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A time for decisiveness

Posted Mar 14, 2013

EDITORIAL: Jacksonville Jaguars moves in free agency about decisiveness, fitting the plan

JACKSONVILLE – Once the decision was made, there was no reason to wait.

If you’re among the many baffled by the recent decisions made by new General Manager Dave Caldwell as he restructures the roster, that’s an important concept to remember.

Why isn’t Laurent Robinson on the roster today?

Why aren’t Dawan Landry and Aaron Ross around, either?

Why, oh, why, aren’t the Jaguars partaking in these early days of fantasy football/free agency?

Because Caldwell isn’t indecisive. Neither is Head Coach Gus Bradley. They talk of a vision, and shaping that vision is what has been going on around Everbank Field in recent weeks.

After first meeting in January, the duo has spent the last six weeks honing an idea of what the Jaguars will be short- and long-term. They have watched video late into the night. They have discussed what they have seen, and as significantly, what they haven’t seen.

By this stage in the evaluation/planning process, they have a good idea of direction, of what they want at each position. The picture is crystalizing. Part of that process is a vision of future players, of what types of free agents and drafted players will fit.

Part of it, too, is knowing that the team must get young, and that it must do so in the right way, with the right replacements.

Part of it, too, is knowing what doesn’t fit.

That last part, for many observers, is the tough part, and there has been an outcry in some corners of the Jaguars’ world over the release of not only Robinson –the team’s highest-profile free agent last offseason – but of Ross and Landry, two players who started a combined 25 games last season.

The trio’s departure means the unrestricted free agents from former Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith’s tenure are almost all gone. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, quarterback Chad Henne and guard Jason Spitz remain. Only Posluszny would seem assured of a position next season.

Could the Jaguars have kept more of these veterans? Yes.

Could some of those veterans have competed for positions?

The answer is yes to that, too, but they were playing at a high enough level for Caldwell to know he didn’t want to draft a player at that spot. They were, simply put, not playing well enough to assure themselves of starting positions, whatever their salary.

“As we were talking about receivers, and free agent receivers, and what we were talking about moving forward, he didn’t fit the mold of what we were looking for from that position,” Caldwell said Wednesday of Robinson.  “We just felt like it was better to move on from him now rather than to have him go through an offseason and then move on. We felt it was best for him to go on and find a spot to play if he wanted to knowing that he wasn’t in our plans moving forward.”

Caldwell was speaking specifically of Robinson in that quote. The approach applied to Landry and Ross, too.

“Once we know, we’re pretty decisive,” Caldwell said. “There’s a lot of discussion that goes into them. None of them are flippant decisions. Even more during this free-agency weekend when we’re meeting with our coaches and talking offensive and defensive philosophy – even some of our draft discussions – it comes to light pretty quickly: ‘If we didn’t feel like this guy or this guy was going to be in the picture, best to move on from him now.’”

What Caldwell wasn’t talking about was the team’s unrestricted free agents. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton signed with the Denver Broncos Wednesday, and later that night, cornerback Derek Cox signed with the San Diego Chargers.

But the team is still open to having linebacker Daryl Smith return if the market dictates, and would still like to re-sign center Brad Meester and fullback Greg Jones.

“We still want those guys,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell spoke late Wednesday shortly after the signing of linebacker Geno Hayes. Hayes, Caldwell said, fit precisely what the Jaguars want as a free agent this offseason.

“Young, athletic, something to prove,” Caldwell said of Hayes. “We can’t be void of veteran leadership. There’s a place for veterans, but it has to be a situation where guys are still hungry, guys still want to play. It’s not just, ‘Hey, we’re cutting because of age.’ They have to be a good fit from a scheme standpoint and a skill-set standpoint.

“If they’re older, that’s fine – as long as they still provide something that makes us competitive and helps us win games this year.”

Hayes fits that. He’s 25, and reportedly signed a two-year, $2 million deal.  He will have a chance to compete for a starting role. He may earn it. He may be a backup. He may be neither. If he starts, he fits well into the salary structure. If not, he does it no harm.

The players signing around the NFL Tuesday and Wednesday, for the most part, don’t fit that mode. They’re high-priced gambles. More often than not, what’s graded a winner in March requires re-grading the following offseason or soon thereafter. Such signings are phenomenally high-risk for any team, even ones believing themselves close to a Super Bowl. For a team just finding out what it is and what it is to become, they’re not just risky; they’re foolish, even irresponsible.

Caldwell, before leaving Wednesday for Morgantown, Va., for the Pro Day of quarterback Geno Smith, was asked if the early days of this week were precisely the sort of frenzy he’d spoken of wanting to avoid. He smiled, and said it was. He was asked, too, what was next in free agency, if more moves such as Hayes could be expected.

“We’ll kick some tires,” he said.

Those tires may not be expensive, but if they’re bought, they’re going to fit. The last few days have made that much perfectly clear.

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