JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were pretty active on the first day of free agency and first impressions of the moves general manager David Caldwell made are positive.
The Jaguars got the offensive lineman they wanted the most, added depth at running back with a low-mileage player and managed to secure a draft pick in exchange for one of the worst draft picks in franchise history. Not a bad first day at all.
Here are my initial thoughts on the moves the team made Tuesday:
Zane Beadles was the Jaguars' top target at guard and they were able to quickly reach an agreement on a five-year, $30 million contract. Beadles is a good fit because he played in Denver's zone-blocking scheme during his four-year career. The Jaguars' offensive line struggled in the transition to zone blocking last season and eventually mixed in more man-blocking schemes as the season progressed. But the plan is to return to more zone blocking in 2014. Beadles will line up at left guard next to Luke Joeckel.
An elite running back isn't mandatory to win in the NFL any longer and most teams are using a committee approach. With the likely loss of Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars needed to beef up an inexperienced group and the addition of former Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart will certainly help. He was a workhorse back at Stanford, rushing for 3,522 yards and 44 touchdowns in four seasons -- including 1,871 yards and 28 TDs as a senior. Minnesota drafted him in the second round in 2010 and he had just 276 carries in his four seasons as Adrian Peterson's backup. It's not a sexy signing but it gives the Jaguars a young back (he'll be 27) whose body hasn't taken a load of punishment. Gerhart isn't a breakaway threat but he is a move-the-chains type of back. Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch consistently lamented the team's lack of success running the ball on first down last season because it didn't allow them to get into any kind of rhythm and forced them into too many third-and-long situations. Gerhart should certainly help there.
Blaine Gabbert was a bust in Jacksonville. There's no other way to view it. The Jaguars traded up to select him No. 10 overall in the 2011 draft and they got 22 touchdown passes, 24 interceptions, and a 5-22 record in games in which he started. He clearly wasn't in the Jaguars' plans for the future and was heading for the waiver wire, yet Caldwell was able to work a trade with San Francisco and got the 49ers to give up a sixth-round pick this year and potentially another draft pick in 2015. A sixth-round pick isn't much but it gives the Jaguars a chance to draft a player who could potentially help them on the field this season. Gabbert wasn't going to be able to do that.
In an under-the-radar move, the Jaguars also re-signed cornerback Will Blackmon to a two-year contract. Blackmon had the best year of his career in 2013 but his real value is in the meeting room and locker room. The Jaguars have a young secondary and Blackmon quickly became the group's leader. Gus Bradley praised Blackmon's work with the young defensive backs and was an important part of keeping those players focused on Bradley's message of focusing on the process instead of victories.