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Jaguars sign Geno Hayes


JACKSONVILLE – The first free agent fit the profile.

Geno Hayes, a sixth-year veteran linebacker from Florida State University, signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Jaguars on Wednesday, becoming the first free-agent signing by new General Manager David Caldwell on the same day the team released wide receiver Laurent Robinson.

Hayes said the Jaguars contacted him shortly after the beginning of free agency.

"Right then and there, I knew it was something that was going to happen," Hayes said early Wednesday afternoon.

Hayes becomes the Jaguars' first player acquisition since the hiring of Caldwell and new head coach Gus Bradley in January.

"My end of the bargain is I've got to come in and put what they know I can do out there for them," Hayes said. "It's a fresh start for everybody.  I've got to come in and do my end of the deal.

Hayes, who previously played for the Bears and the Buccaneers, fit the profile Caldwell and Bradley have discussed in recent weeks. He is 25, a player young enough to be ascending.

He also played began his NFL career playing linebacker for the Buccaneers with Bradley when the Jaguars' head coach was the linebackers coach with Tampa Bay.

He is familiar with Bradley, and he wants to be in Jacksonville, something Caldwell said this week likely would be the case with players signed in the first year of the building process.

Hayes, a sixth-round selection by Tampa Bay in the 2008 NFL Draft, played four seasons with Tampa Bay, then spent last season with Chicago. He played there for new Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich , then the Bears' linebackers coach.

"It's a great feeling, to get to work with these guys who pretty much taught me the whole system they know so well," Hayes said. "It's mind-boggling and a blessing to work with these guys I know so well."

Hayes becomes the first player on the Jaguars' roster to have played for the new head coach.

"He's one of those guys who can motivate guys," Hayes said. "He's a great motivator and a great teacher as well. That combination can create greatness as a team if everybody buys into it. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I know they will.

"He's genuine. He's a great guy and everybody is going to respect that."

Hayes said he will likely compete at both weak- and strong-side linebacker, having played each in the NFL.

"They want me to move around, since I've played both of them, and see how either one goes – we'll go from there," he said.

Hayes started 42 games for the Buccaneers from 2009-2011, then started three games for the Bears last season. He has missed two games because of injury in the last four seasons, and has 17 career pass breakups, 16 in the last four seasons.

He also has four career interceptions and four forced fumbles.

With Hayes, the Jaguars now have three linebackers who have started at least 31 NFL games: Hayes, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside linebacker Russell Allen.

Hayes, originally from Greenville, Fla., and his fiancée, are to be married Saturday. The couple planned to buy a house in the Jacksonville area even before being contacted by the Jaguars.

"All of it meshed together," he said.

The NFL's free agency period began at 4 p.m. Tuesday, prompting a flurry of high-profile signings around the league that afternoon and evening.

The Jaguars stayed out of free agency on the first day, with Caldwell having emphasized that the Jaguars will build this offseason through the draft and stay away from overpriced players in the early hours of the open market.

Robinson, who signed as a high-profile free agent last offseason, became the third free agent signed in the last two offseasons released in the last week. The team also released safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Aaron Ross last Friday.

Ross and Robinson were two of three significant veteran free-agent signings last offseason, but Robinson started four games for the Jaguars, catching 24 passes for 252 yards, playing seven games and finishing the season on injured reserve after sustaining at least three concussion-related incidents.

The team also signed quarterback Chad Henne last offseason. He started the last six games of last season.

With Robinson out, second-year wide receiver Cecil Shorts and rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon emerged as a solid young 1-2 receiving tandem, and many projected Robinson competing for the No. 3 spot entering next season.

The release of Robinson leaves the Jaguars with three remaining unrestricted free agent signing on the roster before this offseason: Henne; Posluszny, who has started 16 games each of the last two seasons and who set a franchise record for tackles last season; and offensive guard Jason Spitz, signed in 2011.

Spitz and Posluszny are the only two players remaining from the 2011 free-agent class. Spitz missed last season with an ankle injury.

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