JACKSONVILLE – This was NFL reality, and reality isn't always easy.
No, reality can be difficult and great at the same time – and for the first time in a while, that was the case for the Jaguars during the chaotic, hectic flurry that is NFL's free-agency period.
Jaguars Free Agency, 2018 style, included a very big – and expensive – new body. And it included a very familiar face.
It included exciting, hopeful stuff – and difficult, sad stuff. Indeed, there was a lot to parse through when the Jaguars' 2018 Free Agent class and General Manager David Caldwell officially met the media at EverBank Field Thursday. Here's what mattered most to Caldwell:
Amid all the stuff going on, there was a sense that not only did the Jaguars improve in an important way this week, but that Jacksonville continues to be an increasingly attractive NFL destination.
"People are excited to come here," Caldwell said.
Excitement indeed reigned at the 'Bank Thursday. The Jaguars introduced seven signees. While there could be more, those seven form the core of the '18 free-agent class:
*Andrew Norwell, Carolina, guard.
*Marqise Lee, Jacksonville, wide receiver.
*Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis, wide receiver.
*D.J. Hayden, Detroit, cornerback.
*Don Carey III, Detroit, safety.
*Niles Paul, Washington, tight end.
*Cody Davis, Los Angeles Rams, safety.
Norwell is the group's biggest name – and body. Widely considered the top offensive lineman available in '18 free agency, the 2017 All-Pro got paid like it: a reported $65.5 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed. He's a big, brawling guard who's here to make the Jaguars' offensive line what it wanted to be last season – a dominant run-blocking unit that can control the clock and field position.
The Jaguars believe they got better – a lot better – on the offensive line, and if they did that then they'll consider the week a massive success.
Lee and Moncrief were the next highest-profile among the group. Lee, a 2014 second-round selection by the Jaguars and the lone "re-signee" of Thursday's heptad, is returning to give a young receiving corps experience, toughness and explosion – and he has all three.
Moncrief, a third-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, signed a reported one-year deal – very much a prove-it deal. He knows that, and is embracing it. Moncrief is talented and has been limited with injuries. If he stays healthy, he can prove himself worth a major deal next offseason – and give the Jaguars' passing offense a short-term speed threat.
"I want to show the league what I've got," Moncrief said. "I know what I'm capable of, and I'm going to hold myself to it."
Take a look as the newest Jaguars arrived at EverBank Field and signed their new contracts.
Hayden, the No. 12 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by Oakland, reportedly played well at the nickel spot for Detroit last season – and likely will play the same role for the Jaguars.
The Jaguars also entered this offseason wanting to address depth and special teams. Paul, Davis and Carey – the latter of whom spent 2009-2010 with the Jaguars – do just that.
You'll note that nowhere on this list are Allen Robinson or Aaron Colvin, and that's where reality came in in a big way.
Robinson and Colvin were two key Jaguars storylines entering free agency, Robinson having been a 2015 Pro Bowl receiver for the team and Colvin as a nickel corner having been a key part of a Jaguars secondary that was unquestionably one of the NFL's best last season.
Caldwell discussed both players while speaking to the media Thursday. He said the team wanted both back, and that they came closer to making that happen with Colvin than Robinson. Listening to Caldwell, it sounded as if Colvin very nearly returned. It was apparent listening to Caldwell that the price for Robinson and other top receivers escalated far above the Jaguars' price point quickly – and once it did, the team shifted hard to sign Norwell.
The absence of Colvin and Robinson Thursday was what prevented this free-agency period from having the giddy feel of the past two offseasons. When introducing franchise-turning players such as Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and A.J. Bouye in 2016 and 2017, the Jaguars were still a franchise flush with cap space on the cusp of success. Those free-agency weeks were only about giddy welcomes; there wasn't the pesky downer of difficult goodbyes.
The Jaguars aren't that team anymore. They're a contender again, with a good roster. With that status often comes the painful farewells that are often as much a part of free-agency week as a giddy ceremony.
Reality isn't always easy, and it wasn't easy for the Jaguars this week.
But within that reality also was a feeling that the Jaguars navigated the week efficiently and got better in a spot that mattered. And that reality could make the week a massive success.