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Free agency a great learning experience for Urban Meyer

Urban Meyer: Ready to build a winner in Jacksonville
Urban Meyer: Ready to build a winner in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Urban Meyer knows how to recruit. NFL free agency was quite a bit different.

Of course, Meyer knew it would be. But being a part of the process playing out was a learning experience that the Jaguars head coach said that he felt “great about.”

It’s just going to take some getting used to.

“Yeah, I remember [in college], I said ‘Go get him, I want that guy, go get him.’ And in recruiting, we would have our recruiting meeting to identify the best players and go get them,” Meyer said Friday morning.

“And then all of a sudden, I start finding out this guy costs $28 million and this guy costs — and it was really — 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?’”

Welcome to the NFL, Coach.

Jacksonville had the most cap space in the NFL, but largely stayed away from handing out massive contracts to any one player. That included any pass-catching tight ends (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith signed with the Patriots) and any expensive offensive line additions.

Meyer said that the Jaguars, in complete rebuild mode after a 1-15 season in 2020, want to get the roster built before breaking the bank on one player.

General manager Trent Baalke said last week that the team was interested in maximizing value. One-win teams aren’t just a player or two away from a complete turnaround.

“It came down to value,” Meyer said. “Are you willing to pay this kind of money for that player at a position of need? So, I didn’t feel the recruiting element. I was ready to. I had my recruiting stuff ready to go, but it didn’t really come down to that. It came down to, are you going to pay the player and get in the game?”

One change that Meyer said he didn’t like was that he didn’t get to meet with players in person before signing them. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interactions with players largely took place remotely.

“That was awful. 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 and find out the football intellect, find out the character,” Meyer said. “... To answer your question, it was awful. 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.”

The point of emphasis for the Jaguars was no secret in free agency.

Jacksonville wants to build its defense around the line, and that was a priority. Among the 12 free agents brought in, four of those were on the defensive front. Meyer said that his reputation wasn’t a selling point for NFL players as it would have been to recruits. But several players did say that Meyer’s success played a role in them picking Jacksonville.

“When I first heard about Urban Meyer being the head coach, I don’t know what’s going on … he’d been around, you know, he got history,” said defensive end Jihad Ward, “So, you know, I was talking to him upstairs he’s just got so much good history around. Not just, I know him from his success, I want to know the culture. … It’s a difference.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.