaguars continued that trend, making Andrew Norwell the highest paid offensive lineman in the league.
Norwell was a first team All-Pro in 2017 with the Carolina Panthers, and was graded as one of the best lineman in the league last year by Pro Football Focus. Norwell was the only offensive lineman in the NFL last year who didn’t allow his quarterback to be touched all season. Even though Norwell is known as a masher in the running game, his pass blocking skills seemed to shine the most last season.
Norwell is an elite level player, and someone the Jaguars felt was worth paying the dollar he commanded. Last off-season, many were disappointed the regime did not go after Kevin Zeitler, who was the top guard on the market. It has been reported that Caldwell and company weren’t as fond of Zeitler as other teams, and he went out of their price range. Fast forward a year later, and the Jaguars are making Norwell the richest guard in the league.
The signing of Norwell is an obvious commitment to the style of play the Jaguars are looking to play. They want to be a run first team, and weren’t satisfied with their current set up on the interior of their offensive line. And they should not have been content. Brandon Linder was superb, but both A.J. Cann and Patrick Omaheh struggled at points during the year. Cann has become an adequate pass blocker, but just doesn’t have the push in the run game that was expected out of him coming out of college. While the Jaguars rushing attack by volume was the best in the NFL, their efficiency was closer to the bottom of the league, and it felt like too many games where they couldn’t get any type of push up front.
Plug in Norwell, and the quality of this line increases dramatically. Leonard Fournette is not the shiftiest of backs, and he needs guys who can create clear holes for him up front. The addition of Norwell will hopefully lessen the amount of times Fournette runs into his own offensive lineman’s backs on a run play.
The Jaguars paid a pretty penny for Norwell, but he ultimately may be worth the price tag. Linder and Norwell become a great tandem inside, and if Cam Robinson can develop into what he is capable of, it could be one the nastier left sides of an offensive line in the league.
Norwell helps this team right away in both the pass and run game, and gives them a legitimate All-Pro on the offensive line. The Jaguars want to win in the trenches, and Norwell will help them do that.
With $30 million guaranteed, Norwell’s deal at least a major two-year commitment, if not three. Though it would not surprise me if most of the guarantees were in the first two years of the deal. He fills a position of need, but we had to pay top of the market value. Improves the offensive line by a significant
WR Donte Moncrief: 1-year deal worth up to $9.6 million with incentives ($7 million guaranteed)
After letting Allen Robinson walk, and sign with the Chicago Bears, the Jaguars pivoted with two receiver signings. Moncrief is the out of house option, and is an intriguing fit with the Jaguars. Moncrief had a breakout year in 2015, totaling 64-catches, for 744-yards, and 6 touchdowns. In 2016, and 2017, Moncrief battled injuries to his hips, ankles, and shoulders, along with the absence of Andrew Luck during that time.
Moncrief is a bigger receiver at 6’2, 220 pounds, and fits into the mode of an Allen Robinson type receiver. Moncrief is a nice buy low signing, and someone the Jaguars obviously think can improve moving forward, still only being 24-years old. Moncrief adds depth, and potential to the receiving corps, which seems desperate for someone to breakout as the number one option in the pass game.
One-year deals are always usually good value, and Moncrief will have the opportunity to prove that he is worth retaining for the Jaguars. I could easily see him being the number one, or two option in the offense, though he will face competition with Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole. Hopefully Moncrief is motivated, and adding him to the mix help sort of soften the blow of Robinson departing.
Moncrief has good value and he adds depth to an important position.
WR Marqise Lee: 4-year deal worth $38 million ($18 million in guarantees)
The Jaguars re-signed a receiver! We were anticipating this the whole off-season, and it is great to have Allen Robi-wait?
They re-signed Marqise Lee? Oh well the must have gotten a bargain on him then.
He got $9.5 million a year?
We are talking about Marqise Lee right?
All jokes aside, the Jaguars brought back a receiver, just not the one we all expected. Look, i don’t hate the deal. Lee is a solid player, and he has come on the last two seasons for the Jaguars. As much slack as we gave him for his health in his first two seasons, he has been healthy in the past two campaigns. One could even say he was the Jaguars best receiver the last two seasons.
Giving nearly $10 million dollars per year to a guy who is clearly at best a No. 2 receiver, just gives me an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. Lee’s contract seems like an overreaction the robust market at receiver in the first wave of free agency.
The Jaguars are paying Lee like a guy who is going to continue to improve, and there is a case to be made that he could. This front office obviously likes Lee, and may think higher of him than the rest of the league. Lee is going to have to sure up his drops, as it has been problem in his career. Lee lead the league with 8 dropped passes last year, and it is not something guys usually completely fix in their career.
Lee does shine in one area though, where he is excellent after the catch. Lee is one of 12 receivers in the NFL to average over 5.0 yards after the catch in the NFL, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Ultimately, with $18 million in guarantees, this deal is at least a two-year commitment, and a solid one at that. Lee is going to have to put up better numbers than his previous two seasons to justify this contract, especially in the red zone.
CB D.J. Hayden: 3-year deal worth $19 million ($9.5 million in guarantees)
With Aaron Colvin moving on the Houston Texans, the Jaguars felt they needed to fill a hole at the nickel cornerback position. Their man to fill that role? D.J. Hayden.
Hayden is a former first round pick by the Oakland Raiders, and may be most well-known for serving a freak accident in college, where one of his blood vessels in his heart popped after a hit in practice.
Many considered Hayden a bust with the Raiders, never establishing himself in a weak secondary. Last season, he latched on with the Detroit Lions fighting for a spot, and wound up as their nickel corner.
There are two stats that can define Hayden’s time in Detroit two completely different ways.
On one hand, Hayden did not give up a touchdown in coverage the whole season. On another, Hayden was flagged for pass interference more than anyone on a per passing play basis last year in the NFL, getting hit 8 percent of the time with a flag.
When considering that nickel corners are not targeted in the red-zone as much, nor are they always on the field in the red zone, the no touchdowns given up lacks some merit. There are mixed views coming out of him form Detroit, but too many people don’t seem that sad to see him go.
Hayden seems like the kind of guy who gets overpaid simply because he was a former first round pick, and front offices think they can squeeze the extra talent out of him. So far in his tenure in the league, Hayden hasn’t proven to be anything more than an average No. 3 corner. Which is perplexing to why the Jaguars gave him $9.5 million in guaranteed money.
Nickel corners are often found on the cheap, and giving a replacement level guy that kind of money isn’t the best use of your resources. I’m sure the Jaguars have their reasons, and may have liked Hayden all the way back to the draft process in 2013. However, I would have much rather them allocated this money toward a tight end, or a better option at back up quarterback.
The Jaguars could have most likely waited for the market to dry up, and gotten a player of Hayden’s caliber for much cheaper. This deal most likely guarantees him two years on the roster, which isn’t what you look for when dealing with a guy who has played close to replacement level most of his career.
Look, Hayden could prove me wrong, and thrive playing between Jalen Ramsey, and A.J. Bouye. However, i would have gone the draft route, or waited on the market on another player. This deal just does not have much upside for me, as they are overpaying for position value, and the player.
Overall, i think this is a decent haul for the Jaguars. These moves clearly indicate they are all in for 2018 and 2019, and they aren’t afraid to flex their muscles a bit. The loss of Robinson hurts, especially when you realize Lee and Hayden got more in guarantees combined than Robinson did. However, I think the Jaguars are a better team today than they were a few days ago.
Only time will tell with these signings, but the Jaguars clearly think they can one-up last year, and make a run at the Super Bowl.