NFL’s Florida Teams Make Big Splashes In First Couple Days of NFL Free Agency
By Alan Zlotorzynski // March 11, 2016
Three Floirda Teams spent $166.3 million on first day of NFL Free agency
The three teams that represent the state of Florida in the NFL made big splashes on the first day of NFL free agency this week.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the new league year Wednesday afternoon with a combined $121.8 million in salary cap room, neither team wasted anytime in dipping into their bank accounts.
The Jags entered with $73.5 million of those dollars and immediately came to terms with several players, two of them are expected to help bolster a defense that was 24th overall in the NFL.
The team officially announced that defensive lineman Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, RB Chris Ivory and punter Brad Nortman will all be Jaguars next season and beyond.
Jackson and Gipson will help head coach Gus Bradley’s defense make strides to catch up with one of the young and dynamic offenses in the NFL led by QB Blake Bortles. They didn’t come cheap. Jackson signed for reportedly six years and $90 million with a staggering $42 million guaranteed.
At 6-foot-7 and 293 pounds, Jackson spent the first four seasons of his career with the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos. He was selected in the fifth round (137th overall) by Denver in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Jackson has started in 24 of 62 games played, including seven of eight postseason contests. In 2015, he started and played in all 16 games, posting 45 tackles (34 solo), 5.0 sacks and a career-best seven passes defensed, the second-most by an NFL defensive lineman. In addition, he recovered a fumble in the end zone in Super Bowl 50 for the seventh fumble recovery for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Gipson, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, spent the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Cleveland Browns after signing with Cleveland as an undrafted rookie on May 9, 2012. Gipson has appeared in 50 career games with 42 starts and has totaled 240 tackles (159 solo), 22 passes defensed, 14 interceptions and one forced fumble.
The Jags secondary, particularly the free safety position has been in shambles since they hired Gus Bradley, who coached Earl Thomas in Seattle. Jacksonville has a league-low 26 interceptions since Bradley arrived in 2013, and Gipson has 13 picks in 40 games by himself over that same time frame.
RB Chris Ivory is a nice addition to an offense that ranked 27th in rushing last season. Last season, Ivory appeared in 15 games with 14 starts and rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns on 247 carries (4.3 rush avg.) and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Ivory was named to the Pro Football Writer’s All-AFC Team and finished fifth in the NFL and led the AFC in rushing yards in 2015 with his first career 1,000-yard rushing season (1,070). Ivory’s 247 carries, 1,070 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns were all career highs.
Rounding out the day, the Jags plucked punter Brad Norton from the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. In 2015, Nortman recorded 70 punts for 3,175 yards, posting the second-best gross (45.4) and net (39.8) averages of his career. The 26-year-old produced the NFL’s fourth-best gross punt average (47.8) and fifth-best net punt average (41.6) in 2013, both of which are Carolina single-season records.
Gus Bradley is heading into his fourth season as head coach, his Jags have won just 12 games during his tenure and the franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. The message is clear to start winning now.
Ownership has been patient with both Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell. Bradley was given a one-year extension to make bigger strides in 2016–and it appears after spending $166.3 million ($65.6 million guaranteed) on day one of free agency, those strides must be much better than 5-11 in 2016.
The Buccaneers entered free agency with the third amount of available money to spend in free agency but used part of their $48.5 million keep one of their own in running back Doug Martin.
Martin signed a 5 year, $35,7 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including $15 million guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $7,15 million.
“Our top priority heading into this offseason was to ensure that Doug remained a Buccaneer and today we are excited to announce that he will,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said in a statement.
Martin, 27, is coming off a huge bounce-back season in which he finished second in the NFL in rushing (1,402 yards) and in yards after contact. He also caught 32 passes for 271 yards and scored seven touchdowns (six rushing) to make his second Pro Bowl.
The Bucs took Martin with the 31st pick in 2012, and he finished his rookie season with 1,454 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 472 yards and one touchdown. The 1,926 yards from scrimmage were second in team history behind James Wilder (2,229 yards) and his rushing total set the franchise’s single-season rookie mark.
The other NFL team in the Sunshine state continues to baffle everyone in how they handle the NFL off-season.
Last season the Miami Dolphins made huge headlines handing former Lions DT Ndamukong Suh a $100 million contract–the only problem was the Dolphins defense got worse in 2015. Even after signing Suh to what was then the most lucrative contract for a defensive player ever, the Dolphins were just 25th in yards (376.2 per game) and points (24.3).
New Dolphins GM Chris Grier and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum decided drastic change was needed but did the Fins get better?
Some could argue the Dolphins Tannenbaum added four starters on the defensive side of the ball — and none will cost owner Stephen Ross more than $8.5 million in 2016.
Before the new league year had even begun, the Miami reached an agreement with former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams on a two-year contract, while also agreeing to a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The price for the trade was steep, moving back five slots in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, from No. 8 to No. 13. After signing Williams, the Dolphins then removed the transition tag from defensive end Olivier Vernon, who promptly cashed in signing a five-year deal with the New York Giants that includes $52.5 million guaranteed.
Other key losses on day one included starting running back Lamar Miller to the Houston Texans and wide receiver Rishard Matthews to the Tennessee Titans.
Replacing Vernon with Williams doesn’t make sense. Vernon has all the intangibles perfect for Miami and he has never missed a game in his career. He is a homegrown player who is from the Miami area, played at Miami and was a Dolphins draft pick. A Dolphin through and through.
Yes, the price tag for Vernon was astronomical but the Dolphins decide one year after spending for Suh that Vernon doesn’t merit the money? Miami dropped the ball when they didn’t place the franchise tag on him. In Williams, the Dolphins get a rusher at this point of his career, who takes plays off, is injury prone and he’s six years older.
Furthermore, adding Maxwell and Alonso may have been cost effective but Maxwell will be asked to be No.1 corner after playing the No.2 role next to Richard Sherman in Seattle. The Dolphins cut CB Brent Grimes so he had to be replaced.
Alonso is coming off a disappointing season in Philadelphia and isn’t it odd that he’s now on his third team since being drafted by the Bills in 2013?
There are also questions about Alonso, including his durability. He has missed 21 of a possible 48 career games, has torn his ACL on two occasions and had hip surgery during the 2014 off-season. Even if Alonso records 159 tackles and four interceptions, as he did in Buffalo, Miami will eventually pay to keep him.
The Dolphins also allowed another home grown player to get away in RB Lamar Miller, who signed with the Houston Texans. Like Vernon, Miller is from Miami, played at Miami and was drafted by the Dolphins.
Last year’s fifth round pick Jay Ajayi showed flashes early but came out of college with concerns about a knee injury, which contributed to his drop in the draft. Running back now becomes a key concern for a team that finished 28th in rushing, which was due mostly in part to the lack of the Dolphins downfield passing game.
Teams stacked the line and dared QB Ryan Tannehill to beat them, which he couldn’t do.
While a change in how the Dolphins conducted their off-season business was needed, it is hard to image these moves or this cheaper player philosophy as the ones that will bring the last place team in the AFC East into to division contention and back to the playoffs where the team has not been since 2008 and just once since 2002.