Jaguars finally don't have to be big spenders in free agency

The Jaguars spent big and hit big in free agency in 2017 with DE Calais Campbell, among others. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – No NFL team has spent more money in free agency over the past seven years than the Jacksonville Jaguars, both in total contract value and guaranteed money.

Until last season, the on-field results didn’t justify the spending -- only 11 victories from 2011 to 2016. The free-agent class the Jaguars signed in 2017 played a major role in the team’s AFC South title and run to the AFC Championship Game, where they were less than 10 minutes away from playing in the Super Bowl.

That run of big-time spending is finally going to stop. Though general manager Dave Caldwell said the team has enough cap space to be aggressive in free agency, the Jaguars aren’t going to be dosing out two or three huge-money deals to free agents.

The Jaguars have $32.3 million in cap space, which is more than enough to re-sign receiver Allen Robinson and/or cornerback Aaron Colvin. Or to sign one of them and add a somewhat expensive outside player. Just don’t expect multiple signings with numbers similar to what the team gave cornerback A.J. Bouye ($67.5 million/$26 million guaranteed), defensive end Calais Campbell ($60 million/$30 million) or defensive tackle Malik Jackson ($86.1 million/$42 million) over the past two years.

The Jaguars have had to spend that kind of money because their roster was so bad. Of the 12 players the team picked in the first round from 2003 to 2014, only three earned second contracts: tight end Marcedes Lewis, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, and quarterback Blake Bortles. Only three members of the Jaguars’ 2013 draft class remain in the league: guard Luke Joeckel, safety Johnathan Cyprien and defensive back Demetrius McCray.

No longer. The team’s current roster boasts five players who appeared in the 2018 Pro Bowl, and there are five others under contract for 2018 who have made a Pro Bowl at one point in their careers.

It wouldn’t be a surprise, however, to see the Jaguars pursue and land a talented player or two in the late stages of their career willing to take less money to chase a championship. The Jaguars are the favorite to repeat as AFC South champs, and they beat Pittsburgh twice last season at Heinz Field, including the playoffs. They held a 10-point lead over New England at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game before losing 24-20.

The players who fit that description include guard Josh Sitton, tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Mike Wallace. All are 31 years old and play positions at which the Jaguars have a need.

The Jaguars’ spending spree is also ending because Caldwell and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin are eyeing 2019 and beyond. The Jaguars have only four players under contract due guaranteed money in 2019 worth a total of $13.7 million. Quarterback Blake Bortles ($6.5 million) and cornerback Jalen Ramsey ($3.6 million) are due the most.

That’s good because it allows the team to cut players with no dead money or rework deals, which is important because there are big-money deals on the horizon for Ramsey, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and linebacker Myles Jack. If Ramsey continues to progress the way he has in his first two seasons, he could command a contract that makes him the richest non-quarterback in the NFL.

The Jaguars are in great shape financially for the future, and a big reason for that is not having to lead the league in free-agent spending in 2018, which they did the past two seasons.