The first wave of free agency is complete.
It’s been a full week since the official beginning of the 2021 NFL season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have been active- the team has agreed to terms with seven retained players (including franchise tagging Cam Robinson) and 13 new players (including trading for Malcom Brown).
Not including tags, trades, restructures, or extensions, the Jaguars signed 15 free agents and shelled out $69,317,500 in first-year cash (each the third-most in the league per Over The Cap). That leaves $42,042,486 in current cap room, and with a $10,275,591 projected rookie pool cap hit, Jacksonville will be left with approximately $31.8 million in 2021 cap space if no further changes are made to the currently projected top 51 contracts.
However much of that doesn’t get spent on the contracts of Phillip Dorsett and CJ Beathard (the details of their deals haven’t been made public yet) or any other transactions can be rolled over to the 2022 salary cap.
Despite ranking near the top of the league in the number of roster moves and amount of money spent, the Jaguars’ offseason feels slightly underwhelming. Just one of its newly acquired players is set to earn at least $10 million annually, and premium free agents like Hunter Henry, John Johnson III, and Curtis Samuel may have slipped through the cracks.
Jacksonville’s executives delivered on their promise to add value and versatility at specific positions, and by prioritizing depth signings the team has an immediately higher floor plus future flexibility. Instead of being aggressive and overpaying players to ensure big offseason additions, like New England has uncharacteristically approached the offseason, the Jaguars stayed patient and didn’t make any moves that could come back to haunt them in the future.
In almost any other offseason, this approach would be a commendable one- and it still is. But while it wasn’t the wrong strategy, it’s fair to wonder if it was the right one.
Every individual in or around the NFL is aware of the potential salary cap explosion in 2023 when the league’s new broadcasting deals will kick in, and every team is undoubtedly planning around that summer, including the Jaguars, who agreed to contract lengths of more than two years with just a fifth of its recent acquisitions and are currently projected to have the 12th-most effective cap space in 2023 per Over The Cap.
In two years, every team will get more money to spend in free agency. This year, the Jaguars started the offseason with the most cap space in the league when there were really just a handful of teams that could outbid them on multiple marquee free agents.
So, maybe Jacksonville should’ve offered its favorite players on the market contracts that they couldn’t refuse in order to get them onto the team, thus raising the team’s immediate ceiling and getting the first opportunity to re-sign those same valuable players in a few years, even if it came with the inconvenience of future salary cap gymnastics.
The Jaguars’ strategy of focusing on value and flexibility wasn’t a poor one. But while blatantly overpaying players is unwise, Jacksonville was in a rare position in that it had both the power (current cash available) and the safety (the upcoming salary cap boom) to be able to aggressively target free agents in what was already the most important offseason in franchise history considering the changes made at head coach, general manager and eventually quarterback.
Nevertheless, the first wave of free agency is complete, and the Jaguars roster still improved significantly. Lack of aggression (especially on offense) is arguably the only flaw in Jacksonville’s talent acquisition approach thus far with over $30 million still available in cap space, and even that criticism might be excessive and partly untrue depending on what really happened behind closed doors last week. The Jaguars’ offseason has been a success to this point with draft season quickly approaching.