Few teams have experienced the complete ups and downs of free agency like the Jacksonville Jaguars in recent years. In many ways, the Jaguars have been the epitome of a team that has lived and died by the same sword.
Considering the 2021 free agency cycle is expected to officially begin in fewer than three weeks -- at 4 p.m. on March 17 -- it is a prudent exercise to examine just what the effects of free agency have been on the Jaguars in recent years.
Unsurprisingly, the result isn't a pretty picture.
The Jaguars are 22-42 in the last four seasons, one of the worst records in the NFL during that period. Only three teams have won fewer games, and this is even factoring in the fact the Jaguars won 10 games in 2017. Their 12-36 record over the last three seasons ranks even worse among their peers.
There is no questioning how bad the Jaguars have been over the last four years, with records of 10-6, 5-11, 6-10, and 1-15. But how did the Jaguars get to the cellar of the NFL?
Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap explained a root reason why in a new post examining the overall spending of teams in free agency stacked against their records from 2017-2020.
It is important to remember that this data doesn't factor in players the Jaguars extended, such as Blake Bortles. It only counts players who switched teams, weren't franchise or transition tagged, and were signed between March and May. This means for the Jaguars, players like Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Nick Foles, Chris Conley, Andrew Norwell, and Joe Schobert were all included.
As Fitzgerald's data notes, the Jaguars have spent the fifth-most in free agency in the NFL during this span -- a mark of $153,838,333. They spent the most overall money, too, signing 36 free agents to deals that added up to 75 years and $494,065,000, according to Over The Cap.
But despite spending ridiculous amounts of cap space in free agency, the Jaguars have just one winning season to show for it. They have a winning percentage of just 0.344% during the last four seasons and Over The Cap has them with the third-worst annual contract value per win figure at $6,992,652.
Essentially, the Jaguars were spending nearly $7 million in free agency for each win over the last four seasons. They have shelled out the cash but haven't seen any results.
This is where it gets a bit tricky for the Jaguars, however. While the Jaguars have swung and missed in free agency more often than not over the last four seasons, it is hard to imagine the Jaguars would have made the playoffs in 2017 without signing Campbell and Bouye to massive deals. That playoff team was partially built on the back of free agency, at least in the short-term, so there is a benefit to spending big as long as one does it wisely.
But the Jaguars didn't turn that big spending spree or the subsequent ones that followed into sustained success. Free agents played a major role in the success of 2017, but they were also big reasons the Jaguars have finished in the last place of the AFC South in each of the last three seasons.
This is the lesson the Jaguars should attempt to remember moving forward. Free agency can fill holes in the short-term and crack open a competitive window, but it can also run the risk of sending the team's record into a downward spiral if smart investments aren't made.
The Jaguars failed to make smart investments in recent years, with the Foles' signing in particular standing out. The regression of the Jaguars' roster is in large part due to several failed draft picks, as well as star players leaving, but the inability to sign strong free agency classes has been a big factor as well.
The Jaguars will have a chance to amend this in 2021 by spending lucratively once again. They are currently set to enter March with the most cap space in the NFL, and new head coach Urban Meyer likely doesn't want to wait long to see the Jaguars retool their roster.
Will the results change? That will only be determined by what the Jaguars put out on the field on Sundays. But one thing is clear -- the results can't get much worse than they have been.