JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer knew free agency was going to be different from recruiting, but he wasn’t really prepared for one of the most glaring discrepancies: signing guys without meeting them.
Teams are allowed to contact the agents of players who will become free agents only during the two-day period before the league year officially begins. Because that’s when most of the deals are struck, Meyer was building his team without any contact — and he hated it.
“Yeah, that was awful,” Meyer said Friday morning. “I don’t agree with it, but no one asked my opinion. I guess in the old days you could bring them in and meet them, have dinner with them, you find out the football intellect, find out their character. The thing you don’t [do], I found out, is call someone who has skin in the game because they’re going to not quite — I don’t see honest as a very appropriate [word]. So we did a deep dive. Every guy that we signed, we did. …
“To answer your question, that was awful, and I don’t believe it should be that way. Not when you’re making organizational decisions. I’m not sure how that rule came about, but to me that’s not good business.”
Meyer was one of the best recruiters in the country while he was at Florida and Ohio State. Since ESPN began tracking signing classes in 2006, Meyer never signed a class that ranked below seventh. He twice signed the top-ranked class and finished second three other times. He never signed a recruit he didn’t at least speak with before signing day.
That wasn’t the case with any of the 11 free agents the Jaguars signed. Running back Carlos Hyde, who agreed to terms with the Jaguars on Monday, played for Meyer at Ohio State, so he knew him, but Meyer couldn’t talk to him until after the new league year began at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Fortunately for Meyer’s peace of mind, his assistant coaches had some connection to six of the 11 players, including receivers Marvin Jones Jr. and Phillip Dorsett and cornerback Shaquill Griffin. But nobody on staff had any connections to defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris, kick returner Jamal Agnew, safety Rudy Ford, tight end Chris Manhertz or safety Rayshawn Jenkins.
But Meyer got help from former UF receiver Louis Murphy, who vouched for Griffin and Jenkins. Murphy, who Meyer said might be joining the staff, is from St. Petersburg, Florida, which is where Griffin and Jenkins played high school football.
“He helped me with these guys, just what kind of players they are, what kind of people,” Meyer said. “He feels very strong about the quality of football in the St. Pete area obviously, so he was a cheerleader more than anything, but he did help.”
The Jaguars didn’t land one of their top targets — defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who signed with Minnesota — and despite having the most money to spend in free agency, the Jaguars didn’t spend big money on multiple players. Griffin got a three-year deal that averages $13.33 million annually and includes $29 million guaranteed, but the next-highest-paid player was Jenkins. He signed a four-year deal that averages $8.75 million annually and includes $16 million guaranteed.
That was partly because Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke felt that the roster needed fortifying at multiple spots and that money was better spent being spread around.
“In recruiting we would have our recruiting meeting and identify the best players and say go get them,” Meyer said. “And, then all of a sudden I start finding out this guy cost $28 million and this guy costs … I knew it, to say I didn’t know it, of course I knew it, but just the way you put that puzzle together about here’s your cap space, here’s your choices, can we take him but we get three of these guys to help. And so I imagine once you build your roster exactly the way you want it, then you can take one guy and go get that $25 million athlete.
“We’re not in position to do that right now. We’re just not. So it was a learning experience, and I feel great about it.”