The Big Nothing
Sorry, Jags fans. Don't expect much from this year's free agent pool
Time was, I was really excited about NFL free agency (which began this week), the way fans are. That led to some columns that are, in retrospect, hilarious, like this absolute gem from 2008:
"I know deep down within that the decision to sign Jerry Porter was the right move. Matt Jones and Reggie Williams have flashed real potential, to be sure. But Jerry Porter has a different gear than either of those guys is capable of delivering. And a different rep; he will draw double coverage, and David Garrard will take advantage of it."
The only thing Jerry Porter drew was a check from the Weavers — great observation there, in a column that also gushed about the signing of Drayton Florence. So when it comes to free agency, I've learned that, sometimes, the best way forward is to avoid the big splashy moves. This year's free agency pool illustrates that all too well. Those who expect silver bullets are better off taking their chances with a can of Coors.
One thing I've noticed about the current class is that so many of the most attractive candidates are recent Jags. Linebacker Daryl Smith and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe — both on the Ravens' roster at the end of last year — are available for reacquisition. As well, Maurice Jones-Drew, whose performance has been widely discussed and often derided by fans and media alike, is one of the best tailbacks in the '14 pool.
What does that say? For starters: Maybe the Jags were too quick to cut bait on Smith or Monroe. Maybe the team needs to bring back MJD on a short deal with heavy incentives. There just isn't a lot to get excited about, as a position-by-position breakdown makes clear.
Quarterback, for example, offers little that's an upgrade even from Chad Henne — whom the Jaguars re-signed last week to a two-year, $8 million contract. Busted-up-and-old Michael Vick is the biggest name — and as the Eagles learned last year, he didn't have much tread left on the tires. Beyond those, a lot of has-beens and never-weres.
Running back is another marquee position where the talent does not overwhelm. The guy with the most upside, Raiders' former "franchise" back Darren McFadden, has a Reggie Bush propensity to do really well for a few games, then end up on the injured list for the rest of the year. Rashad Jennings, a former Jag who didn't do much here, likewise is a candidate. Other than those guys, players like LeGarrette Blount and Ahmad Bradshaw are available. Hardly exciting.
Wide receiver may be a different story. Eric Decker and Andre Caldwell are on deck from Denver's AFC championship roster. Bigger frames — Hakeem Nicks, Plaxico Burress — are there if you need them. Again, though, there isn't a lot to hyperventilate about. If I were to sign one (and given the Justin Blackmon situation, I would), it'd probably be Decker, though I wouldn't be thrilled about it.
There is one guy I might get worked up over: Jimmy Graham, the Saints' tight end, is up for grabs as a restricted free agent. There are folks who think the price is too high — two first-round picks to New Orleans for the right to sign him. But if you've got a player like that at hand, you might as well make the play rather than settling for a more mediocre, less-proven option, then hoping for the best. Given the cap room the Jags have and the fungible value of draft picks (even first-rounders can be busts, as we know), why the hell not? Not much else out there. And they obviously need bodies for the offensive line since Uche Nwaneri was cut last week.
The Jags are going to build through the draft and will pick up parts late in free agency, as it should be. The first wave of free agents definitely underwhelms. Maybe other teams will offer more appealing talent later, but given the realities at play, I doubt David Caldwell is counting on it.