JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been among the more active teams in free agency over the past three years. They are first in contract value and tied for 16th in the NFL in total signings. Here’s a look at how those decisions have panned out on the field:
Total signings: 28* (T-16th in NFL)
Total contract value: $488,413,000 (first in NFL)
Three-year W-L: 11-37
Biggest hit: Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who got the richest contract in Jaguars history (six years, $86.1 million, $42 million guaranteed) last March, is by far the Jaguars’ best free-agent signing over the past three years. He and rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey were the defense’s two best players in 2016. Jackson set a career high with 6.5 sacks and added 11 tackles for loss and a team-high 19 quarterback hits. He was a big reason the defense improved from 31st to eighth on third down and from 24th to sixth in total defense from 2015. Even when he didn’t make tackles, Jackson consistently got penetration in the backfield and forced running backs to change direction.
Biggest miss: The Jaguars gave tight end Julius Thomas $24 million guaranteed in March 2015, and he was supposed to be a huge factor in the passing game, but that never happened. He caught 76 passes for 736 yards and nine TDs the past two seasons, but he averaged just 9.7 yards per catch and had just two receptions in which the pass traveled 20 or more yards in the air (he had nine in 2013-14 with Denver). Granted, some of that was due to Peyton Manning, but Thomas didn’t seem to have the same speed and suddenness. In addition, the Jaguars didn’t use him as effectively as they could have, having him catch more shallow passes instead of working downfield in the seam. Thomas also missed 11 games with injuries the past two seasons. The Jaguars have agreed to trade Thomas to Miami for a late-round draft pick in the upcoming draft.
Sneaky good move: Defensive tackle Abry Jones joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013, and the Jaguars signed him to a three-year contract. When his deal expired after 2015, the Jaguars put a second-round tender on him to keep him as a restricted free agent and gave him a one-year, $2.55 million contract. When nose tackle Roy Miller went down with a torn Achilles in Week 6 last season, Jones stepped into the starting job and played the best football of his career. He didn’t record a sack for the first time in his four seasons, but he occupied the double-teams and held up at the point of attack to allow the linebackers the freedom to make tackles. He recently signed a four-year deal worth $16 million with $6.5 million guaranteed before becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 9.
Verdict: Nearly all of the Jaguars’ high-profile signings failed to work out. Most of the players the Jaguars have signed have been entering their second contracts, which is supposed to be their prime, but they’ve failed to make much of an impact beyond one season. Defensive end Jared Odrick, for example, played well in 2015 (he led the Jaguars with 5.5 sacks) but missed 10 games with various injuries in 2016 and was cut in late February. He earned $22.5 million in guaranteed money in those two seasons. The good thing is the Jaguars’ failures in free agency didn’t negatively impact the salary cap going into 2017 because the contracts were front-loaded over the first two seasons. However, the team got little return on investment when it came to winning games. The Jaguars handed out an NFL-high $183,570,000 in guaranteed money from 2014-16, which worked out to roughly $16.7 million per victory.
*Signings made during free-agency period beginning in March.