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O-Zone: Same time next year

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it …

George from Arlington, VA

Can I please just hear some news about us signing some type of free agent please?

Perhaps this email was tongue in cheek, though perhaps not. Either way, it reflects a growing edginess among O-Zone emailers about the Jaguars' recent actions – or lack thereof – in free agency. While this edginess is understandable because the team has been (overly) active in free agency in most recent offseasons, there is nothing wrong with the Jaguars' 2023 offseason approach. It is, in fact, a necessary approach. The Jaguars were one of the most aggressive teams in NFL history last offseason. They completely rebuilt their receiving corps, and added key pieces to the defense and to the offensive line. The goal was to get a deficient roster back to a competitive level, and the moves were phenomenally successful: A 2022 AFC South title and one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history. But that is not the ideal way to build a roster, and it's not a sustainable model. Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said since immediately after that 2022 free-agency foray that the 2023 offseason would not resemble that at all. This team wants to contend over the long haul. The best way to do that is to be a team that drafts and develops well around quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who soon – perhaps next offseason – will be sign a long-term deal around which the Jaguars' long-term salary cap must be built. Jaguars free agency moving forward must be mostly about retaining certain players, allowing some players to leave and trusting that drafted players will develop to ably replace departed players. Remember: Free agency is not the only way to improve a roster. Teams can – and must – improve from within. For the Jaguars this offseason that must mean an improving offense taking another step and young, drafted defensive players emerging as front-line players. That's it. That's the formula.

Lawrence from Blair, NE

With all respect to Matty Ice, who I know we only saw a shell of his former self back in 2022, don't you think Ridley will now be playing with the best quarterback in his entire career? That certainly should accelerate his re-acclimation to the league.

Matt Ryan was the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2016 and threw 35 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 2018, current Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley's rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons. Lawrence has given every indication that he will be an elite NFL quarterback, but I don't know that it's fair to assume he will be better in 2023 than Ryan in his prime.

John from Jacksonville

Hi KOAGF - It's sadly comical how these overpaid free agents that sign contracts with new teams are so excited to be around the best players, best fans, best city and best coaches during this best time in their careers and lives. Everything is the best now for them while they bathe in a tub of the best cash they ever had. Wishing them the best.

It's all for the best, of course. Of course, some things are best left unsaid.

Zachary from East Palatka

KOAF, the best way to throw to your new wide receiver is with a dominant offensive line. Trevor was already getting the ball out quick due to pressures. What do you see happening on this front where our offensive line is actually better this year than last?

I expect Lawrence will continue to be good at getting the ball out under pressure moving forward. He did well in this area last season and there's no reason to think he will get worse. That's important. Quick release – and therefore the ability to avoid sacks -- is an important trait for a quarterback, one that often matters as much as a quality offensive line in terms of a team's sacks and an offense's ability to stay in positive down-and-distance situations.

Bill from Hawthorn Woods, IL

It seems by the tone of questions that many remain used to winning free agency and losing in the fall. How often were the New England Patriots active in free agency during their run? Rarely. We forgot what a winning model looks like, but to be fair it's been a while.

Indeed it has.

Aedan from Tennessee

If you could pick one player in all of the NFL to play on the Jaguars next season (regardless of contracts), who would be your pick?

If Lawrence hadn't developed as he did late in the season, I would say Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Even with Lawrence on the roster, you still must be tempted by Mahomes. He's that good and figures to be that good for the next decade. Taking quarterback out of the equation, I suppose I would go with the NFL's most disruptive front seven defensive player. Maybe that's defensive end Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers. Or defensive tackle Chris Jones of the Chiefs? One of the two, I suppose.

Bob from Sumter, SC

I remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers contended for the Super Bowl year after year. Teams would pluck free agents from their roster, but they had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, linebacker James Harrison, safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Hines Ward and kept winning. Plus, they hit on draft picks every year. I think the Jags are headed in this direction. Time will tell.

That's the hope. That's the model.

Enrique from Bargersville, IN

Hey, John. If the Jags were to sign a released player, would that count against the comp pick formula? Also, do you know how the current regime feels about outside linebacker Jordan Smith? He might be one of those players that show improvement from within.

Compensatory draft selections are decided on gains and losses in unrestricted free agency from the previous offseason. Players released do not figure into the formula. I don't have a real feel for how this regime feels about Smith. I confess I haven't asked around much about him since he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament last offseason. I suspect we'll hear much more about the fifth-round section in the 2021 NFL Draft in the coming months. He has some pass rush ability. The Jaguars would benefit greatly were he to develop and contribute next season.

Jason from North Pole, AK

Losing outside linebacker Arden Key to the Tennessee Titans sucks. I am a little concerned about how thin the Jaguars are in terms of edge rushers. Do you expect them to pursue a veteran at this point or count on a rookie to provide a boost?

I expect the Jaguars to look to second- or even third-tier free agency for pass-rushing depth later this offseason. I don't believe you can count on a rookie for significant pressure. But remember: Key, who registered 4.5 sacks last season, signed a one-year contract with the Jaguars last offseason after the first wave of free agency. You can get that level of production after first-tier free agency. The Jaguars also need outside linebacker Travon Walker and inside linebacker Devin Lloyd to be front-line difference-making players this season. They were first-round selections in the 2022 NFL Draft. If you're going to be a draft-and-develop team, Round 1 selections must develop into big-time players in Year 2.

James from Clarksville, TN

A lot of people are upset at losing some of the players we lost. I look at it as a sign that when you're good, teams will poach yours.

Good eye.

Mike from Omaha, NE

How do we take a step forward on defense when we lose players like Arden? It seems like that puts us in a position of finding someone almost as good, instead of building on what we had last year.

The Jaguars can take a step forward defensively if the young players they drafted develop and improve. That's supposed to happen in Year 2.

Fred from Naples, FL

Good for Dewey; now the highest-paid special teamer in the NFL. Just a real good "feel-good" story. Never a doubt … it was always the Jags!!

One fer Dewey.

Steve from Wallingford, CT

$60 million guaranteed over four years??? What is going on in the NFL? Should we expect this to start being the new normal? Right tackle playing out their rookie contract and then getting paid as left tackles in free agency?

Every offseason seems to bring a new normal to the NFL. Free agents get paid insane money because good players are hard to find in free agency. Offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor never missed a start in four seasons with the Jaguars, and he appears to be an ascending player. It makes sense that a team would pay – and perhaps overpay – him in free agency.

Michael from Orange Park, FL

The Jaguars won the division in 2022 in large part because of savvy moves made by General Manager Trent Baalke last March. Do you find it strange that people are criticizing his moves this March?

No. Fans fan. It's what they do.