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Friday, 15 May 2015

Jacksonville Jaguars: Best Free Agent Signing of All Time

If this were a story about any number of players the Jacksonville Jaguars signed over the years, this would be a similar piece to write. Instead, you have to look at the candidates the team has to offer when the topic of “Best Free Agent Signing of All Time” is brought about.

In the 21 seasons the franchise has been in existence, there really are only a handful to consider.

Some would argue the team did its best with picks like Sen’Derrick Marks, the free agent from Tennessee who was signed two seasons ago, late in free agency. Marks has done nothing but become the leader of the team’s defense and a dominate pass rusher up the middle from the defensive tackle position.

Others have said that Julius Thomas, the tight end the Jaguars nabbed on the first day of free agency this season is the team’s best signing ever. I would agree that Thomas will have an impact on the team and help Blake Bortles in his ascension toward stardom in the NFL. He will also influence the young nucleus of wide receivers the team has on the roster in Allen Robinson, Marquise Lee, Allen Hurns and now Rashad Greene.

But Thomas hasn’t been on the field yet, so his efforts need to be saved for another year and another discussion.

When I asked fans and friends who they put at the top of their list, I got many of the same answers, which led to great debate and some newfound knowledge as to what fans think – especially the ones who have been season ticket holders since Day 1. Names like Leon Searcy, Joel Smeenge, Carnell Lake and Paul Posluszny have been thrown around on social media sites, fan pages and the like. They are all solid picks, but when it comes right down to it, there is only one real choice – actually two – to make this a legitimate story about the best free agent signings in the Jaguars history.

Were there really any other choices besides Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell?

Smith and McCardell or “Thunder and Lightning” as they were referred to here in Jacksonville in the glory years of the franchise (1995-2000) were as dominant a duo on the outside as there was in the NFL. With Mark Brunell’s arm and legs moving the ball down the field and Fred Taylor running to daylight out of the backfield, Jacksonville’s offense was downright scary.

I’m sure the franchise of today would love to bottle up some of the magic that foursome created in time.

Smith was a street free agent who became the greatest receiver in the history of the franchise when he was signed by the team after starting his career in Dallas. When he retired he finished his career seventh in NFL history with 862 catches and 11th in league history with 12,287 yards. He had 67 career touchdown catches with the Jaguars. Smith had been voted to the Pro Bowl five straight times from 1997 to 2001. He is also the Jacksonville Jaguars all-time leading receiver, having led the team in receiving every season from 1996-2005. He also set team records with 116 receptions and 1,636 yards in 1999, both career highs. His career high in touchdowns was eight, achieved in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

McCardell traveled the path of the player who defied odds of being a late round Draft pick to become the second best receiver in team history.

He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 12th round of the 1991 NFL Draft, and he was also a member of the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, McCardell won two Super Bowl rings, with the Redskins in 1991 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.

McCardell’s speed was deceptive and he proved to be the short and intermediate threat in the offense while Smith became the home run hitter. During his first season with the team he made 85 catches for 1,129 yards and three touchdowns, and earned himself a trip to his first ever Pro Bowl.

It’s hard to believe with all of the players Jacksonville has drafted in the first round over the years (R. Jay Soward, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, Justin Blackmon) none have panned out in the NFL and free agency has not been kind as well (Jerry Porter, Laurent Robinson).

Smith and McCardell’s numbers remain at the top of Jacksonville’s all-time receiving list and will be hard pressed to be topped any time soon.


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