There's one big difference and one big similarity between the Jaguars' rush into free agency this year and the same type of spending spree the team executed in 1999. The difference is that this time around the Jaguars had the salary cap room to spend what they did. The similarity is that it would appear the team is taking the same big swing for the Super Bowl that it took in '99.
Let's go back nine years; yeah, it was that long ago. Tom Coughlin was the coach of a capped-out team that led the league in salary cap arrogance. When the Jaguars led off free agency that year with three big-money signings – Carnell Lake, Gary Walker and Kyle Brady – the Jags were already out of cap room and had to re-structure several contracts and steal from future caps to find the room to sign that trio of players.
Some thought they were three signings that would put the team into the Super Bowl. What they turned out being were the final three nails in the Jaguars' salary cap coffin. After the Jags' failed run for the Super Bowl that season, the team was buried under an avalanche of "dead money" that produced five consecutive non-playoff seasons.
Big difference, huh? You bet there is.
This year's spending spree was allowed, if not required, by the Jags' careful attention and respect for the cap over the past several years. They had accumulated more than $30 million in cap room. They found themselves having to satisfy the minimum cap figure. In other words, they not only could spend, they had to spend.
We're talking about a beautifully orchestrated event. The Jaguars spent several years of prudent spending and cap management, waiting for the day when they could use that space in the most meaningful of ways. Obviously, they had decided the time had come. They had decided they had reached the point, again, that a few players could put this team over the top, and that this year's free agency class offered those players.
If they got that right, this will have been one of the most impressive weekends of personnel management in Jaguars history. If this team goes to that mythical next level, we may look back on this weekend as the catalyst to that run.
Let's take a look at what the Jaguars did on the first two days of free agency.
- They signed three players who either addressed significant needs or will allow the Jags to address a pre-determined need. Jerry Porter gives the Jaguars the proven speed the team hasn't had at wide receiver since Jimmy Smith was in his prime. Cleo Lemon is the veteran backup the Jags needed behind David Garrard. Drayton Florence adds depth at the critical cornerback position. What has to be asked of Jack Del Rio is: Will the acquisition of Florence send Brian Williams from cornerback to strong safety? If it does, then signing Florence will have been a move to address safety, considered to be one of the Jaguars' four target areas going into free agency.
- The Jaguars traded a sixth-round pick to the Vikings for Troy Williamson, who represents unproven speed. Williamson is a reclamation project that cost the Jaguars very little in compensation and cap room.
- Two draft picks were acquired on Saturday when the Jaguars traded defensive tackle Marcus Stroud to Buffalo for third and fifth-round selections in this year's draft. The downside to trading Stroud is that the Jaguars won't get their money's worth out of the big deal Stroud signed with the team a few years ago, and Stroud now becomes "dead money" on the team's cap. The upside is having acquired two reasonably high draft choices for a player attempting a comeback from a potentially career-threatening ankle injury.
The big questions coming out of this weekend: Are these players the answer? Will they put the Jaguars over the top? Will they prove to be worth the money that was spent on them?
Those questions, of course, will be answered by what happens next fall. If you're looking for downside risk, it's there. When you spend the kind of money the Jaguars did, downside risk is always there.
Addressing the defensive line now becomes the Jaguars' priority. The team would obviously like to do that in a big way in the draft.
Aggressive in free agency? Yeah, but they weren't reckless. That's the major difference. The Jaguars' aggressiveness in '99 ran the franchise into the ground. What the Jaguars did this weekend won't hurt a thing.