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View from the O-Zone: Free agency likely won't be what many expect


INDIANAPOLIS – Dave Caldwell minced no words.

"I despise free agency, to be honest with you," he said. "If there was no such thing as free agency and just the draft, I think we'd be a lot better off."

He smiled as he said it. But he wasn't kidding.

The Jaguars' general manager is not alone. Talk to pretty much any general manager here at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Most share that view to some degree.

Free agency is pricey and risky, and just not the best way to build a roster.

"There are some margins for error in the process," Caldwell said.

None of which means Caldwell and the Jaguars won't partake in free agency this offseason.

They will, and they'll almost certainly do it in much grander, higher-profile fashion than in the first two years under Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley.

It just may not be quite the free-for-all some Jaguars observers expect.

Because while Caldwell told reporters on Friday that the Jaguars' well-publicized $60-plus-million in salary cap space was definitely a positive – "Any year you have cap space is a good year" – having space and having needs doesn't necessarily equate to having to spend in ridiculous fashion.

"You have to be wise with it, too, not to mortgage the future," Caldwell said. "It's important we make good decisions. You can't manufacture players and pay them if they're not there. There's no sense of urgency for us to just go out and spend for the sake of spending, but we'll be aggressive.

"If there's a player we want, we're going to do whatever we need to do to get him."

Caldwell's disdain wasn't Friday's only combine news. Defensive linemen and linebackers came to the Lucas Oil Stadium interview room, which meant a chance to see that Southern California defensive tackle Leonard Williams and Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., are impressive. If the Jaguars select either – and both make sense – they'd be getting a player ready for his close-up.

There, too, was the spectacle that is Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback made his media room appearance, talking of the Hall of Fame, of being ready to be the face of a franchise. And of a recent picture that made social media rounds and made him appear … well, something other than thin – he smiled and referred to his slimmer build, "I look good."

And, oh yes, Winston also said he plans to throw at the combine, meaning both top quarterbacks here – Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota – will throw.

What most readers cared about Friday, of course, was Caldwell's appearance. He said he's warmer to trading down than in his first two drafts, and believes the presence of Winston and Mariota could mean real trade possibilities with the Jaguars holding the No. 3 selection.

When Caldwell appeared on LIVE after his noon podium appearance, he spoke of free agency and its risky realities. He spoke of players being re-signed by current teams or teams using franchise tags to take players off the market before there is a market.

He noted, too, the reality that the Jaguars just maybe, maybe might not be able to sign every free agent peppering Jaguars Fan's wish list, a list includes Julius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga, Devin McCourty, Ndamukong Suh and who knows how many others.

Will the Jaguars pursue a name or two off that list?

Perhaps and it seems likely – not that Caldwell offered specifics.

Thomas, Cobb, Bulaga, even Suh? The Jaguars have been "mentioned" with those players when media has done its mentioning this week, and it would surprise no one if that mentioning was accurate.

At the same time, Caldwell was specific that this is not a "have-to" offseason – that despite a talk that the Jaguars must spend big because of a rule requiring teams must spend 89 percent of the league's cap over a four-year period. Caldwell said the Jaguars can reach that level later, and would prefer to do so on players they have drafted who merit such spending.

"We have plenty of time to spend," Caldwell said.

The guess here after Caldwell's media rounds Friday is Jaguars 2015 free agency will indeed be less than some expect, though there likely will be a more high-profile signing or two than past offseasons. There likely will be an earlier start than the past two offseasons, too, with perhaps a signing or two on the very expensive and therefore very risky early days of free agency.

The time has come to take that risk. The Jaguars planned from the time Caldwell and Bradley took over in 2013 to spend a bit more freely than in the first two offseasons. There is more of a foundation now, and therefore a better chance to get on-field bang for Owner Shad Khan's free-agency buck.

But it's not time to risk foolishly. And it's not time to spend for the sake of spending. There's never a time for that.

Caldwell's distaste, dislike and general disdain of the process shows he knows exactly why that's true. It also shows Jaguars 2015 free agency may not go as many expect.

And that's a long way from a bad thing.

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