According to multiple reports, the Jacksonville Jaguars have signed free-agent pass rusher Arden Key to a one-year contract worth up to $7 million. It represents the conclusion of Key’s free-agency tour that made additional stops in Detroit, Kansas City and Baltimore. It was Jacksonville that ultimately secured Key’s pass-rushing services and his addition should provide the Jaguars with some much needed depth at defensive end.
Earlier this week, we suggested the Jaguars didn’t possess enough depth at the pass rushing positions, and it appears General Manager Trent Baalke shared a similar sentiment. Prior to signing Key, Baalke had been particularly aggressive throughout free agency while surprisingly ignoring an ever-present issue at the most premium position on the defensive side of the ball. New Head Coach Doug Pederson is a Super Bowl-winning offensive-minded leader, and Baalke has now made moves to surround Pederson’s new-look offense with some desired pieces.
Jacksonville provided franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence with a No. 1 receiving threat by signing former Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk to a shockingly large four-year contract worth $72 million. Fellow receiver Zay Jones was also signed to serve as a starting pass-catcher. Pederson has a rich history maximizing production out of the tight end position, and the recently signed Evan Engram is set to play that role now in Jacksonville. Elite offensive guard Brandon Scherff was signed to a contract worth $49.5 million in hopes of upgrading the protection around Lawrence, as well.
Defensively, the Jaguars had addressed the linebacker, cornerback and defensive tackle positions by signing Foyesade Oluokun, Darious Williams and Foley Fatukasi, respectively. The addition of Key takes care of a previously ignored need for veteran production and disruption along the front.
The Jaguars struggled to get after opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis in 2021, recording just 32.0 sacks in 17 regular-season contests. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons recorded less quarterback takedowns a year ago. Jacksonville’s pass rushing efforts were led by the underrated duo Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot, but more was required behind them. Allen and Smoot combined for a respectable 13.5 sacks, which represented over 42% of Jacksonville’s overall total. It’s a fact that desperately showcases their overall lack of depth behind the two starters.
Key should help with that. The former LSU standout now joins the Jaguars after recording a career-high 8.0 sacks as a member of the San Francisco 49ers last season. Key is a versatile edge defender that can attack pockets from a variety of alignments and positions, including the wide-nine alignment, three-technique and six-technique spots. Key’s versatility should mesh nicely with Defensive Coordinator Mike Caldwell’s aggressive and multiple front. Caldwell arrives in Jacksonville to spearhead Pederson’s defense after spending the previous seven seasons working under the brilliant Todd Bowles in two separate stints with the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Caldwell possesses a forward-thinking defensive mind that will quickly understand how to best utilize Key’s rare and athletic skill set. Key finally got closer to his potential last season and Jacksonville is banking on the continuation of that trajectory.
Of course, free agency didn’t represent the only avenue for the Jaguars to address their need at the pass-rushing positions. The 2022 NFL Draft is mercilessly approaching and with the No. 1 overall selection, Baalke could very well utilize it on a game-changing pass rusher, with Georgia’s Travon Walker, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchison, and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux all qualifying as potential choices at the very top. That being said, Baalke and Pederson were wise to add Key to the fray regardless of how April’s draft unfolds. Jacksonville’s pass-rushing situation was so poor that relying on a rookie to fix their woes would have been an unwise decision, even if that rookie is selected first overall.
A combination of Allen, Smooth, Key and the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft should give the Jaguars a much better pass-rushing quartet than what they fielded last season.
- May 16, 2022
- May 16, 2022