The Jaguars needed to spend. Here's why.
Jacksonville is the team that spent like crazy this spring. But with Trevor Lawrence, it was the smart thing to do. Also inside this column: What's next for Baker Mayfield and the Browns now?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are spending money to laughable proportions.
No, seriously. Opponents are laughing.
Linebacker Darius Leonard — an All-Pro on the Indianapolis Colts team stunned by the Jags in an embarrassing, do-or-die Week 18 loss — did exactly that on Wednesday afternoon:
He’s not alone, of course. He’s merely echoing the general consensus, that the bottom-feeding Jags are helplessly pissing in the wind. A team that’s gone 15-50 the last four years, a team with one winning season the last 14 years decided to spend… and spend… and spend. This was a frivolous stimulus package that seemingly no one could support on either side of the aisle. To recap:
WR Christian Kirk: four years, $72 million.
G Brandon Scherff: three years, $49.5 million.
LB Foyesade Oluokun: three years, $45 million.
DT Foley Fatukasi: three years, $40 million.
CB Darious Williams: three years, $30 million.
WR Zay Jones: three years, 24 million.
TE Evan Engram: one year, $9 million.
But you know what? This is smart because, frankly, this was the Jaguars’ only realistic option.
We all fall victim of viewing NFL free agency through a one-size-fits-all lens, as if all 32 franchises operate on the same playing field with the same plan of attack. That’s what the league trumpets, after all. A balanced playing field. In reality, this isn’t the case. Many star players enjoy Southern California, so guess what? They sign long-term deals with the Rams and, now, the Chargers. I can only imagine what’s going through the mind of Anthony Lynn watching his old Chargers team shell out a big deal for cornerback J.C. Jackson and trade for Khalil Mack. He would’ve loved to sign five-star talent but, as one source said, owner Dean Spanos wasn’t keen on spending a lot of money on players when the franchise first moved from San Diego to Los Angeles.
It’s easy for the Dallas Cowboys to sign big names. Jerry Jones, in general, doesn’t show much restraint.
It’s not easy for small-market teams mired in losing to convince good players to play for them.
So, it’s not too complicated. The fastest track to success is to do what the Buffalo Bills did in drafting the right quarterback (Josh Allen over Josh Rosen) and aggressively adding whoever they could around Allen to nurture his development and win. Now. Because you never know how long that Super Bowl window will stay open. Allen signed a deal worth $258 million over six years and, suddenly, Western New York is a destination for players like edge rusher Von Miller and tight end O.J. Howard, who both signed late Wednesday. They didn’t leave L.A. and Tampa, Fla. for the blinding lake effect snow, no, Miller’s camp noted that Allen’s presence was the key factor. To work toward this point of being 13 seconds away from the AFC title game and adding a future Hall of Famer, general manager Brandon Beane wasted little time in signing players around his quarterback. From Year 2 on, the same GM who vowed he wouldn’t make big splashes in free agency has done exactly that in what’s become quite an arm’s race in the AFC.
The Cincinnati Bengals knew they drafted a special talent in Joe Burrow and also wasted no time writing checks. Their spending spree in 2021 paid off with a trip to the Super Bowl.
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This isn’t to suggest the 2022 Jaguars are the 2021 Bengals but — because of Trevor Lawrence’s presence and potential — they needed to do exactly what they did this week. Go for it. Don’t look back. Give Lawrence all the shampoo and conditioner money can buy, too. A team like the Jaguars, at this stage, doesn’t have the luxury of leverage in negotiating. What people remember most about this team a year ago is its head coach drunk at an Ohio bar that beared his name getting handsy with a woman younger than his own daughter. The best of the best are not lining up at the starter’s gate to sprint toward this culture. But the fact that Lawrence is here? The fact that the new head coach, Doug Pederson, won a Super Bowl? That at least gives the Jaguars a chance. In that case, it is similar to Cincinnati. Cornerback Mike Hilton was intrigued by Burrow a year ago.
