Free agency began for the Jaguars on Wednesday with a veteran strong safety who is unhappy, a restricted free agent safety who was tendered at the first-round compensation level, and a scheduled visit by defensive end Reggie Hayward.
Donovin Darius has expressed his discontent with the Jaguars' decision to "franchise" him for the third consecutive year, effectively taking him off the free-agent market. Darius can technically still shop his services around the league, but a team signing Darius would have to compensate the Jaguars with two first-round picks, and that's not likely to happen.
Darius reportedly met with team owner Wayne Weaver this week and requested to be traded. Darius signed the "franchise" tender on Tuesday, guaranteeing the $4.97 million he would earn in 2005 as a "franchise" player. Signing the tender also allows the Jaguars to trade Darius.
That possibility may have gone into the Jaguars' thinking when they decided to use the middle tender on RFA safety Deke Cooper. It means the Jaguars would have to pay Cooper $1.43 million in '05, but the middle tender also protects the Jaguars' right to Cooper and that'll be most important if the Jaguars are to trade Darius.
Any team signing Cooper would owe the Jaguars a first-round pick. Cooper wasn't drafted, so using the low tender on Cooper means a team could've signed him without owing the Jaguars draft compensation. The only means for protecting Cooper was by using the higher tender, though it will cost the team an additional $800,000.
The Jaguars' other RFA, linebacker Akin Ayodele, was tendered at the low level, which means he would earn $656,000 this year. Any team signing Ayodele would owe the Jaguars a third-round draft pick, since Ayodele was a third-round pick in 2001.
Hayward, an unrestricted free agent, could turn out to be the big news of the day. He was scheduled to visit the Jaguars on Wednesday afternoon, leaving the door open to a possible late-day contract agreement. Hayward is the number one defensive end in free agency and he will be actively courted. The Jaguars might have to strike quickly if they're to sign their number one free-agent target.
A third-round pick by Denver in 2001, Hayward recorded 19 sacks the last two seasons. He's considered a young player on the rise and coming into his prime years. There are no apparent red flags.
In other news of the day, tight end Kyle Brady was paid a $400,000 roster bonus that reasonably assures he will be with the team for another season. The Jaguars also announced they've re-signed defensive tackle Derrick Ransom and long-snapper Joe Zelenka. The team also tendered three exclusive-rights free agents: RB David Allen, QB Quinn Gray and C Brett Romberg.
Head coach Jack Del Rio has completed his staff with the hiring of Mark Michaels to the position of assistant special teams coach. Michaels worked under Jaguars special teams coordinator Pete Rodriguez in Seattle, where Michaels was with the Seahawks for the past four seasons.
The Jaguars have come to a verbal agreement on a contract with defensive tackle Martin Chase. Chase must pass a physical this Friday before the deal is final. The six-year veteran missed all of last season with a training camp knee injury. He was released by the Giants recently after signing with coach Tom Coughlin's team as an unrestricted free agent last spring. Chase previously played for coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Mike Smith in Baltimore.