JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here is a breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the Jacksonville Jaguars:
Overall grade: C-plus. The Jaguars fixed one of their most pressing needs (interior offensive line play) with the best lineman on the free-agent market (Andrew Norwell), a move that will only reinforce the Jaguars’ commitment to the run game with Leonard Fournette. That’s an A-plus signing in itself. However, the Jaguars added two pass-catchers who each had only one good season: WR Donte Moncrief and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Jaguars are banking on those two staying healthy and finally becoming consistent players. If that happens, the grade will turn into a B-plus.
Most significant signing: Norwell helped the Carolina Panthers rank in the top 10 in rushing the past four seasons. The 6-foot-6, 316-pound guard, who signed a five-year, $66.5 million contract with $30 million guaranteed, is a mauler who has been just as good as a pass-protector (he was the only player in the league who didn’t allow a sack or QB hit last year, per Pro Football Focus).
Most significant loss: Although he is coming off a torn left ACL and struggled at times with teams rolling coverages to take him out of the game in 2016, WR Allen Robinson was the only proven downfield playmaker the team had. The Jaguars declined to use the franchise tag on him, and he chose to sign with Chicago. Robinson would have at least made defenses respect the passing game instead of ganging up on the line of scrimmage to stop Fournette, which is what will continue to happen until the Jaguars prove that they can make plays downfield. They’re hoping second-year WR Dede Westbrook develops into that player, but he’s coming off a rookie season in which he played only seven games because of a sports hernia.
Player they should have signed: Robinson tops the list, but there's another who would have addressed another need of a pass-catching tight end. Jimmy Graham is 31 and isn’t the same player he was when he was with New Orleans, but he led the NFL with 10 red zone TD catches last season. He would have been a matchup issue on the outside for defenses. He got $18 million guaranteed from Green Bay, so it might have been tough to land him. Jaguars tight ends caught an NFL-low 43 passes in 2017, and the group’s 505 receiving yards were second-fewest behind New Orleans (476 yards). They signed Niles Paul, who will have a significant role on special teams, and Seferian-Jenkins, but he has caught more than 21 passes in his four-year career just once (50 catches last season, for 7.1 yards per catch).
What’s next: The Jaguars have only one quarterback on the roster. While they are expected to draft one in April, there are several viable veteran free agents available. The Jaguars can wait for the market to weaken and save some money, and that might be what they’re doing. The team is built to win now and arguably is the favorite in the AFC. Although Blake Bortles hasn’t missed a game since he took over as the starter in Week 3 of 2014, it wouldn’t make sense to turn the season over to a rookie, were Bortles to suffer a major injury this season.