Lawrence is not blameless. He threw 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and averaged only 214 passing yards per game as a rookie despite playing from behind so much. But not only was Urban Meyer a disgrace off the field, his unit was wildly unimaginative and dull on it. It’s difficult for a passing game to be this anemic in the modern NFL. Like Burrow, we’ve all seen Lawrence dominate high-level competition in college — the talent’s in him. Burrow was a human piñata as a rookie, Allen completed 52.8 percent of his passes in 2018 and, hell, even Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions his first year. The best of the best typically rise to the top with a little help from their front office. What Jacksonville did this week isn’t nearly as risky as the tightrope acts we’re seeing elsewhere. If you’re lucky enough (bad enough?) to land a talent like this out of college, go all in on that talent. Several other teams with former first-round picks at quarterback cannot confidently make the same bet. In fact, there are likely GMs and coaches praying they keep their jobs for a crack at the quarterback chaos next offseason.
Meanwhile, other teams equally devoid of talent cannot yet hit this accelerator. We all love the fight those plucky Detroit Lions showed under Dan Campbell but until they find a long-term answer at quarterback, what exactly are they accomplishing?
When it comes to NFL contracts, the devil’s always in the details. The deals to Kirk, Scherff, Jones and Oluokun all have outs after two years, per Spotrac. The financial hits aren’t nearly as damning as one may think and — most importantly — these are solid players.
Scherff has missed 22 games the last four years yet, when healthy, he’s an elite guard. A five-time Pro Bowler.
Kirk has played in the NFL four years and is still only 25 years. Adding a receiver like this squarely in his prime — off a 77-catch, 982-yard, five-touchdown season — is most certainly ideal. Kirk has dropped only 11 passes in four seasons, crucial on a team that led the NFL in drops last season. Even after adding Zay Jones as a No. 3 behind Marvin Jones and Kirk, Jacksonville likely is not done adding ammo at receiver, either. This draft is loaded. A true burner deep, who also runs sharp routes, the Jags’ bet is that Kirk follows a Tyler Lockett-like trajectory. It took the Seattle Seahawks playmaker three-plus years to turn into the weapon he is today.
Oluokun is a big get. Tackles can be a misleading statistic but the former sixth-round pick out of Yale had an NFL-high 192 tackles for the Falcons last season. He’s one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. Since tackling became a stat in 1987, he’s the only player to ever reach at least 170 tackles with three interceptions in a season. He’ll be utilized the right way, too. New defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell is fresh off coaching Devin White in Tampa Bay and surely had a say in this signing.
Williams is another great story, an undrafted corner who clawed his way into the Rams’ starting lineup and had four picks in 2020. He and Shaquill Griffin could form a strong duo at corner.
This roster needed talent. Did the Jaguars pay too much? Probably. But this sure beats sitting around on their hands and there’s a few others worth getting excited about around here. Former Clemson running back Travis Etienne, a 25th overall pick, will finally play after missing all of his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury and edge rusher Josh Allen is the sort of player teams chase every spring. There still remains one missing piece: a stud No. 1 receiver. A Stefon Diggs. A Ja’Marr Chase. They’re the players who elevated their respective quarterbacks into a new stratosphere. Quite possibly, the Jaguars make their move for such a weapon in Year 3 of Lawrence, like the Bills did in Year 3 of Allen. By then, they’ll also have a better idea of how the former Clemson star is tracking in the pros.
This week may appear to be an act of desperation by a team that’s only known losing for most of a generation. It’s not.
Let’s check in on the Browns
Which brings us to Item No. 2, which some readers may consider actual desperation: the courtship of Deshaun Watson. As of hitting publish on this post, the following teams had reportedly met with the quarterback: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Cleveland. With a no-trade clause in his contract, Watson can essentially choose his destination. The Texans did not allow anyone to meet with Watson until they approved that team’s trade proposal.