The Jacksonville Jaguars always knew Christian Kirk was their guy. Now, they are just waiting on everyone else to catch up.
Few teams were criticized as much this offseason as the Jaguars, specifically for their decision to sign Kirk to a four-year, $72 million deal with $37 million guaranteed. But to the Jaguars' decision makers and wide receivers coach Chris Jackson, the move was one the Jaguars made without second thought.
"I think, you know, bringing somebody on that could play multiple positions, that's a true pro and that is gonna work his butt off, it was a no brainer for somebody like him," Jackson said during media availability earlier this month.
As things stand following the Cooper Kupp deal, Kirk is tied with Kenny Golladay at No. 10 among all receivers in total value; tied with Golladay at No. 14 in annual money; tied with Tyler Locket at No. 15 in guaranteed money.
While signing Kirk, who recorded 252 touches for 3,044 yards and 17 touchdowns from scrimmage in four years with the Arizona Cardinals, obviously raised eyebrows at the time, the Jaguars have had nothing but praise for Kirk since adding him after four years with the Cardinals.
"Well, first of all, it's supply and demand, right? That plays a factor in free agency for sure," Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said in the days following the Kirk deal.
"And if he comes in, and he plays to the level that the contract is and he meets the incentives, which I hope he does, and if he does nobody here, nobody in the stands, nobody in the national media is going to care about what he was paid, because he's earned every penny of it. And that's the ... the only time it's going to matter if he doesn't play well, and we're not worried about that."
After a spring with Kirk in the system and locker room, the Jaguars seem as sure about the Kirk signing today as they did in March.
Baalke and Pederson said in March the Jaguars' coaching staff was heavily involved in the evaluation process during free-agency. Listening to Jackson break down what he and the Jaguars saw in Kirk during the scouting process, it is easy to see just how connected the front office and coaching staff were on adding the former second-round pick.
"So when you look at Christian, there were outside receivers, and there were slot receivers, and Christian was one that we were looking at, you know, from a slot receiver," Jackson said.
"But the more you start looking at Christian, he only started playing slot receiver for Arizona probably the last year, last year and a half. And so if you go back to the previous years, the kid has dominated on the outside."
Kirk caught 159 passes for 1,920 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first three seasons before moving to a predominantly slot role in 2021 after the Cardinals added A.J. Green.
The result? Kirk had a career year, catching 77 passes for 982 yards and five touchdowns, adding 44 first downs and a career high 74.8% catch rate. Kirk established himself as one of the best slot receivers in the NFL in 2021, but the Jaguars believe he is more than just a gifted slot receiver.
"So when you start looking at free agency, you got somebody that plays multiple positions, somebody that is going to be a good third down, a big third down option for us going into the third downs, and he's just going to be somebody that helps out and be the security blanket for the most part on those most crucial downs for Trevor," Jackson said.
"And then at the flip side of that, you also can move him around and play him on the outside, you know, if we're in 12 personnel with two tight ends. So he's just a complete package."
As much praise as Kirk has drawn from the coaching staff and Trevor Lawrence for what he has brought to the practice field thus far, he also seems to have made a big impression in terms of his intangibles.
Often times in free agency, teams will sign players who don't fit the culture they are trying to build. Players who either simply don't fit in their culture and locker-room dynamic, or players who don't serve as a model to other players on the roster.
That hasn't been Kirk, though. Nor has it been fellow wide receiver free agent signing Zay Jones, who has drawn similar praise for his ability to make an impact on the Jaguars' locker room.
"I see that a lot from those two. Well, not only just those two, but just from being free agents and coming into a new culture and a new team and we're talking about creating a new culture, where they've bought in from day one," Jackson said.
"So I think what they have brought is they practice their butts off number one, so that's great for the young guys and the returners to see these two kids come in, in particular, and work as hard as they do, you know. So you have no choice but to fall in line in regards to that. So that all together is kind of building their trust with the quarterback, and that's also building the culture in this room slowly."