JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Free agency feels a lot like recruiting to new Jaguars coach Urban Meyer. Watching film. Wooing players. Finding the right fits.
Given Meyer’s penchant for landing five-star prospects at Florida and Ohio State, Jacksonville could be a popular landing spot for some of the NFL’s top free agents next week. It certainly should help that the Jaguars have more salary cap space (nearly $73 million) than any other team.
Having the ability to spend big and rebuild quickly were among the top reasons Meyer chose to leave the TV studio and return to the sideline after a two-year coaching hiatus. It’s presented a welcome and daunting challenge for the three-time collegiate national champion.
“I’m waking up in the middle of the night staring at the ceiling trying to put this thing together,” Meyer said. “Just looking through the history of the NFL, how many chances do you get to build a roster like we are?
“You can’t screw it up, man. You’ve got to get the right people.”
Meyer has made it clear that Jacksonville’s restoration project starts at quarterback, a spot he will fill with the No. 1 draft pick next month. Clemson star Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive choice, and the Jaguars will use free agency to build around him.
Tight end and receiver are Meyer’s top priorities on offense. He plans to completely revamp the tight end room, which has been among the worst in the league in recent years.
Jacksonville whiffed in free agency on Tyler Eifert (2020), Geoff Swaim (2019), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2018) and Julius Thomas (2015) and was equally ineffective in the draft by missing on 2019 third-round pick Josh Oliver, who has missed 28 games in two seasons.
Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke already opted not to pick up a team option in Eifert’s contract.
“That’s a room that’s going to have to be rebuilt in some ways,” said Meyer, who could sign Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith or Gerald Everett when free agency officially begins Wednesday.
The receiver room will get a slightest less drastic overhaul. Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook are free agents, leaving behind a young group that features DJ Chark and 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault.
“I think we have some really good receivers,” Meyer said. “We’re not done with that room, however. If you’ve covered our teams over the years, the need for speed, the big-play opportunity was not the Jaguars last year and we’re searching for the big-play hit at the receiver position.”
Will Fuller, Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster could be potential additions.
“We’re looking for value,” Baalke said. “That isn’t always the most expensive player. There’s all different levels of ‘like.’ When we say we like a player, to what level and what value do we place on him? So that’s going to be critical as we build this team out moving forward is making sure we get the value of the position and the player correct.”
Meyer has his most work to do on defense, where Jacksonville gave up a franchise-record 30.75 points a game last season.
Pass rusher Josh Allen, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback CJ Henderson are building blocks, but there are significant holes everywhere else.
“I always believe you build your team around the defensive line and you move backwards, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Meyer said. “The defensive line will be solidified first and then we move to the back of the defense, and our defensive secondary needs to be revamped in a few spots.”
Pass rushers Shaq Barrett, Bud Dupree, Matt Judon and Carl Lawson are considered among the best available.
No one would be surprised to see Meyer get his top picks at every position. It’s what he did best in college. He signed a top-three class nine times in 14 years in Gainesville and Columbus, Ohio. His last 12 recruiting classes averaged a 3.66 ranking nationally.
“I find it to be very similar,” Meyer said. “When I hear people say that recruiting is you just pick five stars and go, that’s not true at all. … The players that maybe weren’t the high-name guys, that’s great evaluation.”
And one of the things Meyer does best.
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