JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The free agency signings weren’t all splashy headlines for the Jaguars.
Most of the Jaguars’ six unrestricted free agents during the March free agency period were expected to bolster depth on one of the league’s youngest rosters. Now, three of the March signings in free agency won’t be available to the team in 2020 due to medical opt-outs and a retirement.
News4Jax sports analyst Mark Brunell said that the losses are, no doubt, a major blow for a team that needs depth and veteran presence. He can also relate to Rodney Gunter, one of the free agent signings who had to walk away from the game due to a heart issue.
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin and defensive tackle Al Woods voluntarily opted out due to concerns about playing this season with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing. On Sunday night, defensive tackle Gunter said that he had to leave the game due to an enlarged aortic valve. He was placed on the reserve/retired list.
“It’s unfortunate, there are all medical concerns, and I don’t think you can blame anybody who opts-out because of COVID,” Brunell said. “You may disagree with the player, but you can’t blame him for choosing to stay away from something that’s potentially dangerous and can be for their health and the health of their loved one.”
Brunell said he sympathizes with Gunter’s situation.
When Brunell signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2008, he said that he was told during a physical that he had an issue with his aortic valve that needed further medical testing.
“The other kid [Gunter], it’s really unfortunate. Sometimes these things pop up,” he said. “I don’t know the specifics with his, but mine was one that just needed to be monitored. I had no idea. No idea. I just happened to get a doctor on my physical that caught what he thought he heard was an irregularity through a stethoscope. I had an echo [cardiogram] and that confirmed what he had heard. Things like this can pop up and it’s unfortunate.”
The Jaguars had three players opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns — Melvin, Woods and defensive end/linebacker Lerentee McCray.
Coach Doug Marrone said that while losing Gunter on the field was a blow for the defense, finding out about the condition now, like any medical issue, could have been a life-saver. The Jaguars have offered Gunter a position within the organization when he returns.
“I’ve seen it before where guys have gone for a couple years and things have gotten caught. More so coaches, with their physicals at times, there’s a lot of things that happen that you feel fortunate, when you look in perspective, that have basically saved lives,” Marrone said. “I think that this is a league that is built on safety, this is a league that’s built on doing the best job, having the best medical care, for both coaches and players. And I think it’s appreciated.