A year ago, the Jaguars signed eight unrestricted free agents and signed three other free agents during the free agency period. The Jaguars didn't, however, spend a lot of money in free agency because most of the players they signed were second-tier prospects.
In free agency to date this year, the Jaguars have added five players, but three of those players – Joe Zelenka, Troy Edwards and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala – were with the Jaguars last season.
When you cut to the heart of the clash of philosophies, it goes something like this: In 2004 the Jaguars signed a lot for a little; in 2005 they've spent a lot on one guy, Reggie Hayward.
What it means is obvious: Last year, the Jaguars must've believed they needed a stronger roster. This year, the appearance is the Jaguars like their roster but acknowledge a desperate need at defensive end.
Juran Bolden, Mike Compton, Greg Favors, Tommy Hendricks, Ephraim Salaam, Todd Yoder and Dewayne Washington were all bargain-type free-agent signings in '04. In each case, they upgraded the Jaguars roster. Bolden, Hendricks and Yoder specifically addressed a desperate need on special teams. Favors and Washington became starters. Salaam replaced Mike Pearson at left tackle when Pearson was lost to a knee injury. The Jaguars spent more than bargain money on Deon Grant.
So far this year, the team's only true free-agent addition is Hayward, to whom the Jaguars gave a $10 million signing bonus. Hey, that's more bonus money than the Jaguars gave to their entire '04 free-agent class.
The Jaguars are likely to sign some second-tier/roster-strength players in what's left of free agency this spring, but it won't be as desperate an act as it was a year ago. By all appearances, the Jaguars have a roster of players who, by and large, are better than what's available in free agency. That's the message from the first three weeks of this free-agent signing period.
In signing Hayward to a mega-deal, the Jaguars may have also been telling us they believe they're only a player or two away from becoming a playoff team. Had they spent $10 million in bonus money on one player last year, the Jaguars wouldn't have had enough money left to assemble a competitive roster. It was, obviously, the first order of business.
Three weeks into this year's free agency, its ranks have been picked over. There probably aren't any remaining players who represent difference-makers. On occasion, all 32 teams will be wrong, but not often.
So, we turn our attention to the draft with the thought that the Jaguars got the one player they needed to get in free agency. They got the premier pass-rusher they had to have in a division dominated by Peyton Manning. It is clearly the hope.
A free agent here and a free agent there will address depth needs, but, for the most part, the hay is in the barn and it's time to focus on new fields to harvest. Our hope is that, in the draft, they can find those other few players they need to acquire to become the playoff team we expect them to be this year.