The 2021 NFL legal tampering period of free agency has begun, and many splashy moves were made by all teams in order improve for next season.
The Jaguars...weren’t one of those teams. Nevertheless, the team did make many moves to improve the overall depth on both sides of the ball.
Here are some quick reactions to the Jaguars Day 1 of Free Agency:
Special Teams is a priority
There’s a reason they call it “special” teams, folks. The Jaguars had a pretty solid special teams group last year, with Keelan Cole spearheading a group that averaged about 11 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kick return. Bringing in special teams ace Jamal Agnew gives a major boost to the special teams game, and provides for a security blanket if Keelan Cole were to leave in free agency. Agnew averaged about 13 yards per punt return, and 28 yards per kick return, according to Pro Football Reference. He signed a three year deal, topping out at $21 million with incentives. In addition, the Jaguars signed safety Rudy Ford to a two year deal worth $4.2 million. Ford is also a special teams standout, who will shore up the special teams coverage in short time.
Meyer has always been known to place an importance on special teams, ever since becoming a special teams coordinator at Notre Dame in 1996. Meyer has said that while he was coaching at Ohio State, players had to start on special teams before starting on offense or defense. He brings this emphasis on special teams to the Jaguars, and it’s clear with these two signings.
Depth, Disruption over Flash for the Defensive Line
The Jaguars re signed DE Dawuane Smoot and added DT Roy Robertson-Harris to the defensive line on Monday. Neither of these guys will get you 11-plus sacks per year, but both are disruptive and cause havoc in many different ways. Robertson-Harris is a long, powerful interior rusher with a nonstop motor on both sides of the ball. Smoot has that same high motor, but brings it to the edge, where he led the Jaguars in sacks last year. New Defensive Coordinator Joe Cullen comes from a Baltimore system where last year didn’t have a player get over six sacks, but 16 players registered at least one sack throughout the season, and led the league in Blitz Percentage at 44%(Pro Football Reference). Baltimore loved to play games and blitz from different areas of the field, and that required more disruption from the defensive line than pure one-on-one dominance. If Cullen is bringing that type of defense to Jacksonville, then signing Robertson-Harris and Smoot are two additions that will help the Jaguars in the long run.
“4-to-6, A-to-B” isn’t just a mantra
Speed is the name of the game for Meyer and how he wants to build his teams, and Jacksonville on Day 1 signed a lot of depth guys who will win with speed on both sides of the ball. We covered Agnew and Ford already, but one that stands out to me is the signing of safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Jenkins signed on a four-year contract, and what he brings is playmaking to the back end of the defense. The Jaguars desperately lacked speed at safety last year, and Jenkins is a guy who can play centerfield and make plays on the ball. On the offensive side, the Jaguars signed WR Phillip Dorsett, who can take the top off of a defense and could also be a stopgap replacement if Keelan Cole does leave Jacksonville.
The Jaguars brain trust goes with who they know
In a time where free agency visits are hampered by COVID-19, and a first year head coach is stepping in, previous connections are massive in free agency. The Jaguars signed many players on Day One that aren’t necessarily flashy, but they provide depth and have previous connections to Meyer and his staff. RB Carlos Hyde, who signed a two-year, six million dollar deal with the Jaguars, was on Meyer’s Ohio State teams and scored four touchdowns as a part of the Seahawks offense last year, which was guided by new Jaguars QB Coach Brian Schottenheimer, and Agnew played under current Jaguars OC Darrell Bevell. These previous relationships may not lead to starting jobs in the offense, but they’re solid pieces to add depth to a roster that lacked talent.
Ok, so the Jaguars didn’t make any splashy or flashy signings on Day One. They didn’t throw exorbitant amounts of cash at players, flaunting that league-leading cap space. Luckily, free agency doesn’t last one day. It hurts to miss out on guys like John Johnson III, Jonnu Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson, but there are still a lot of talented players out there that the Jaguars can and will sign. TE Hunter Henry is still available, along with OT Trent Williams and former Lions WR(under Darrell Bevell) Kenny Golladay. On the defensive side of the ball, nickel corner Brian Poole is still free and so are CBs Mike Hilton and Janoris Jenkins(who was the first freshman to start at CB at the University of Florida...under Urban Meyer). There are plenty of options still out there for Jacksonville to add that would make me consider this signing period a success.