With all these great moves in free agency, I want to take a moment and look back on the master plan of Dave Caldwell this offseason. While I love the signings of Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamura (among others), some of the best moves Dave Caldwell made this past week were the contracts that he didn’t sign, the players he didn’t go all-in on and the money he didn’t throw out the window.
Alex Mack, former center of the Cleveland Browns who was signed by the Falcons this March, was a player who Caldwell let walk for good reason. We all know how we tried to sign him a few years ago when Cleveland put the transition tag on him (which, for those who don’t know, allows a team to match any contract offer that the tagged player receives), but Cleveland matched our unfavorable contract and kept their valued center for two more seasons. Mack opted out this offseason and was seen as a target for the Jags, but signed with Atlanta.
Mack has a lot to like about him. He’s been to 3 Pro-Bowls (first as an alternate in 2011, then selected in 2013 and 2015). He’s been one of the best centers in the league for years now and would fill an obvious hole on this team (which would also be the biggest hole on the offense). He didn’t miss a snap for the first 5 years of his career (from 2009-13). Mack was able to do all this while playing for the most dysfunctional organization in the history of the NFL. He’s also a very smart guy who is squeaky-clean character wise. What’s not to like?
The problem with Mack is that there are a few concerns that would make me steer away from making him the richest center in the league. Obviously that’s a concern, but if he was a perfect player I’d have no problem with giving him a huge deal. The first concern is his age and career trajectory. As we know, players generally start low, get better and peak and finally decline by the end of their career. Mack came in and started strong, making the 2009 All-Rookie team. He’d reached his peak by 2013, which started a string of great play for that year, 2014 (until his injury) and 2015. I have questions about when Mack will start to decline. I’m sure he has one or two great seasons left, but does he have any more after that? I would prefer to make a long-term investment on a center who can play for the team for years. Even this year, we invested in big-name players who were young and peaked fairly recently. A 30-year-old isn’t necessarily the player that we need right now. He also had a severe injury in 2014 that could come back to haunt him. I just think that Mack is a short-term investment who is now making long-term (and a massive amount of) money in Atlanta.
Irvin has way too many red flags for our team to sign him. He was suspended in 2013 for 4 games for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He was also ejected from Super Bowl 49 for starting an unnecessary fight with Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (making him the first and only player ever ejected from a Super Bowl). Besides these obvious flaws, Irvin also has some flaws in his game that would make me hesitant to add him. First off, Irvin is only a pass rusher. He has never shown the ability to cover in short zones or defend the run. We could never expect him to play OTTO in this scheme because of these deficiencies, but he would not have supplanted Dante Fowler at the LEO position. Basically, Irvin would be a detriment to our team if he started or would only be a situational player. He’s also wildly inconsistent. His most productive year, 2012, he produced 6 of his 8 sacks in three different games. He’s never been a consistent player with his production and doesn’t always seem to put in the effort required to be one. Another stat that I thought was interesting, although it may not have an effect on his game, is that he has only had 2 career sacks while behind. Now, granted, his teams weren’t down every game, but this still makes me wonder if he can only produce well because teams are forced to throw the ball consistently. This leads me to my final point: Irvin has never been “the man” and doesn’t suit that role. Jags fans wanted to bring him in and let him rack up sacks, but he’s never been the best pass rusher on his team, save maybe 2012 when he was a sub-package player. He’s been surrounded by an incredible defense and an offense that can complement them, which he may not have in Jacksonville (stay tuned; we’ll find out in 2016).
So basically, when I look at Irvin, I see a complementary piece who can be great in the right situation. His new team, the Oakland Raiders, can actually surround him with premier pass rushers (Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards, maybe Aldon Smith again) and draw attention away from Irvin. This wouldn’t have happened in Jacksonville and he would have looked like a massive bust.
Vernon’s situation comes with a much shorter description. The best edge-rusher in a weak FA class, Vernon was seen as a hot commodity for a Jags team that desperately needed some heat off the edge. Vernon is young and coming off a 7.5 sack season after posting 11.5 in 2013 and 6.5 in 2014. At only 25 years old, it seemed like Vernon would be a perfect fit in black and teal.
However, Vernon’s value was incredibly overstated due to the weak free agent class. He was able to produce numbers largely because he was never the focus of the offensive gameplan. He played with Pro-Bowler Cameron Wake for his entire career, Ndamakong Suh in 2015 and several quality defensive tackles throughout his Miami tenure. Like Bruce Irvin, Vernon could attack the QB as he pleased because he rarely received chips by the RB or double-teams. For this reason, there’s also reason to question whether or not he can be the lead pass rusher on a defense. He also was massively overpaid. I know the Jags have cap room to spare, but I really don’t think there’s a reason to overpay Vernon that much money. He’s making more per year than Malik Jackson and made more guaranteed money than JJ Watt, the best defensive player in the NFL. There is no way he deserves that kind of money and I would never pay him like that, even with all the cap room in the world. Dave made a good decision to back down and not overpay like New York did.
The prize of free agency that plenty of Jags fans wanted, Eric Weddle was primed to be overpaid as a stopgap option for the team at FS. Instead, Dave made the smart decision to not pursue Weddle and went for Tashaun Gipson, one of the most underrated players (formerly) on the market.
Weddle would have been a solid player, there’s little question there. But why would we target a player who is in the back-end of his career and isn’t the best player on the market at his position when we can steal the best FS in free agency? Weddle is 31 years old and played in the league for 9 seasons, yet he only had 19 interceptions and 3 touchdowns in his entire career. Gipson, on the other hand, has been in the league for 4 seasons and has 14 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. The Jaguars need a ball-hawk who can force turnovers and be a true center-fielder. Weddle just isn’t that anymore. Gipson is the better short and long term player for ths team.
I’ve had questions about some moves our team has made since the start of the Gus Bradley era. However, this is the most impressed I’ve ever been with Caldwell and the entire organization. It makes me hopeful that we’re truly an organization on the rise.
You guys agree with me or think I’m an idiot? Let me know in the comments section below or on twitter @twjohns97 . Keep reading our stuff on genjag.com and make sure to pre-order your membership to Generation Jaguar for the 2016 season! Go Jags!
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