The Jaguars made it known heading into free agency that they would play their cards close to the vest. General Manager David Caldwell made no secret of that in his interview on 1010XL before free agency began.
“Every year, after this first week of free agency, they come out with the ‘big winners and losers’ of free agency, more often than not, the big winners in free agency are the big losers during the season, so it's just based off past history,” he said on March 9. “We're looking for good solid players that fit our age bracket [who] can provide not only some leadership capabilities, but some depth for our guys if we draft some young guys and have to play young guys early on, that these guys are going to be the bridge and help us get to the next level.”
Depth. Youth. Leadership.
These are the hallmarks of the Atlanta Falcons, the organization from which Caldwell hails, and the hallmarks of the Seattle Seahawks, the team for whom current head coach Gus Bradley worked as defensive coordinator.
As it turned out, the releases — not the signings — were the most notable aspect for the Jaguars in the days after free agency opened.
Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis — gone, if not forgotten.
Defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton — allowed to “test the market.”
Knighton’s first stop was Denver, where former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio is now defensive coordinator. It remains to be seen if Knighton — whose weight and conditioning have been recurrent issues throughout his career — can handle the thin air of the Mile High City. The Broncos signed him almost immediately, though.
Last year’s free-agent splash, wide receiver Laurent Robinson, is gone after one season in the black-and-teal. A big year exploiting favorable matchups with the Cowboys earned him a $14 million bonus — a number widely ridiculed at the time of the signing and further questioned as it became clear that Robinson couldn’t stay on the field because of concussion issues.
Though Robinson passed a team physical, he recently told the Associated Press that a workout made him “lightheaded,” which suggests that his recovery from concussions, like that of former Colts receiver Austin Collie, probably should happen outside the brutal realm of professional football.
What about defensive backs Dawan Landry and Aaron Ross? The Jags wish them luck in their future endeavors. Cornerback Ross – whose tenure here was more notable for his wife‘s performance in the Olympics than anything the husband did on the field — is back in New York, with Tom Coughlin’s Giants. Last season, Landry played as if his best years and the game’s best receivers were behind him.
To borrow from a Coen brothers’ film, the NFL is “No Country for Old Men.” Meanwhile, the Caldwell regime isn’t sentimental or stupid enough to pretend that old defensive backs will recover their lost steps.
The Jaguars avoided the big splashes that teams like the Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins made in the early days of the “free-agent frenzy” (as the NFL Network termed it). No signing Mike Wallace or even Andy Rooney for that matter. However, the players the team signed early in free agency are promising.
The first signing was linebacker Geno Hayes, a former Florida star who played for Tampa Bay and Chicago and knows defensive coordinator Bob Babich from his year with the Bears. Hayes is young, athletic and, by all accounts, excited to be the first signing for the Jaguars in 2013.
“I knew it was something that was going to happen,” Hayes said March 13 to Jaguars.com.
“My end of the bargain is I’ve got to come in and put what they know I can do out there for them,” Hayes said. “It’s a fresh start for everybody. I’ve got to come in and do my end of the deal.”
We can expect to see more Geno Hayes types come to Jacksonville — but on terms friendly to the franchise. Young players, brought in on short-term deals — that’s a recipe for success. Expect to see some more names you might know, if you're a serious football fan.
Since many available players fit this description, the Jaguars have no need to reach, as Gene Smith did when he was here, or as Coughlin’s administration did when the Jaguars were trying to get over the hump in the late 1990s. The Jaguars are committed to incrementally building the franchise’s talent. Recent league history suggests it's the only way forward.