JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said he was going to be aggressive in free agency, and he wasted no time in proving that by reaching an agreement with one of the best defensive players available in Malik Jackson.
The move can’t be made official until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday when the new league year begins, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the contract is expected to average $15 million annually. That would make Jackson the highest-paid Jaguars player in terms of annual salary. The next closest would be tight end Julius Thomas at $9.2 million annually.
That certainly qualifies as aggressive, but if Jackson is able to play as well as he did in Denver, and especially in the playoffs, it’ll be worth the money.
The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Jackson isn’t an elite pass-rusher (14.5 sacks in his four seasons with the Broncos), but he played multiple spots on the Broncos’ 3-4 defensive front. The Jaguars run a 4-3 and he would seem to fit best as a three-technique tackle, but the Jaguars likely will experiment with him the way the Broncos did.
Jackson certainly makes the Jaguars’ third-down pass-rush package better because he can line up inside alongside defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, who led the Jaguars in sacks in 2014 (8.5) and is arguably the Jaguars’ best defensive player. That push in the quarterback’s face should make things a little easier for the Jaguars’ edge rushers, who have struggled to get consistent pressure the past several seasons.
In addition to Jackson being one of the better defensive linemen in the league, he’s also young (26 years old) and logically, his best football should be ahead of him.
The Jaguars have been one of the worst defenses over the past three seasons, recording the fewest interceptions (26) and ranking 20th in sacks (112), 31st in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 31st in third-down defense (43.8 percent) and 29th in total defense (375.0 yards per game). Fixing that side of the ball is the priority, and Caldwell said the Jaguars would start trying to do that via free agency.
Caldwell has to keep targeting pass-rushers, though it appears Mario Williams, Tamba Hali and Jason Pierre-Paul won't be available. The Miami Dolphins put the transition tag on Olivier Vernon, which means they have the right to match any offer the Jaguars make if they are indeed pursuing Vernon.
However, linebacker Bruce Irvin is an option. He's not an elite pass-rusher, but he had 22 sacks in four seasons with Seattle and had his highest sack total (8) as a rookie with Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. He already knows the defense and would pair well with Telvin Smith around Paul Posluszny in the middle. He can be effective in coverage as well.
Reaching an agreement with Jackson is a good start, but Caldwell has to stay aggressive over the next few days and finish strong, too.