The 2021 NFL Free Agent period begins in less than two weeks. Typically this time of year does not amount to much for the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, this is the first opportunity for new head coach Urban Meyer and new general manager Trent Baalke to start the puzzle of fielding a competitive franchise. A springboard for the future. A chance to lure veterans as pieces to a roster heading into the draft in late April.
Time to go Shopping
After suffering through a 1-15 season, there are several positions that need to be addressed immediately on both sides of the ball. Fortunately for the front office, they have close to $82 million in cap space to begin the process. But where should they spend the money? Offense or defense?
As Meyer looks around the free agent pool he is sure to see some familiar names from his coaching days at Ohio State University. He recognizes blue chip players that he coached and a handful that he recruited to be Buckeyes. By snatching some of his former players in free agency, Meyer could potentially lighten the load of his first year in Jacksonville. There are two former Buckeyes that Jacksonville’s front office should consider during the free agent signing period.
Malik Hooker (24 years old, Colts Safety)
Hooker became a star in his final season at Ohio State and decided to forego his final two seasons and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. However, the 15th overall pick has not lived up to the hype early in his career as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. He battled multiple injuries, including a torn ACL in the middle of his rookie campaign. Most recently, he tore his Achilles in September of the 2020 season. Certainly a risky move for any team to bring him on board. However, his injuries and lack of production make Hooker an affordable target in free agency for the Jaguars.
What he lacks in NFL experience he makes up for with instincts. In a handful of games at the professional level, Hooker has seven career interceptions. Throughout his career he always had the ability to be around the ball and make plays. He enters his fifth season as a free agent with a chip on his shoulder. He has something to prove. If he can shake the injury stigma, perhaps a reunion with Meyer is just the antidote he needs to propel his career.
Johnathan Hankins (29 years old, Raiders Defensive Tackle)
A huge hole could be filled on the defensive line by veteran Johnathan Hankins. Despite bouncing around a few teams early in his career, Hankins has been productive. Hankins is primarily known as a consistent run stuffer, something Jacksonville sorely needs. However he does flash at times with creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks up the middle. At 320 pounds, Hankins demands attention and could be a nice complimentary piece for the Jaguars alongside second-year defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton.
Coach Meyer is no stranger to Hankins, as he coached him in 2012 at Ohio State. As a Buckeye, Hankins overcame adversity on and off the field. He accepted the challenge of playing under three different head coaches while at Ohio State. Hankins also battled weight issues for several years, but remained determined to get to the next level. This type of focus and tenacity to overcome obstacles makes Hankins a leader worth considering for the Jaguars front office later this month. Jacksonville could use a leader like Hankins to bolster a young defensive line in search of an identity
Typically a grocery list contains items that a person is familiar with. Why can’t this be true for a first year coach? If Meyer can get his hands on a few former players that are familiar with his style and culture, perhaps the rest falls into place. Hooker and Hankins are not familiar names around Jacksonville. However, they come with an affordable price and history. Therefore Jacksonville could be a new home for these two free agents and give them new life for their NFL careers.