How Have the Jaguars' Last Two Free Agency Classes Failed?
When the Jacksonville Jaguars made the AFC Championship in 2017 following a 10-6 regular season, the team did so off of the strength of some spectacularly successful free agency classes mixed with drafting a few impact players on both sides of the ball.
Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson, Jeremy Parnell, Tashaun Gipson, Barry Church, A.J. Bouye. All free agent additions at one point or another, all major pieces of the Jaguars' best team since 2007.
Since then though, Jacksonville has faltered in a major way when it comes to handing out new contracts and trying to find impact players in free agency. Linebacker Jake Ryan, signed in the 2019 offseason to a two-year, $7.5 million deal, played only 1 1/2 games for the team this season before being placed on injured reserve is just the latest example of the team's failure to hit on free agents in the last two years, but he is in no way the most significant miss.
Since the 2017 season ended, the Jaguars' front office tandem of executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell have tried to hit a few homeruns and a few singles, but almost nothing has hit.
For context, here is who Jacksonville signed as free agents in 2018.
OG Andrew Norwell (five-year, $66.5 million deal with $30 million guaranteed): Has started 24 of 29 possible games at left guard. Has been solid, albeit unspectacular and at times mistake-prone. Has not lived up to contract, but isn't a bad player. Somewhat of a miss.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (two-year, $10 million deal with $4.4 million guaranteed): Caught 11 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown in 5 games before having his 2020 option declined. Was meant to replace Marcedes Lewis but paled in comparison. Miss.
CB D.J. Hayden (three-year, $19.5 million deal with $9.5 million guaranteed): Has played 22 of 29 possible games at nickel cornerback and has become one of the few bright spots of a bad defense. Good signing.
TE Niles Paul (two-year, $4.75 million deal with $1.5 million guaranteed): Caught 10 passes for 98 yards in six games before being released in 2019. Miss, but minor one.
WR Donte Moncrief (fully guaranteed one-year, $9.6 million deal): Caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns in his only year in Jacksonville. Suffered through drops, never became a focal point of the offense. Miss.
WR Marqise Lee (four-year, $38 million deal with $18 million guaranteed): Tore ACL in preseason of 2018 and was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury in 2019. Has only played in six games and has caught three passes for 18 yards since signing. Miss due to injuries, but a miss nonetheless.
DB Don Carey (two-year, $2.49 million deal with $200k guaranteed): Signed as a special teams player, released in August before playing a game. Not enough of a factor to be a miss.
So in total, the 2018 free agency class whiffed on Lee, Moncrief, and Seferian-Jenkins, while Norwell's deal has not aged well.
The lone bright spot of the 2018 free agency class was Hayden, who has proved to be an upgrade over former nickel cornerback Aaron Colvin. At this point, Hayden's deal looks like a steal.
When looking at the 2019 free agency class, it doesn't get much better for Jacksonville. Instead, it looks worse. Here are the free agency singings from Jacksonville's 2019 offseason:
QB Nick Foles (four-year,$88 million deal with $50 million guaranteed): Played two series in Week 1 before being injured for two months with a clavicle injury. Then started for 10 quarters before being benched for turnovers and poor play in Week 13. Has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions with two fumbles lost in 11 quarters as quarterback. Major miss.
LB Jake Ryan (two-year, $7.5 million deal with $1 million guaranteed): Placed on injured reserve Tuesday after only being activated to the 53-man roster for two weeks. Played only special teams snaps, never one played a snap on defense. Miss.
TE Geoff Swaim (two-year, $6.6 million deal with $1.25 million guaranteed): Totaled 13 catches for 65 yards before being placed on injured reserve after Week 6. Miss.
WR Chris Conley (two-year, $4.5 million deal with $1 million guaranteed): Has 38 catches for 632 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games. Has started each game but has been a big let down in terms of consistency due to drops. Miss.
TE James O'Shaughnessy (two-year, $2.25 million deal with $400k guaranteed): 14 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns before being placed on injured reserve with an ACL injury in Week 5. Was trending upward until injury. Good signing.
LB Najee Goode ( one-year, $805,000 deal without guarantees): 24 tackles and one sack in 11 games before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury. Was an OK player until he got hurt while on a bargain deal. Not a hit or miss either way.
OG A.J. Cann (three-year, $15 million deal with $6 million guaranteed): Has started 13 games at right guard. Has improved this season, though still not a great blocker. Alright return on investment.
OL Tyler Shatley (one-year, $1.005 million deal with $100k guaranteed): Has been active for 13 games but has not played.
OT Cedric Ogbuehi: (one-year, $895k deal with $90k guaranteed): Has been active for 11 games as team's top swing tackle but has not played a large role.
RB Alfred Blue (one-year, $895k deal with $250k guaranteed): Was placed on injured reserve before season started and then cut during the season. Didn't play a snap.
LB D.J. Alexander (one-year, $805 deal): Made five tackles before being placed on injured reserve.
So like 2018, the Jaguars mostly signed players who either failed to make any noticeable impact or got injured. The Foles' contract looks terrible in hindsight, worse than any contract they handed out in 2018. Conley and Swaim failed to become large pieces of the offense, and only A.J. Cann and James O'Shaughnessy contributed in positive ways.
So in two free-agent classes, Jacksonville has signed one solid player (Hayden) missed on a few big deals (Norwell, Foles) and missed on nearly every bargain contract. Finding talented players in free agency was once a strength for the Jaguars, but in the last two seasons, it has been a liability.