The Jacksonville Jaguars ranked 27th in the National Football League in total defense in 2013. The team tied for dead last in the NFL in sacks, the second straight year the Jaguars earned that dubious distinction.
That leaky defense was a big part of the Jaguars' 4-12 season a year ago, but as the Jaguars continue to try to upgrade that unit, their latest acquisition should go a long way toward improving their anemic pass rush.
As Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports, the Jaguars have reached an agreement with free-agent defensive end Chris Clemons during his visit to Jacksonville:
Clemons will sign a four-year deal with the Jaguars.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2014
The 32-year-old Clemons, who was released on Wednesday by the Seattle Seahawks after four years with the team, failed to hit double-digit sacks last year for the first time since joining the Seahawks.
Per Pro Football Focus
There was a reason for that, of course. Clemons tore his ACL in the Seahawks' playoff win over the Washington Redskins in 2012, and it took the 11th-year pro some time to work himself back into shape.
Still, Clemons amassed 39 sacks over his time with Seattle, and as recently as 2012 Clemons was a top-12 4-3 defensive end, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
It's a signing that will address the team's biggest defensive failing in 2013, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union:
The bottom line: It happened too often last year – a quarterback had more than three seconds to set up in the pocket and wait for a receiver to get open or the defense couldn’t stop the run even though they knew it was coming. This defense won’t go anywhere until it gets better play up front.
It also isn't the first player head coach Gus Bradley poached from his old team, and it may not be the last.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last week, the Jaguars have already agreed to terms on a four-year contract with Seattle Seahawks offensive lineman Red Bryant:
Jaguars head into free agency with some momentum: reached agreement with former Seahawks DT Red Bryant on a 4-yr deal.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2014
The 29 year-old Bryant is a stout run defender who ranked 15th among 4-3 defensive ends at Pro Football Focus in 2013.
The Jaguars are also playing host to Seattle cornerback Walter Thurmond, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports:
Jaguars have visits lined up with LB Dekoda Watson and CB Walter Thurmond. Thurmond also has meeting scheduled w/ Tampa— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 11, 2014
NFL.com's Marc Sessler sees Thurmond as a great fit with the Jags:
Would love to see Walter Thurmond w/the Jaguars. Had the 2nd-best yards per completion in coverage (7.4) last year, per @PFF.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) March 12, 2014
Of course, it's not hard to imagine why Bradley is targeting so many players from the Emerald City. He knows them, and they know his scheme from their time together in Seattle.
That scheme relies on the front four to generate pressure, something the Jaguars struggled to do in 2013. Jason Babin led the team with 7.5 sacks last year, but the 33-year-old voided the last two years of his contract and is himself a free agent.
And the Jaguars are very likely not done yet. General manager David Caldwell isn't generally a proponent of "splash" free-agent signings, but with $47.9 million in cap space according to Spotrac, the Jaguars will need to spend over $30 million more just to reach the salary cap floor of $118.4 million in 2014.
What grade would you assign to a Chris Clemons signing?
Then there's the 2014 NFL draft. The Jaguars pick third, and it's possible (albeit unlikely) that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney will still be on the board.
The thought of Clowney rushing the passer from the "Leo" end spot in Bradley's 4-3 is the sort of thing that keeps quarterbacks up at night.
Auburn's Dee Ford might drop into the early second. The point is, there are plenty of young pass-rushers to choose from this year, players who would be well served by the tutelage from a savvy veteran like Clemons.
It's also not like the cupboard on defense was entirely bare either. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is as steady as they come. Cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Jonathan Cyprien had their struggles as rookies, but the youngsters are talented and first-year failings are hardly a rarity among defensive backs.
Still, it all starts up front in Bradley's defense, and while the signing of Clemons (and Bryant before him) won't generate the publicity of DeMarcus Ware joining the Denver Broncos, these veterans could be key additions as the Jaguars try to build on their 4-4 finish to the 2013 season.