NFL Free Agency: Was Jacksonville Jaguars' Signing of Jason Spitz a Soft Move?

Jack HarverCorrespondent IIJuly 31, 2011

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 03: Jason Spitz #72 of the Green Bay Packers removes his helmut during practice at summer training camp on August 3, 2009 at the Ray Nitschke Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith described Jason Spitz as an "end result guy" when asked about the biggest free agent addition to his team's offensive line this offseason.

"He blocks his guy," Smith explained. "It may not always look good, but he usually gets a good result. A lot of it has to do with him being an aware, intelligent guy."

Awareness and intelligence have too often been in short supply along Jacksonville's offensive line over the past few seasons. Whether because of overmatched starters like former left tackle Khalif Barnes or a lack of experienced depth to patch untimely injuries to veterans such as Vince Manuwai or Brad Meester, the Jaguars have struggled to field an effective front five since their playoff run in 2007.

The term "end result guy" could apply to Meester at his best, too. At 6'3" and around 300 less-than-chiseled pounds, Spitz and Jacksonville's veteran center have similar builds, and Meester's game in his 11 NFL seasons has never been about blowing through defenders so much as walling them off from the play.

But most speculation around the three-year, $4.5 million deal that brought Spitz to Jacksonville after five years with the Green Bay Packers has been that he could fill the Jaguars' vacancy at left guard—a power spot for Jacksonville in recent years where an "end result guy" would signal a huge change in philosophy.

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 23: Guard Harvey Dahl #73 of the Atlanta Falcons watches play against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome on November 23, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Between Manuwai, a 6'2", 330-pound mauler whose recent release was not without some sympathy from head coach Jack Del Rio, mammoth right guard Uche Nwaneri (6'3", 320 pounds) and 6'5" former starter Maurice Williams, the Jaguars' best offensive efforts have been gritty ground-and-pound displays powered by the physical dominance of their guards.

It's worth mentioning that Jacksonville could have reloaded in that style this offseason. Harvey Dahl, a 6'5", 300-pound guard widely considered one of the NFL's meanest players and most effective run blockers, was also available in free agency.

Dahl signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Rams, who haven't been such high spenders that the Jaguars couldn't have theoretically outbid them for the former Atlanta Falcons starter.

The caveat with downhill road-graders like Dahl and Manuwai is that they'll inevitably swing and miss a few times in pass protection, making them a liability when the quarterback drops back into the pocket.

Flying in the face of rule changes aimed at shaping modern football into a marketable, high-scoring, pass-first spectacle, Jacksonville's calling card in eight years under Del Rio has been a hard-nosed rushing attack designed to put opponents on their heels and keep running them over. Since that 2007 season, it's earned them a three-year playoff drought and a 20-28 record.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Vince Manuwai #67 of the Jacksonville Jaguars stretches  during a game agaisnt the Cleveland Browns at EverBank Field on November 21, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Now, after trading up in the first round of this year's draft to nab their pocket passer of the future in Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars seem ready to do things the league's way.

And while Spitz might not pull around Meester to lay a bone-crushing lead block on a safety or draw comparisons to Conrad Dobler, his awareness and intelligence will go a long way to plugging the paths that pass rushers used to batter Jacksonville's quarterbacks for 82 sacks over the past two seasons.

Judged against the Jaguars' smashmouth past, his signing could be called a "soft" move.

In context, it looks like another small step toward success.