JACKSONVILLE – Here's what We Learned from the first week of Jaguars 2014 free agency …
1. Things are going to look different …How else to say it? Where else to start? The Jaguars not only signed six free agents – running back Toby Gerhart, offensive guard Zane Beadles, defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, defensive tackle Ziggy Hood and linebacker Dekoda Watson – from other teams this week, they have 11 selections in the upcoming 2014 NFL draft. That's a whole lot of new faces in a whole lot of new places.
2…and the Jaguars are being aggressive, too …No question this is a more aggressive approach than last offseason. The Jaguars likely will finish with relatively the same number of unrestricted free agents as last offseason, but Gerhart, Beadles, Bryant and Clemons were tougher "gets" than last year's free agents. The Jaguars targeted those players, and for the most part, they hit their targets.
3…. but they're being smart, too.While the Jaguars were active in free agency, they weren't overspending. At least not in the context of NFL spending. Plenty of salary cap room remains – for now and for later. The core idea of this build is to draft well, develop those players, then re-sign them as merited. The free-agency money spent this week doesn't get in the way of that approach.
4. Gus Bradley matters in free agency.One by one this week, the signees talked about the impact of Bradley's approach. The head coach's style is turning this into a place players want to play.
5. Chad Henne is the starting quarterback.That's why the Jaguars re-signed him to a two-year deal, and the plan is for him to start the offseason as the starter and the regular-season opener, too.
6. The draft is still wide open.The truth of No. 5 doesn't change anything about the Jaguars' plans in the May 8-10 NFL Draft. The team could take a quarterback at No. 3 overall, or it could take a pass rusher, or it could take a wide receiver. Those seem like the likely positions, but nothing that happened in free agency will push the team in one direction or the other.
7. And there will be competition at quarterback.Bradley was very clear on this. Yes, the idea right now is to start Henne, but if the Jaguars select a quarterback No. 3 – or wherever they select one – that player will have a chance to compete. It's unlikely that player would be ready to start, but if he is, he'll be given the opportunity.
8. Toby Gerhart will start at running back. The Jaguars signed Gerhart Wednesday, and make no mistake: he's the starting running back. And this could be one where the Jaguars get a lot of production at a reasonable price. Gerhart has played sparingly behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota for four years, but when he has played, the production has been very, very high.
10. Chris Clemons is versatile.The Jaguars signed the veteran defensive end a day after his release by Seattle. He can play the Leo position, but he has the size and ability to be a factor against the run, too. Bradley's defense needs players on the front seven who can play multiple roles, and Clemons can do just that.
11. And he's going to be a leader, too.Clemons at 32 is four or five years older than the Jaguars' prototype for free agents, but the Jaguars not only believe he can help on the field, but as a leader in the locker room. He's an intense guy who should expect a lot from teammates, and the Jaguars expect his personality to resonate in the defensive-end room.
12. Clemons believes in Red Bryant.Clemons spoke extensively and emotionally during his Thursday press availability about Bryant, with whom he played in Seattle for the past four seasons. And this was more than obligatory-praise-of-the-former-teammate stuff. Clemons said Bryant was the heart of Seattle's defense in recent seasons, the guy who did unnoticed things to make the defense work efficiently. That's the same thing you hear from people who studied the Seahawks' defense.
13. Speaking of leaders …That will be Beadles' role offensively, too. With center Brad Meester retiring and guard Uche Nwaneri being released, the Jaguars suddenly could be very, very young on the offensive front. Beadles will start at left guard next to left tackle Luke Joeckel. He'll help the second-year veteran, but he'll be helping a lot of his linemates next season, too.
14. Ziggy Hood will play inside.Hood played defensive end in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, and he can play some five-technique end in the Jaguars' scheme. But for the most part, Hood will play tackle. He's excited about that and thinks he can be effective as a pass-rusher there. The Jaguars think so, too.
15. Dekoda Watson will rush the passer.The signing of the fifth-year veteran from Tampa Bay perhaps was overlooked. He wasn't on many pre-free agency watch lists, but look for him to play a key role as strong-side linebacker, and he'll factor in the pass rush, too. He can play at times as a Leo, and if this past week made anything clear it's this: if you can rush the passer, you're going to be on the field for the Jaguars next season.
16. The Jaguars wanted depth on the defensive line …A huge objective in the offseason was reducing snaps for the Jaguars' front-line defensive linemen. Jason Babin, Tyson Alualu and particularly Sen'Derrick Marks played too many last season. The addition of Hood, Clemons, Bryant and re-signing Babin works toward that end. Marks played more than 900 snaps last season, and Babin and Alualu were in the 700s. Getting all into the 500-to-600 range should be possible now.
17. The draft remains critical.Once again: nothing about this week changed the importance of the draft. The Jaguars have 11 selections. They may trade up or they may trade back; either way, they're going to have a lot of draft selections. That's by design. The Jaguars want to build through the draft and they believe this year's is very, very deep. As important as this week was, the weekend of May 8-10 is more so.
18. The Jaguars are better now than a week ago.This week didn't make the Jaguars one of the league's most-talented teams. They're not Super Bowl favorites. It did make them more talented than a year ago, and it should make them stouter and deeper and better at a number of positions. This week was a step in the build, and it was a positive step. And yeah, they're better than they were March 10.