(March 2)-They targeted him and they signed him. Reggie Hayward, considered to be the top player among the free-agent defensive end crop, signed a five-year contract with the Jaguars on Wednesday evening.
"We think Reggie is an ascending player and we're excited to add him to our defensive front. We feel that alongside Marcus Stroud and John Henderson, he'll have an opportunity to generate a lot of production," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of the addition of Hayward.
Hayward arrived at Alltel Stadium in mid-afternoon on Wednesday and signed the contract by seven p.m. Wednesday signaled the start of the free-agent signing period.
"I was in the office at midnight last night, we talked and it seemed like he had a lot of interest in this and this was the right fit. He knew a lot about us and John and Marcus, was interested in playing with them and for Jack. Things went fairly quickly," Jaguars salary cap boss and lead contract negotiator Paul Vance said.
The addition of Hayward, 6-5, 275, addressed a desperate need at defensive end, where the Jaguars' top pass-rusher last season was converted linebacker Greg Favors. Hayward had 10.5 sacks with the Broncos last season, and seven of those sacks were against AFC South teams. Hayward recorded a sack against the Jaguars in week two, in a game in which Hayward was judged to have dominated the early action.
Hayward had three sacks against Tennessee, two against Indianapolis and one against Houston. The Jaguars' hope, of course, is that playing each of those teams twice in the regular season will cause Hayward's sacks total to skyrocket.
At 25, Hayward just completed his fourth pro season and is entering what should be the prime years of his career. He was a third-round draft pick by the Broncos out of Iowa State in 2001. In '03, Hayward rose to prominence with 8.5 sacks.
The Broncos had the "franchise" tag available to use on Hayward, but declined to do so. The Broncos are tight against the salary cap and would've needed to re-structure a couple of contracts to make room for Hayward, and that option may have been made further unattractive by the fact that the Broncos are switching to a 3-4 defense in '05 and Hayward is clearly not suited to play end in a 3-4.