If you're keeping score at home, give the Jaguars a 10-4 lead on the free-agent gains scoreboard and a 17-1 advantage in free-agent losses. Scoring is purely subjective, of course, but that's the way this reporter scores the Jaguars' performance in free agency during the Jack Del Rio/James Harris era.
All right, let's go back to the beginning and examine the team's performance in free agency since 2003. It all started with Mike Peterson (pictured), one of the four-best free-agent acquisitions in Jaguars history. The other three are offensive tackle Leon Searcy and wide receiver Keenan McCardell in 1996, and guard Chris Naeole in 2002. In terms of bang for the buck, Naeole is the best.
The Jaguars made three other free-agent acquisitions in March of '03: linebacker Keith Mitchell, defensive end Hugh Douglas and fullback Marc Edwards. Give the Jags a 2-2 record in year one, as a neck injury early in the '03 season effectively ended Mitchell's career and age made Douglas an expensive gamble that crapped out, while Edwards gave the Jags what they paid for at fullback for a couple of seasons.
On the debit side, the Jaguars allowed seven players to leave in free agency in '03: Zach Wiegert, Patrick Johnson, John Wade, Bobby Shaw, Todd Fordham, Wali Rainer and Stacey Mack. They each represent a win decision for the Jaguars, as the players who replaced them in each case provided an upgrade.
Let's move on to 2004, when the Jaguars signed tight end Todd Yoder, linebacker Tommy Hendricks, offensive lineman Mike Compton, defensive back Lewis Sanders, safety Deon Grant, cornerback Juran Bolden, linebacker Greg Favors and quarterback Doug Johnson. Grant was the pricey acquisition of the bunch and he represents a home-run signing. Yoder and Favors were also wins. Hendricks, whose career was cut short by personal problems, was a top contributor on special teams and gave the Jaguars a season's worth of return for their money and represents a marginal win. Bolden was signed with the hope he would become a starter, which he did not, qualifying him as a loss. Compton and Sanders were no-risk players and represent neither a win nor a loss.
The free-agent signings mentioned in this story do not include those players who had been cut by their previous teams prior to the start of free agency. Those players are known as "street free agents" and do not appear in this analysis. Cornerback Dewayne Washington, who the Jaguars signed "off the street" in the spring of '04, is such a player. So is tackle Mike Williams, who was signed in the winter of '06 and returned nothing on the investment.
In '04, the Jaguars allowed four players to leave in free agency: Leander Jordan, Fernando Bryant, Danny Clark and Jamar Nesbit. Make that a win, win, win, loss. The Jaguars made a mistake not keeping Nesbit, who has gone on to become a starting guard for the Saints. Keeping Nesbit may have been difficult, however, since he was bent on becoming a starter and knew he wouldn't have that chance in Jacksonville.
The following spring, the Jaguars made their most expensive free-agent acquisition to date under Del Rio/Harris. On the first day of free agency, the Jaguars signed defensive end Reggie Hayward from Denver. Hayward got a $10 million signing bonus and became the Jaguars' best pass-rusher. He was a big win, though the price tag was high. Now, of course, the Jaguars find themselves hoping Hayward can make it all the way back from Achilles surgery.
The Jaguars signed cornerback Kenny Wright in '05 free agency and Wright was an effective one-year starter for the Jaguars, who spent a modest sum and took no risk in signing him. Defensive tackle Tony Williams was a loss at a modest signing bonus.
Bob Whitfield was the only player the Jaguars lost in free agency that year and the Jaguars replaced Whitfield with second-round draft choice Khalif Barnes, the team's long-term fixture at left tackle.
In 2006, the Jaguars were bound and determined to address a right cornerback position that neither Bolden nor Washington nor Wright were able to stabilize permanently. The Jaguars threw a $10 million signing bonus at Brian Williams and the football world was stunned. A season later, was it a win? Absolutely. Though he came at a very high price, Williams provided the missing piece in the secondary of the league's second-ranked defense. Cornerbacks don't come cheap and the Jaguars had the salary cap room to spend the money on Williams.
The Jaguars also added tackle Stockar McDougle, linebacker Nick Greisen and wide receivers Randy Hymes and Troy Edwards. McDougle is still with the team. Hymes and Edwards are gone but they were no-risk guys. Greisen was worth the modest amount for which he signed with the team, therefore, Greisen is a win and the others are ties.
In free agency last spring, the Jaguars lost Akin Ayodele, Wright, Jamie Winborn, Deke Cooper, Mike Pearson and Ephraim Salaam. Each was replaced by a player who represented an upgrade at their position last season.
Best and worst signings? That's easy: Peterson is the best and Douglas was the worst. It's important to note that Douglas is the Jaguars' only free-agent loss in the last four years that represented a significant financial setback. Mitchell, Bolden and Williams were not signed to big deals and represented minor risk.
How about best and worst decisions to allow players to leave in free agency? Letting Ayodele sign an expensive contract with Dallas saved money and opened the door for rookie Clint Ingram to step into the lineup, and Ingram gave reason to believe he could become the team's best-ever strong side linebacker. Allowing Nesbit to leave, as mentioned, was a mistake, but it didn't weaken the team.
Get your scorecard ready for this year's free-agent period.