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Friday, May 20, 2022

Jaguars open free agency with 4 big moves

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Nobody should call Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke a clown right now.

Baalke and the Jaguars opened the NFL’s legal handling period Monday by agreeing to sign Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk, Washington guard Brandon Scherff, Atlanta linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and New York Jets defensive tackle Folorunso “Foley.” Fatukasi, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because NFL teams cannot announce free-agent signings until the new league year begins on Wednesday.

The four major additions are expected to fill in big gaps for Jacksonville, which has lost 35 of its last 41 games and is in rebuilding mode again under Baalke and new head coach Doug Pederson.

Kirk will replace DJ Chark as the team’s No. 1 receiver and should immediately become quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s main target. Kirk caught 236 passes for 2,902 yards and 17 touchdowns in four years with the Cardinals.

Jacksonville is giving Kirk a four-year, $72 million contract that could be worth up to $84 million, the person said. The deal includes a $20 million signing bonus.

Scherff, an All-Pro selection in 2020, will step in at right guard in place of free agent AJ Cann and allow Ben Bartch to switch sides and take Andrew Norwell’s place.

Jacksonville allowed 32 sacks in Lawrence’s rookie year. Keeping him upright and surrounding him with more weapons were among Baalke’s and Pederson’s goals heading into free agency and the draft. When he’s healthy, Scherff has proven to be one of the top shooting guards in the league.

Jacksonville also signed two defenders, with Oluokun expected to replace journeyman Damien Wilson and Fatukasi to help plug holes in the middle.

Oluokun, who led the Falcons with 192 tackles last season, will receive a three-year, $45 million contract that includes $28 million guaranteed, the person said.

Fatukasi should help bolster an interior defensive line that played well at times last season. The Jaguars allowed 2019 first-round pick Taven Bryan to enter free agency, and Fatukasi could be an upgrade on his teammates DaVon Hamilton and Malcom Brown.

Fatukasi, who started 15 games for the Jets last season and has 115 tackles over the past three years, is receiving a three-year, $30 million contract that includes $20 million guaranteed, the person said.

Jacksonville started the day with about $41 in cap space, and some wondered how aggressive Baalke and Pederson would be.

Baalke and former coach Urban Meyer took a value approach to free agency last year, and Baalke was ultimately blamed for it and criticized for a less-than-great reputation. His last five NFL seasons ended with a change of coach: Meyer (2021), Doug Marrone (2020), Chip Kelly (2016), Jim Tomsula (2015) and Jim Harbaugh (2014).

Baalke, 57, remained in place after Jaguars owner Shad Khan fired Meyer in mid-December, a move that angered fans enough that they staged a “clown” protest to the season finale against Indianapolis. A few hundred fans showed up dressed in colorful wigs, oversized bows and red noses. Khan remained committed to Baalke after the “clown” and initially had plans to hire an executive vice president who would oversee Baalke and Pederson. But Khan changed course two weeks ago and gave Baalke the helm of the front office.

Baalke made a big step in free agency and will have the No. 1 pick in next month’s NFL draft for the second straight year.


More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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