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Week in focus: Time is now

Posted Mar 13, 2017

Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was around the Jaguars – and what last week’s beginning of the 2017 free-agency period says about the franchise’s direction moving forward


JACKSONVILLE – The message is in the details.

We’re talking about the Jaguars’ 2017 offseason and what it says about the organization’s approach moving forward under Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, Head Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager David Caldwell.

Specifically, we’re talking about the events of late last week.

The Jaguars did a lot late last week: signing seven unrestricted free agents, finalizing two major trades, releasing veteran defensive tackles Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller III, re-signing a couple of free agents to-be …

Like we said, a lot got done.

And while it wasn’t a roster overhaul, exactly, it was at the very least a big-time tweak. Was it an upgrade? Time will tell, because while optimism reigns during free agency, there is inherent risk and uncertainty, too.

Still, this looks like an upgrade. Left tackle Branden Albert looks like he will upgrade the running game, and cornerback A.J. Bouye looks like he along with Jalen Ramsey will give the Jaguars a front-line tandem at the position. Barry Church looks like an experienced upgrade at strong safety, and defensive end Calais Campbell and his 2014-2015 Pro Bowl appearances look like a serious upgrade.

So, what do last week’s moves say about the direction?

One is that special teams indeed matter. That’s the message Coughlin sent a couple of weeks back, and it’s the message signing Lerentee McCray from Buffalo sent, too. He will perhaps play some defensive end, but he will play a lot of special teams.

Another is that professionalism matters. That’s one major thread joining Albert, Church and Campbell – the three most veteran of last week’s acquisitions. All come to the Jaguars with reputations as professional, committed leaders. If Coughlin and Marrone are looking for players who know how to succeed – and win – and pass that know-how on to young players, those three fit the description.

And yeah, that phrase you keep hearing – win now – played a part, too.

Take a close look at Albert, Church and Campbell – three of the most high-profile acquisitions. Albert is 32. Church is 29. Campbell is 30. These are good players, and all indications from their performances the past few seasons are they are playing at a high level.

But they are not players who fit the normal “ideal” free agency mold. They are not – as is the case with Bouye – ascending, first-contract players in the 25-to-27-year-old range. All are likely closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.

And that’s OK. The Jaguars didn’t sign these guys to be good in 2021. This offseason isn’t about building for the long-term – not most of it, anyway.

Coughlin said during his January introductory press conference winning will be the unquestioned emphasis, and he wasn’t talking about the distant future. He was talking about now, and there hasn’t been any indication he has changed his mind.

Last week’s events sure didn’t indicate any change of direction – and in fact, last week’s sent yet another message that the Jaguars’ focus is clear:

It’s about winning now, and it sounds as if little else will matter.

 

MAD RESPECT

Perhaps it was fitting that Albert was the Jaguars’ first major acquisition of the new Coughlin era. It certainly sounds as if Coughlin has liked Albert for a long time.

Consider the story Albert told Friday when speaking to local media:

Albert, acquired by the Jaguars with Miami in a trade that became official Thursday, said when the Dolphins were playing the Giants two years ago, Bobby Hart – then a rookie right tackle for the Giants – texted him. Coughlin at the time was in his final season as the Giants’ head coach.

“He [Hart] told me ‘Coach Coughlin doesn’t give anybody compliments, but he loved Branden Albert for some reason,’’’ Albert said. “I read it somewhere in the newspaper about some of the stuff he was saying about me at that time, and now that I get to meet him and the football brain that he has, and it’s a big compliment.”

Albert, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, emphasized multiple times late last week that he felt a commitment to the Jaguars. One reason was they had made the commitment to him by seeking a trade rather than waiting for him to be released. Another reason was Coughlin’s feeling about him as a player.

“That’s another reason why I was meant to be here,” he said.

 

AROUND THE JAGUARS

*A final word on Marks and Miller, who were released Thursday and Sunday, respectively. Both signed a few days apart in the 2013 free-agent signing period and were locker-room leaders for four seasons. Both were very good, productive players on what at times was the team’s best unit during their time here. Marks played near a Pro Bowl level in 2014, leading the team with 8.5 sacks; Miller played near a Pro Bowl level in 2015, his final full healthy season with the Jaguars. Miller played through injuries much of his career here, playing through a labrum issue in 2013 and a knee issue in 2014 before missing 10 games with a torn Achilles this past season. Marks, too, dealt with injuries, missing the first five games of the 2015 season while rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate sustained in the 2014 regular-season finale and missing the final seven games that season with a torn triceps. Their release means the departure of two respected, well-liked players who stayed classy and professional during tough times and after tough losses. They’ll be missed. …

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