JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned around the Jaguars during 2015 Free Agency Week 1 …
1.It's all about the Blake, 'bout the Blake, 'bout the Blake …Not that this wasn't obvious already, but Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell laid it out pretty clearly when speaking to the media Wednesday. All of the team's moves right now are about giving second-year quarterback Blake Bortles – and therefore, the offense and the team – the best chance to succeed. "The theme of free agency was to help Blake," Caldwell said, adding, "Everything that we're doing right now and throughout the draft will revolve around helping Blake." That's true whether it's offensive skill players, offensive linemen or defensive players. It's all about the Blake …
2.There was a limit.Regarding DeMarco Murray … did the Jaguars want the former Dallas Cowboys running back? Yes. Was there a price beyond which Caldwell would not go? Yes. That's the way it is in free agency. You can open the checkbook and you can be willing to spend big, but there still has to be a limit on what you will pay – particularly what you will pay in guaranteed money to a player at a position that traditionally has a short window of productivity. Know this about Murray: there was not the feverish desire inside the building around the pursuit as there was among Jaguars followers. The Jaguars liked Murray, but getting him wasn't a free-agency priority.
3.The Jaguars hit a lot of targets.The Jaguars targeted five players entering free agency: wide receiver Randall Cobb of Green Bay, safety Devin McCourty of New England, right tackle Jermey Parnell of Dallas, tight end Julius Thomas of Denver and defensive tackle Jared Odrick of Miami. They signed three of the players, missing out on two players who returned to their former teams: Cobb and McCourty. That's a high percentage of "gets."
4.The hometown lure is still tough to overcome.The Jaguars pursued Cobb and McCourty heavily and all indications are they came very, very close to signing each player. The players returned to their former teams. Thus, that is the difficulty of trying to build a roster through the free-agency process – and the need for backup plans.
5.The defense wasn't done.While pre-free agency speculation focused on offense, four of the six players the Jaguars signed during the first week of free agency were defensive players. Two of those players – cornerback Davon House and Odrick – were at positions that weren't perceived needs. This maybe didn't qualify as a shocker, but it was clear Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley didn't see the defense as anything close to "set" entering the offseason.
6.The Jaguars were willing to spend …Caldwell and Owner Shad Khan made it clear this year's free-agency period would be different than the past two. And it was. The Jaguars had cap space and they used it, guaranteeing a reported $24 million to tight end Julius Thomas, $22.5 to defensive end Jared Odrick, $13 million to offensive tackle Jermey Parnell, $10 million to cornerback Davon House and $8 million to linebacker Dan Skuta. They saw needs and addressed them.
7. … and yet, they stuck to a plan. Was more than $75 million in guaranteed money a lot? Sure. Was it ridiculous? Was it desperate? No. The Jaguars paid market prices for players, and stayed within "reasonable" budgets – reasonable by current free-agent standards, anyway. They did this while improving the roster without sacrificing the ability to sign their own players as they develop. That's how you navigate free agency.
8.Tyson Alualu had value.Alualu often comes under criticism from fans. A lot of it. The Jaguars have a significantly different view, as evidenced this week. They signed Odrick to start at the five-technique end spot and released Red Bryant, who started there last season. They also re-signed Alualu who split time with and at times outplayed Bryant last season.
9.Julius Thomas doesn't automatically mean the end for Marcedes Lewis … Caldwell made this clear Wednesday. Asked what Thomas' presence meant for Lewis' status, Caldwell replied, "Nothing." Lewis and Thomas are different players. They could co-exist and excel in the same offense. It's theoretically possible.
10. … but Lewis' place on the team isn't secure.Caldwell when speaking on this issue didn't guarantee Lewis would be on the roster. Far from it, in fact. "He's got to compete to be here," Caldwell said. Perhaps the Jaguars can trade Lewis. Either way, it seems unlikely he will play for the Jaguars at his current salary.
11.The middle of the field matters to Caldwell.This was increasingly evident in free agency. Not only did he pursue Cobb, but he signed House at least partially to allow second-year veteran Aaron Colvin to play the nickel position. You need to be strong in the middle of the field in a pass-oriented league, and wide receiver-cornerback matchups go beyond what's happening on the outside of the field. "Nowadays in the NFL you need three starting corners," Caldwell said Friday.
12.Thomas matters in the middle.The Jaguars didn't get the slot receiver they wanted, but the expectation is that Thomas will help in that area. "He's a mismatch when you try to put a safety or corner on him," Caldwell said. "It gives Blake a big target. It gives us the ability to open up the outside with our young receivers and we can do a lot of different things with him."
13.Caldwell still doesn't love free agency.Caldwell joked at the combine in late February that he "despised" free agency – and actually, he really wasn't joking. He, like most general managers, believes the best way to build a roster is drafting, developing and re-signing your own players. While the past week was productive, and while the Jaguars improved their roster, it didn't change Caldwell's perception of the process. Asked Wednesday if it was fun having a lot of money to spend, replied, "I wouldn't call it fun. … It's been fun from a team standpoint and working together and everyone working together. The last twelve to twenty-four hours has been quite stressful."
14.The wait continues.When it comes to wide receiver Justin Blackmon, what we learned last week was … well, we learned what we already know. The suspended wide receiver is still suspended, and the matter is still out of the Jaguars' control. "It's kind of a waiting game," Caldwell said. "It's in the league's hands. It's in his hands and we've got to wait and see."
Take a look at some behind the scenes images as the newest Jacksonville Jaguars free agent acquisitions Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick, Davon House, Dan Skuta, Sergio Brown and Jermey Parnell officially sign their contracts.
15.The Jaguars' focus remains the core.That was clear from the ages of the players. Thomas is 26, with Odrick 27, Parnell 28, House 25, Skuta 28 and safety Sergio Brown 26. The seventh free agent acquired last week, wide receiver/kick returner Bryan Walters, is 27. Those are ideal target ages if you're signing free agents with an eye on the next three or four years and not just the next season. All indications are the Jaguars improved last week. It would be very surprising if Odrick, Parnell and Thomas aren't significant upgrades; for that matter, it would be surprising if Skuta isn't an upgrade at the Otto, too. There's never a guarantee with free-agent signings, but all seven players acquired last week have a chance to be ascending. If there was a theme of Jaguars 2015 Free Agency Week 1 – aside from it being all about the 'Blake – that's it.