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All about the draft

Posted Feb 21, 2013

Don’t look for noise out of Jacksonville Jaguars when free agency begins March 12 – or perhaps for a while thereafter

INDIANAPOLIS -- David Caldwell’s focus this week is very much on the NFL Draft, and here’s advice for Jaguars followers:

Don’t expect that to change in the coming weeks.

Caldwell spoke to jaguars.com Wednesday afternoon upon arriving in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, and the biggest takeaway was that what Caldwell has said more than once during his first month and a half as the Jaguars’ general manager is no exaggeration:

When it comes to the upcoming veteran free-agency period, this franchise is likely going to be quiet.

Very, very quiet.

“We’re going to focus on building it through the draft and college free agency in the first year,” Caldwell said.

It’s not that Caldwell doesn’t realize that there are needs on this roster. And it’s not that there aren’t positions on the roster that could be upgraded in free agency. Yes, there may be veterans available in the first wave of free agency who logically could fit with what the Jaguars are doing.

But Caldwell is trying to build a roster for the long-term, and the plan is to do it through the draft.

That’s the core philosophy now. It’s not lip service. It’s not something to be said in a press conference, and forgotten the next day.

It’s the plan. It’s Caldwell’s plan. It’s the Jaguars’ plan.

Owner Shad Khan is on board with it. The second-year owner said as much during Caldwell’s introductory press conference, and though neither Khan, Caldwell, nor anyone, really, has said anything different since, there has been an undercurrent among the followers of the team, among the media – here included – that the coming free-agency period would be used to address short-term needs.

Not likely.

In years past, the Jaguars’ free-agency mode of operation followed the pattern of many NFL teams. A wish list was made, and targets were developed. Those targets were pursued, and sometimes that meant signing players such as Laurent Robinson, Paul Posluszny and Clint Session.

Sometimes they weren’t signed, but the effort was made.

This offseason, it is clear, will be different.

Not that the Jaguars won’t be working. Not that the radars won’t be up. If there is a bargain to be found, a player that makes sense, Caldwell said the Jaguars won’t ignore it.

But the early days of free agency aren’t about bargains, and there’s a logical reason for the Jaguars’ approach. What Caldwell wants is to build with young players, to have them learn the Jaguars way under Gus Bradley and a new coaching staff.

In the early stages of such a process, signing an older player in March could get in the way of drafting a player at the same position in April. The Jaguars aren’t as much about filling a need or two here or there in March and April of 2013; they’re about building a roster, and the best way to do that is with young players.

“I don’t want a stopgap free agent who’s just going to be here a year or two years to stop me from drafting a guy to come in and play right away,” Caldwell said. “It’s something I’ve always kind of believed, and Shad’s given us the green light to build through the draft and not put a timetable on this, but to build it so it can be sustainable for a long period of time.”

Caldwell’s history shows the origins of the approach. In 1998, when Caldwell was an area scout in Indianapolis, the Colts largely eschewed free agency, drafting quarterback Peyton Manning No. 1 overall, going 3-13 the following season then signing several veterans as defensive free agents the following offseason.

Caldwell spent the last five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, a team that began its rebuild in 2008 largely staying out of free agency, signing free agents based on need in later seasons.

Caldwell said his philosophy is to participate in free agency “at the right time.”

“I don’t necessarily think that time is Year One,” he said.

This also doesn’t mean there will be no activity at all this offseason. A player may be signed to fill a need as the draft approaches, or afterward. What does this mean for the free agents on the roster? That remains to be seen. The team is unlikely to use the franchise tag, and an approach geared toward drafting and playing young players could mean a future without many of the players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.

That’s a story for another day. The story for today is that the Jaguars will be spending this weekend in Indianapolis actively and aggressively trying to find young players for the future.

After that, things could get quiet for a while around the Jaguars.

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