INDIANAPOLIS – The lesson shaping David Caldwell's first offseason as Jaguars general manager was learned before he ever got the job.
The draft-oriented approach to building?
The de-emphasis of free agency?
Those are critical, central offseason themes that Caldwell has continued to emphasized during the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine this week, and to hear Caldwell tell it, it doesn't sound as if the approach was a difficult sell.
Jaguars Owner Shad Khan at Caldwell's introductory press conference spoke of the Jaguars' former decision-makers as perhaps being "delusional" about the state of the franchise last offseason.
Caldwell on Friday addressed that issue.
"I think the delusional part came with the amount of money they spent in free agency last year, and thinking they may be just one or two pieces away," Caldwell said Friday during his first meeting with the national media at the combine, being held at Lucas Oil Stadium through Tuesday.
"To come right back and the end result was a 2-14 season … for us, there's a good core of player that we feel good about. We have our work cut out for us. We're going to have a very young team this season.
"It's going to be built through the draft and college free agency."
Caldwell, hired in early January, confirmed this week that the team will not use the franchise tag on any of its players who will become free agents March 12. He did not say whether the team plans to sign players from a list that includes cornerback Derek Cox, linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, fullback Greg Jones, center Brad Meester and offensive lineman Eben Britton.
The Jaguars are estimated to have a little more than $20 million in cap space entering the 2013 league year, and Caldwell said any decisions on signing/releasing players will be based on performance rather than money.
"There are no changes coming that are financial," he said. "The changes that will be coming would be based on performance."
Caldwell's theme in these early months continues to take shape, and it is increasingly evident it will be about building a young core – and to get the roster and salary cap as "clean" as possible. That may mean a core of players drafted and signed by Caldwell, developing under the new coaching staff.
That process doesn't happen in one year, but it sounds as if Caldwell wants that to be the philosophical direction.
"Veterans are important, and there's a leadership element we're going to need, but the most important thing is to get the talent in there and guys are who are committed to playing and competing," he said.
*Caldwell said while he hasn't discussed the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft with other teams, he believes there will be interest in the selection. He also said he believes the Jaguars will get a good player if they use the selection. "We feel good about having that, and we have the first pick in (Rounds) 2, 4 and 6, too," he said. "Those are very valuable picks."
*Caldwell, asked about signing a player such as cornerback Derek Cox to a long-term deal when he has missed extensive time the last two seasons, said he learned from former Colts President Bill Polian and former Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy that the "best ability is availability." Said Caldwell, "If they're not available for game day, it's difficult to pay them for that."
*Caldwell said he believes the Jaguars' offensive line has a strong skill set to convert to the zone-blocking techniques expected to be used under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and offensive line coach George Yarno. "I think athleticism is important," Caldwell said. "A guy like (left tackle) Eugene Monroe is very athletic, so that's going to be an easy transition for us."
*Caldwell confirmed that wide receiver Laurent Robinson has been cleared to participate in football activities. "He's full-go right now," Caldwell said of Robinson, who had three concussion-related issues last season. Caldwell also said he likes the Jaguars' wide receiver trio of Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon and Robinson. "They all bring a unique skill set for us that will be difficult for defenses," he said.
*Caldwell, asked who the team's right tackle would be if the team played tomorrow, smiled and said, "That's a good question. It's a good thing we don't play tomorrow." Caldwell said Guy Whimper and Cameron Bradfield could compete at the position.
*Caldwell said he believes Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis is one of the top players in the league at his position.
*Caldwell said the team is currently in discussions with Meester, but didn't offer specifics on if he believed Meester would return.
*Caldwell said while 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman was in his thought process as he searched for a head coach, his interview with Gus Bradley – eventually hired as the team's head coach – swayed him to hire Bradley. Roman at the time was still coaching the 49ers in the postseason. "Greg was on the radar, and he probably would have warranted an opportunity to interview," Caldwell said. "But when Gus came through, he really knocked my doors off. I knew he was just a head coach in waiting." Caldwell said he and Roman, a teammate of his at John Carroll, have spoken and remain close. He also said one reason for hiring Bradley was that he knew Bradley would make him better. "For him to come in and challenge me every day was going to be exciting and we could grow together."
*Caldwell said while pass rush remains a priority, his overall approach to roster building – particularly early – won't be to over-pursue any position. "You can't be too overly urgent in terms of trying to fix a problem and then reach in the draft or reach in free agency," he said. "You have to be patient and when the opportunity presents itself to get a difference-maker at that position, then you need to be able to strike."