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View from the O-Zone: A good couple of days


JACKSONVILLE – David Caldwell swung big. Make no mistake about that.

OK, the swing wasn't qui-i-i-i-te as ridiculously big as some anticipated – and it perhaps wasn't as splashy as it almost was – but still:

This Jaguars' 2016 free-agency swing indeed was big. It was also bold and expensive.

Most importantly, it still can be very, very good.

No, it's not as shiny and Twitter-friendly as seemed possible at noon Wednesday. No, it doesn't include a few names that were so popular a week ago.

What it does include is perhaps the best player available at any position in free agency – defensive lineman Malik Jackson – as well as a top-rated player at a sorely-needed positon. Caldwell, the Jaguars' fourth-year general manager, emphasized those points when speaking to the media about the '16 free-agent class Thursday, and he emphasized other things, too.

Namely, that the Jaguars got done what they wanted early in free agency – and that the offseason isn't exactly over.

"This has been a good couple days for us," Caldwell said as the team announced the first four members of the 2016 free-agent class at EverBank Field. "Our roster is not set. There is still a lot more work to do."

And you know what? Caldwell's right. It was a good couple of days – really good in a lot of ways.

So, the Jaguars didn't get Olivier Vernon …

So, they decided the $52 million-plus guaranteed Vernon received from the New York Giants was just too high – even with a league-high amount of cap space …

Those are real things, but none mean the Jaguars won't improve from this class – and to look at this class for what it is not is to dramatically miss the big picture. The idea of this free-agency period was to improve the overall talent level of the defense – and of the team.

Mission accomplished.

Take a look at the Jaguars newest free agents as they officially sign their contracts.

Jackson? He wasn't just a big-time signing, he was perhaps the top available player in free agency. Tashaun Gipson? He was one of the top two or three free safeties available.

The Jaguars also added running back Chris Ivory, who fills a need in the backfield, but because defense was the major issue entering free agency, we'll focus on that:

How much did the Jaguars improve, particularly in pass defense? Maybe a lot.

Jackson, while not a "true-edge" rusher, is a versatile player who can rush from the interior. Caldwell talked extensively Thursday about his ability to disrupt not just in obvious passing situations, but on first and second downs, too.

Jackson showed elite disruption with Denver last season. If he's that here, everyone on the defensive front – Dante Fowler Jr. and whoever the Jaguars still add – is better.

As for Gipson, the Jaguars simply had to have a free safety. Caldwell said the team didn't want to wait on Eric Weddle of San Diego to take visits, and they had targeted Gipson for a while.

He settles the position. That had to happen.

A key question for Caldwell Thursday:

How much did the Jaguars really want Vernon? Caldwell said they absolutely wanted him – pursuing him well beyond their financial "comfort zone" – but there also was a limit.

"We can't make him come here if he doesn't want to come here," Caldwell said. "We wish him the best."

Caldwell cited Vernon an example of why the draft is so important in a market the size of Jacksonville. That has been Caldwell's building strategy from his 2013 arrival, and he certainly feels no less strongly about it now.

"It's critical to build through the draft and sign our own," he said, adding of Jacksonville, "Sometimes people don't know how great it is here until they're here."

But you know what? Enough on Vernon. In the end, these last two days weren't about that. One player doesn't a franchise make if that one player doesn't play quarterback.

How much have the Jaguars improved this offseason? How much closer are they to a winning record?

Those indeed are the only questions. The guess here is the Jaguars indeed improved this week, and that an addition in the next day or so will continue that trend. There's no indication they're done addressing pass rush, and no indication they're done addressing offensive line.

Whatever happens in the coming days, know this: Whatever the Jaguars didn't get, there's every indication that what they did get in the last two days improved the talent-base of the roster, particularly defensively. There's also every indication they're a better third-down defense than two days ago.

No, the swing Caldwell took wasn't as ridiculously big as it might have been, but the hits were real, and that had to happen this week.

And those hits still have a very real chance to be very, very good.

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