Now that the first wave of free agency is in the books, it's time for me to take a deep dive into each of the Jaguars' big free-agent signings. I take a 360-degree view of the player, the contract, the fit in Jacksonville, and I'll ultimately arrive at a grade for the signing. I've already graded the signing of right guard Brandon Scherff.
Now, it's time to take a look at wide receiver Christian Kirk.
The addition of the versatile playmaker undoubtedly raises the talent level for the Jaguars' offense. Kirk has never been a dominant X-receiver in his career, and that's not what the Jaguars should expect from him. At 5'11" and 200-pounds, Kirk certainly doesn't have a prototypical build for an outside receiver. He is at his best in the slot, where he can take advantage of his strength, athleticism, and route running prowess. For the first time in his career, Kirk aligned primarily inside in 2021. The results? 77 catches on 103 targets (74.8% catch rate), 982 yards, and five touchdowns. He was reliable, efficient, and explosive for the Cardinals last season. I don't believe Kirk should be pigeonholed to playing only in the slot, but that's where the majority of his reps should come. Still, he's capable of winning in a variety of ways and is dangerous with the ball in his hands. The Jaguars should find creative ways to get Kirk the ball in space, and Doug Pederson should have no problem with that. He's an explosive vertical threat from the slot and on the outside and should give Trevor Lawrence a dangerous deep target.
The Jaguars signed Kirk to a four-year contract worth $72 million ($37 million guaranteed). Due to the language of the deal, the Jaguars have an out after year two, in which the team could release Kirk and save $11.5 million in salary-cap space ($10 million in dead money). This gives the Jaguars protection if Kirk struggles to make the expected impact with a contract of this magnitude. But make no mistake about it: this is a MASSIVE contract for a receiver who primarily wins from the slot and has never eclipsed 1,000 yards or six touchdowns in a season. Yes, teams overpay in free agency every year, and there's nothing wrong with that. But were the Jaguars in a bidding war with themselves on this one? Entering free agency, I believed that Kirk could likely earn a deal worth $12-15 million per season, with $25-30 million guaranteed. The Jags blew those numbers out of the water. General manager Trent Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson are surely paying Christian Kirk for what they expect him to do in Jacksonville, not solely based on his previous level of play. Right?
In a vacuum, I love the addition of Christian Kirk to the Jaguars' offense. Trevor Lawrence should be able to establish a quick connection with the athletic sure-handed receiver. But the bottom line is, he's not an X. The Jaguars still lack a big-bodied, athletic receiver that can consistently win against the game's top cornerbacks on the outside. And when you look at the other options that may have been available, the money on this deal continues to leave me scratching my head. Ideally, Kirk would be a second or third option in a high-volume vertical passing attack. But in Jacksonville, he's the clear-cut top receiver, both based on talent and money. If Baalke and Pederson address the receiver position with more of a traditional number one receiver via trade or early on in the draft, I'll feel better about this signing. And after all, even if Kirk doesn't play anywhere near the level Jaguars' brass expects, the team can get out of the contract with relatively little salary cap impact after two seasons.
Even if the Jaguars paid a premium, I believe Christian Kirk will be a reliable offensive weapon capable of making an impact in multiple roles. Still, his best contribution will be as a vertical slot threat. He'll help Trevor Lawrence develop in year two and will significantly raise the Jaguars' offensive floor.
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