View from the O-Zone: Fond farewell

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (97) and defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrate a third quarter safety against the New York Jets in an NFL game Sunday, September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (97) and defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrate a third quarter safety against the New York Jets in an NFL game Sunday, September 30, 2018 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – They shouldn’t be quickly forgotten.

And when Jaguars observers and fans remember the five players released Friday, they should – for the most part, at least – remember them fondly.

The Jaguars released defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, right tackle Jermey Parnell, long snapper Carson Tinker and running back Carlos Hyde on Friday in what should be the busiest day of releases as they trim the roster and salary cap in advance of Wednesday’s first day of the 2019 NFL League Year.

The day in a very real sense was about saying goodbye to players who played significant roles during their Jaguars careers.

We’ll get the one player who doesn’t fit that description out of the way first. The Jaguars acquired the veteran Hyde midway through last season in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft as insurance for then-injured Leonard Fournette.

He rushed for 189 yards on 58 carries eight games, so his quick release means his acquisition must be written off as an overreaction at best and a costly mistake at worse. He just never fit.

That’s not the case of the other four players released Friday.

No, the other four are by any measure free-agent success stories: A collegiate free agent – Tinker – who became one of the team’s longest-tenured players, and three unrestricted free-agent signings who played a total of 10 seasons with 157 starts.

The UFAs are of particular note. Veteran free agency is a risk-taker’s game, and Jaguars history is littered with free-agency failures – some of whom failed to a franchise-damaging extent.

Jackson, Gipson and Parnell were the opposite of that. They contributed in a big way, with Jackson and Gipson critical players on the otherworldly 2017 defense and Parnell a reliable right tackle for four seasons. Quickly, a look at the trio:

*Parnell, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, may be the member of the trio fans know least. He was never media-friendly, and in fact often was standoffish. And he wasn’t a perfect right tackle. But he was tough, and for four seasons he was a better-than-average right tackle who started 57 games despite playing on braced, battered, aging knees.

*Gipson, a 2013 Pro Bowl selection with the Cleveland Browns, signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. He never missed a start in three seasons and will be remembered as a brash, confident player who helped bring confidence and swagger to a team that previously lacked it. Credit should be given to Gipson for being a stand-up locker room guy, almost always willing to talk after games – even after difficult losses. That’s not true of every Jaguars player in recent seasons. Fans too often criticized Gipson, and the thought here is he was an underrated and sometimes overlooked member of a very good secondary. Of the group released Friday, he may be the biggest loss.

*Jackson, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Denver Broncos in the 2016 offseason, was the biggest name released Friday – and perhaps the least surprising. When Jackson, a Pro Bowl selection in 2017, lost his starting job with six games remaining this past season, it was clear those six games would be his last with the team. He, like Gipson, will be missed by fans and those who cover the team. Even in the roughest of times – even after he lost his starting job – Jackson was willing to share his thoughts with the media, and therefore to fans. That’s professionalism, and it’s not an automatic trait these days.

Jackson, who signed a six-year, $90 million contract in the 2016 offseason, talked often upon signing with the Jaguars of wanting to earn all six years – and all $90 million – of the deal.

Jackson didn’t do that, but what he did do in a very real sense was legitimize the Jaguars. He was the league’s top free agent that offseason. Before him, few imagined a top free agent signing with a Jaguars team that was then struggling. Defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye signed with the Jaguars a year later. Would they have done so had Jackson not done so a year earlier? Perhaps, but it’s a legitimate question.

Mostly, though, Jackson did the same thing Parnell and Gipson did in that he played well for the Jaguars far more often than he did not. All played at least three years with the Jaguars. All were at least as good as expected – and all were critical pieces in an AFC South title and a run to the AFC Championship Game. In free agency, you’ll take that.

No, parting with that trio was not about saying good riddance. Rather, it was about saying goodbye – and thank you. Because the players released Friday shouldn’t be quickly forgotten.

They in fact should be remembered fondly.

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