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View from the O-Zone: Three cheers for free agency

Posted Mar 10, 2017

Oehser: For now, it’s OK for Jaguars believers to believe in the 2017 free-agency class – because Friday was a really good day for the franchise

JACKSONVILLE – Three cheers for the 2017 free-agency class …

Calais Campbell … hip, hip, hooray …

A.J. Bouye … hip, hip, hooray …

Barry Church … hip, hip, hooray ….

Don’t forget Branden Albert and Lerentee McCray, either – and yes, it’s OK if you’re a Jaguars believer to be hip, hip, happy on this 2017 Free Agency Friday.

Is it OK to believe this five-some – three high-profile free agents, a high-profile trade acquisition and a key contributor – introduced on a whirlwind, festive Friday at EverBank Field indeed will improve the Jaguars? Yeah, it’s OK to believe.

Because the five players who joined the Jaguars Friday sure do.

“All I can say is we’re headed toward excellence,” McCray said. “If anybody has any doubt in the Jacksonville Jaguars, they better straighten up their vision, because we’re on a roll.”

Sift through Friday’s Free Agency quote book, and that was pretty much the money quote. But McCray hardly was alone in his feelings.

“Hopefully, the sky’s the limit,” Church said.

Campbell, whose eight consecutive seasons with five or more sacks make him perhaps the most-accomplished of the new additions, chose the Jaguars after the Broncos reportedly made a Thursday push.

“I saw this team, and realized it was going in the right direction,” Campbell said. “This team is young, hungry and full of talent. I just want to come in and try to be a part of it.”

Such talked ruled the day Friday, but the newest Jaguars – particularly veterans such as Campbell and Church – spoke, too, with healthy realism. For every quote about the Jaguars being a talented team there was a quote about the work to be done. Somewhere, Head Coach Doug Marrone and Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin were smiling (at least a little).

Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell, too, used measured words Friday. He talked of the draft remaining the team’s ideal means to build, and said despite recent high-priced forays into free agency, draft-and-develop remains the objective.

Free agency? Still a way to fill holes.

“But when we’re able to fill holes with players like Calais, and Barry and A.J. and Branden, that’s great,” he added. “Every team has needs, and you go into your offseason trying to fill eight-to-10 of your Top 10 needs. I feel like we filled some of those needs over the last couple of days.”

So, what will Friday mean? Will it mean real improvement?

Fair question, because the Jaguars have had their share of giddy free agency days in recent seasons. The results have been mixed enough that even Jaguars Owner Shad Khan this week tempered his pre-free agency enthusiasm with the caveat of wanting to see how the players actually worked out.

But when looking at free agency, you must look through a filtered lens. That filter must emphasize that players rarely fulfill the expectations accompanying the insane millions forever attached to their names. Seen through that lens, Friday was a good day for the Jaguars.

Seen through that lens – that free agency is a way to improve the roster and not necessarily build it – this past week hardly could have been better for this franchise.

And yeah …

Cynics are correct to say the work still to be done will be difficult. There is still the matter of improving the running game. There is still the matter of Blake Bortles improving, and quarterback still remains the No. 1 question about this franchise until it is not.

But Free Agency Friday wasn’t about the cynics.

No, Free Agency Friday was about making a pretty good defensive line better with Campbell, and about making special teams better with McCray. It was about making what was a pretty good secondary potentially really good with Church and Bouye, and improving the offensive line with Albert. It also may have been about giving the Jaguars a big-time cornerback tandem for the foreseeable future, because Bouye and Jalen Ramsey together have big-time potential.

Free Agency Friday also gave the Jaguars an added veteran locker-room presence. That’s not nothing, and you get the sense that in Campbell’s case – and in the case of Church – that element could be significant.

Free Agency Friday also showed again that the Jaguars can get the players they covet. Malik Jackson was among the NFL's top free agents when he signed with the Jaguars last offseason. Campbell and Bouye ranked among the top this season.

To listen to Caldwell Friday, that’s a trend that wasn’t easily established.

“When I first got here, there was difficulty in getting players to take a visit,” Caldwell said. “There was a big misconception about Jacksonville. We’ve been able to change the perception of Jacksonville. It’s a great city, it’s a great community and it’s a great place to play football.”

Yes, the perception is a changin’ – and as Caldwell said Friday, the hard part comes now, because now it’s time to win. But we know that already. That’s time for another day.

For now, if you’re a Jaguars believer, enjoy this. For now, it’s OK to happy. For now, three cheers for the Jaguars’ 2017 free-agency class …

Hip, hip …

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