The Jaguars under owner Shahid Khan have traditionally been one of the biggest spenders in free agency. This year was no different. Within a matter of days the Jaguars doled out nearly $170 million to secure the services of cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church, among others.
But, were the Jaguars one of free-agency’s biggest winners? That’s the more pertinent question, and a question even more pertinent than that, especially in the wake of the draft and with offseason programs beginning to wind down, is whether the Jaguars might have gone on to be among the biggest winners of the NFL offseason.
Mike Sando of ESPN did, in fact, post that very question to a group of 15 NFL executives recently, but he didn’t stop at asking them how the Jaguars fared. Sando took the exercise 31 steps further and asked the group to grade the offseason work of all of the league’s 32 teams, and the findings are quite fascinating.
The entire poll can be found here, but for our purposes we’ll cut to the chase and break down the grades received by the three Florida-based teams, one of which received the highest grade. It wasn’t the Jaguars, though. It was the Buccaneers. They were given a grade of A-, same as the Patriots, which was just a tad better than the Jaguars, who were given a B.
The Dolphins came in third with a B-, with the executives agreeing in essence that the team may have spent a bit too much to keep the likes of Cameron Wake, Kenny Stills and Andre Branch. The consensus, though, was that it was better to spend that money to keep players they know rather than spend it on players they don’t.
“What’s really notable right now, is you have an offensive-minded head coach (Adam Gase) who is a play-caller and is empowered after a 10-6 first season, and they are drafting defense heavily, which is what they needed to do,’’ one executive said. “It (takes) discipline to do that.’’
The executive’s biggest takeaway from the Jaguars offseason, other than noting that they spent big to do so, is that they have forged a new offensive identity as a run-first team. The decision to draft Leonard Fournette fourth overall confirmed that, but whether that will make the Jaguars big winners when it matters most is still a point for debate.
“Every offseason, we think they get better,’’ one executive said. “I have no idea anymore. It looks like defensively they have a ton of pieces. Offensively, it is back to what it usually is. What is (Blake) Bortles going to be like? The pieces around him are very good on offense (and left tackle) Cam Robinson was one of the best picks in the draft.’’
As for the Bucs, well, it’s just hard to knock a team that set out to improve the weaponry around quarterback Jameis Winston and came away with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard. Those two additions alone took a team that, according to the executives, might have topped out at nine wins as it did a year ago and simply made it better.
“That offense is going to be really hard to play against,” one executive said. “DeSean has at least a year left, and then you add Howard.’’