Despite entering last year's free agency cycle with some of the most available cap space in the entire NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't make many home run swings on the open market.
They did, however, spend enough money to qualify among the league's highest-spenders, a result of the Jaguars taking a quantity-based approach to free agency under former head coach Urban Meyer and incumbent general manager Trent Baalke.
So, which Jaguars free agents stood out and which failed to meet expectations during the 3-14 campaign? In an effort to review Baalke's latest free agency class, we have opted to go through each player on a case-by-case basis.
First up is the biggest free agent the Jaguars signed last season: cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who the Jaguars signed to a three-year, $40 million contract with $29 million guaranteed.
What Went Right
The fact that Shaquill Griffin was able to take Tyson Campbell under his wing and help guide him through the ups and downs of the No. 33 overall pick's season shouldn't be lost on anyone. Campbell said numerous times during the second-half of what turned out to be a strong rookie campaign that Griffin had become a mentor of sorts to him and was someone he leaned on during what started out as a rough rookie year.
While the Jaguars signed Griffin to be a No. 1 cornerback first and foremost, the fact that he showed his leadership and aided Campbell throughout his season was a big plus for Griffin. There are often occurrences of a big-money free agent not being a positive influence on a team's culture, something the Jaguars have learned in the past. That wasn't an issue with Griffin. Instead, it is fair to say Griffin had the opposite impact.
Griffin also had stretches of solid play for the Jaguars' defense, even if some of his missed chances at turnovers. He allowed a career-low in yards per catch (11.8) and had strong performances against Ja'Marr Chase and A.J. Brown. While Griffin didn't make many game-changing plays, he showed the ability to be a quality cover man throughout the season against the best receivers the Jaguars faced. He ultimately allowed three touchdowns on the season per Pro Football Reference, a career-low for the fifth-year cornerback.
Griffin also deserves some praise for his balanced play. Despite not having a reputation as a strong defender, Griffin missed just five tackles in 2021 and was frequently a positive influence on the Jaguars' ability to stop screens and runs to the outside. Griffin was a reliable tackler in space and frequently brought receivers down immediately after the catch, an underrated aspect of cornerback play.
What Went Wrong
Simply the lack of impact plays. Griffin was signed by the Jaguars to be a reliable playmaker on the outside as CJ Henderson and Campbell developed, but the Jaguars simply didn't make plays on defense and Griffin's inability to bring in interceptions or pass deflections played a big part in this.
While Griffin's 66 targets in coverage were a career-low, so was his ball production. He recorded just seven pass deflections and zero interceptions in 2021, the first year in his career he recorded fewer than 10 deflections and interceptions combined. And it isn't as if Griffin didn't have chances, either.
There were several occurrences throughout the year in which Griffin got his hands on the ball in coverage but simply failed to keep it off the ground and record an interception, with at least two of these drops being potential pick-sixes.
Griffin was harsh on himself in media appearances about the dropped interceptions, so it isn't as if this is an area he didn't recognize. He knew it was an issue, but the Jaguars' league-worst turnover rate on defense wasn't able to turn around even with the awareness. Had Griffin converted even just two of these chances, the Jaguars' season and defensive efforts could have looked much different.
Griffin also had struggles from time to time at stopping receivers from beating him deep. This could be due to the fact that the Jaguars played a lot of man coverage early in the season and left their cornerbacks on an island by themselves with little safety help, but there were some depth-level receivers who even beat Griffin deep.
Overall Grade On This Signing: C+
Griffin is far from a failed signing. Despite his lack of impact plays, he was a positive addition in terms of the culture and the leadership he provided. He also was an above-average cornerback in coverage for much of the season, even if the numbers don't fully reflect this.
Still, the Jaguars gave Griffin nearly $30 million in guaranteed money with the hopes of him being a difference-maker on the defense. Until he can create some impact plays and turnovers, the grade will remain in need of a boost.