Free Agency Ain’t As Easy As It Looks

Posted: July 29, 2011 in Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL
Tags: , , , , ,

Free agency in the NFL isn’t the crapshoot the college draft is, but it is far from a perfected science. Fans and media clamor for the big-name free agents, but impressive resumes and a lot of face time on ESPN Sports Center guarantee nothing.

As general managers look for immediate help in troubled areas they must consider a number of factors just as they do when evaluating college talent. Physical talent, obviously, is the No. 1 factor, but it alone doesn’t mean much if a player is lacking in other areas, some of which the athlete has no control.

I bring this up as NFL teams are in the midst of a free agent frenzy unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Because of the 4½-month lockout a lot of deals have to be completed in a short amount of time. Few teams figure to be more active than the Jaguars. Few teams have as much to gain or lose as Jacksonville because few have as many important holes to fill.

I don’t envy Jaguar General Manager Gene Smith. He must try and satisfy a restless fan base by signing players who excite the fans now and get them to the ticket office. And he must keep the fans happy by bringing in players who help produce enough victories to get the Jaguars to the playoffs.

Once a free agent has been identified by talent, the real work begins.

Is he a good fit for the Jaguars? That can mean scheme and/or how he meshes with his new teammates.

Is he interested only in grabbing as much money as possible or does he still have a hunger for competition?

Has he peaked as an athlete and started a downhill slide? This can relate to talent or physical wear and tear.

Can he handle his new found wealth?

Ideally, you sign a free agent player who hasn’t fulfilled his potential. This doesn’t get the fans fired up, but such players are less expensive and productive.

The Jaguars history of signing free agents is filled with hits and misses.

The two biggest busts are wide receiver Jerry Porter and defensive tackle Hugh Douglas. Both proved to be interested in one final big payday and nothing else. It isn’t much of an overstatement to contend they were guilty of stealing owner Wayne Weaver’s money.

Porter and Douglas are only a notch above (below?) Bryce Paup, who arrived in Jacksonville in ’98 as a former NFL defensive player of the year. Then Coach Tom Coughlin turned Paup from a pass rushing defensive end into an outside linebacker. It was like turning Sly Stallone from an action star into a Shakespearean actor. Paup pouted his way out of town.

Another free agent who simply didn’t fit in with the Jaguars is cornerback Drayton Florence. He struggled here and was gone after one season, but his career has been solid since he left. He signed a new deal with Buffalo earlier this week.

Some free agent misses can be blamed on bad luck. Safety Carnell Lake was signed in ’99 after a Pro Bowl career in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, all of the hits Lake delivered as a Steeler had taken their toll. Lake earned Pro Bowl honors based on his reputation in his first season with the Jaguars before a nagging foot injury soon forced him into retirement.

Wide receivers Troy Edwards and Dennis Northcutt never performed for Jacksonville as they had for previous teams. Clearly they had peaked. Hardy Nickerson was a serviceable middle linebacker for the Jaguars, but not the same as he’d been in Tampa Bay. Another middle linebacker, Kirk Morrison, is gone after only one season. He was a tackling machine for five years in Oakland, but it didn’t take long to realize why Oakland let him go.

The Jaguars, of course, have succeeded in free agency even though Weaver candidly says the team has been “the poster boy” for making free agent mistakes. Clearly under former personnel boss James Harris the Jaguars made more than its share mistakes with big-money free agents.

Perhaps their best signing ever even turned out badly. Defensive end Reggie Hayward, who had attracted little attention in Denver from the fans but was highly thought among coaches, was a star on the rise with the Jaguars, but unfortunately injuries short circuited his career.

Defensive tackle Gary Walker, tight end Kyle Brady, guard Chris Naeole and linebacker Mike Peterson are among the free agents who delivered for the Jaguars. Special teamer Kassim Osgood, signed last offseason, gets two thumbs up. Defensive end Aaron Kampman certainly delivered last season until he sidelined because of a knee injury. Will he regain his productive form? The answer likely will be a key factor in the Jaguars’ success or failure this fall.

As I write this, the Jaguars have agreed to terms with two free agents this year, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside linebacker Clint Session. (Free agents can’t officially sign with new teams until 6 p.m. today.) Linebacker is a position where the Jaguars certainly need help.

Posluszny seems to fulfill are the requirements you’re looking for in a free agent. His talent is reflected by the fact he averaged nearly nine tackles a game during four seasons in Buffalo. He’s known has a hard worker on the field and straight arrow off the field. At 26 it is reasonable to assume his best years are ahead of him.

Session, also 26, was a three-year for the Colts and is coming off of a broken arm injury. He could add some spice to the Jaguars because he’s not hesitant to give the media a sound bite.

Neither is known as a playmaker so don’t expect sacks and interceptions from them. Steady and fundamental are their trademarks. They both also lack the “wow” factor with the fans, but, really, how many players deliver the “wow” factor? Wide receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens will create a major buzz wherever they sign, if they sign, but can they still deliver? Is WR Braylon Edwards worth what he wants? Can Plaxico Burress still play? Do we really get excited about players at any positions other than the so-called skilled positions and pass rushers?

The Jaguars clearly need help on defense. Another linebacker is a top priority. The team’s pass rush was miserable after Kampman went down. Even if regains his productive form, he needs help unless second-year guys Austen Lane and Larry Hart show major improvement. Another safety is on the wish list. Offensively, wide receiver is the biggest need. Mike Thomas is solid. Jason Hill showed flashes after he was acquired during last season, but you have to wonder why he bounced around before landing here.

From the outside looking in Smith’s job seems so easy. Throw out enough of Weaver’s money and fill the needs. Who among us doesn’t think we could do Smith’s job? Me, for one.

I just hope Smith can do the job.

 

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