Free agency is off and running and the Jaguars wasted little time crossing to-dos off their list. On Tuesday, the first day the league was open for business, Jacksonville re-signed its two most important free agents, DE Jeremy Mincey and FS Dwight Lowery, both of whom agreed to reasonable four-year deals. On Wednesday, Jaguars GM Gene Smith began adding other team's free agents, bolstering the passing game by signing former Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson to a five-year deal and former Dolphins QB Chad Henne to a two-year contract.
The PFW spin
The name of the game for the Jaguars this offseason is putting QB Blaine Gabbert in a better position to succeed. Gabbert looked mostly lost during his rookie season, and while he has light years to go before he becomes a confident and accurate NFL passer, his growth is also dependent on Smith putting a better supporting cast around him.
The addition of Robinson is a step in the right direction. Coming off a breakthrough campaign, Robinson gives Jacksonville a big-play element it sorely has been lacking. He was one of the most productive offensive players in the league in the second half of last season and he parlayed it into a very nice payday: Five years, $32 million, with $14.5 million guaranteed. With wide receivers the big-ticket items in the first days of free agency, the Jaguars had to act fast — and overpay — to get Robinson. If he can continue producing at his 2011 clip — 54 catches, 858 yards and 11 TDs, most of which came in the second half of the season — the money won't be an issue.
But it's a big if.
Up until now, Robinson qualifies as a one-year wonder. His size, speed and athleticism have never been questioned — his ability to stay on the field has, however. Robinson has missed 28 games in his first five seasons and his slender 6-2, 194-pound build leaves him susceptible to injuries. Thus, the Jaguars have potentially found themselves a big-play threat who can work outside the numbers and be dangerous in the red zone, but they can't stop here. This signing will be a lot safer if the club backs it up with at least another WR signing in free agency, before it makes finding a true No. 1 wideout in the draft its top priority. This year's draft is flush with WR depth, so the Jaguars should be able to add a few more quality players.
Robinson, who turns 27 in May, has the skill set to be a No. 1 guy, but his injury history prevents the Jaguars from counting on him to be that guy. If they can find another big, strong, speedy receiver with good hands, like Robinson, it will take the pressure off him and continue to improve the passing game.
It might seem odd to say the acquisition of Henne, brought in to push Gabbert, will benefit Jacksonville's incumbent starter — but it very well could end up doing just that. Henne is a big-time upgrade over former backup Luke McCown, whom the Jaguars couldn't realistically go back to as the starter after former head coach Jack Del Rio gave him the hook in Week Two last season. Not only should Henne make Gabbert better by pushing him every day in practice, the big and strong 26-year-old with a rocket arm has plenty of room to groom in the event Gabbert struggles out of the gate again next season.
Best-case scenario is that Gabbert finds his way and the Jaguars possess one of the more talented backups in the league. The worst-case scenario is that Gabbert doesn't show the improvement the coaching staff is looking for, in which case it can turn to another player with starter potential and serious arm talent. It's a win-win for the Jaguars.
Overall, Smith's first few moves in free agency show solid execution, with him not allowing his targeted guys to leave Jacksonville without a deal. While he clearly had to overspend to address the Jaguars' greatest need, Smith at least found a player in Robinson who has the ability to live up to his contract if he can stay on the field. The similarity between the Jaguars' first two moves is that both guys are young players with room to grow, both with the potential to make Gabbert and the offense a stronger unit in 2012.