2023 NFL Combine notes: Jaguars' Baalke and Pederson talk draft, free agency and more
INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly all of the league's coaches and general managers met with the media Tuesday to kick off the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, discussing their team's plans to attack the offseason and as it pertains to the combine.
The Combine gives coaches, scouts and executives a chance to meet with prospective players who were invited to participate in the event.
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Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke met with local and national media during the early afternoon portion of the availability and spoke about the team's future regarding acquiring and adding talent to an already talented roster.
Jacksonville is coming off of one of their most successful seasons in franchise history under head coach Doug Pederson after going 9-8, winning the AFC South championship, while also winning a playoff game and going toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs.
Jaguars approaching offseason with roster retention and draft in mind
Over the last few seasons, the Jaguars have been significant players in the free agency market, signing multiple players to near record-setting deals. This year will be quite different with Jacksonville focused on retaining their own players while looking ahead to the NFL Draft in April.
"The last two years, we’ve delved heavily into free agency, and we’re at the point now where it’s draft anddevelop," Baalke said Tuesday.
"We’ve got a nice core, a nice core of young players. I feel really good about that group, with a good mix of veteran guys with a lot of experience. The whole thing for us now is about the locker room, making sure we keep the locker room where we’ve got it.”
Jacksonville has kept backup QB C.J. Beathard and running back JaMycal Hasty around by signing the pair of players to extensions in recent weeks.
As of Tuesday, the Jaguars are slated to have 11 unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year, including tight end Evan Engram and right tackle Jawaan Taylor. Retaining the players the team is slated to lose is one of the keys to success for Jacksonville in keeping its roster continuity.
"I think the difference for us is these are really good players we’d like to have back, then you build through this process," said Pederson when asked about continuity. "You build through the draft and just add depth and talent that way."
Contract restructures the cost of doing business for Jaguars
The primary goal this offseason for Jacksonville in free agency is to retain key players. With that, the team must be salary-cap compliant at the start of the new league year March 15.
For Jacksonville, the team has already made several moves in order to accomplish just that, including restructuring contracts for several of their players.
The Jaguars were one of just two teams to not push money into the future — which is the drawback of restructuring deals — but Baalke found it important to do that in order to retain a couple of good football players.
"At some point, most teams in the league have had to do that," said Baalke. "If you look, I think there’s only one team that hasn’t pushed any money out into future years. You’ve just got to be very diligent in the decisions that you make and who you make those decisions for.”
Most recently, the Jaguars saved over $26 million in salary cap space by restructuring contracts for three players.
Jaguars in unfamiliar territory in first round of NFL Draft
Though Baalke wouldn't divulge what position groups he felt were strong in the draft this year, he did speak on the team's position, picking with the 24th-overall pick in April's draft.
In the last two years, Jacksonville has owned one of just eight such occurrences in NFL history. Now, the team will select in the bottom third of the league. This year marks just the third time since the 2008 NFL Draft that Jacksonville owned a pick slated to select in the bottom third of the league.
“There’s a transition," Baalke said of owning a latter draft choice. "Obviously, picking one, there’s an advantage to picking one. There’s obviously, as we know, a disadvantage to picking one. Now we’re sitting at 24. We’ve got to stack the board appropriately and look at what’s available. The decisions don’t get any different; you’re just picking a little later in the draft.”
The decisions might not change much, but the prospects will. Jacksonville will need to be more vigilant this year with who they select at 24th overall. There are more opportunities to miss the further down the board they go and adding to the depth of the roster is of the utmost importance.
Don't anticipate the Jaguars moving far up in draft
Both Baalke and Pederson were asked about the possibility of the team trading the selection, but they appear fine to sit back and watch everything unfold, rather than being big movers up draft boards.
"I don’t know that we’re going to be big movers and try to trade way up in the draft. Will we move a little bit? We could, but it really depends on how the board gets stacked," said Baalke. "Right now, it’s way too early to tell what we’re going to do exactly in terms of move up, move back.”
Pederson echoed those sentiments moments earlier.
"Obviously, if there’s a player ahead of us that you may want to grab, you try to make a move to grab that player, but a lot of times, when you’re in the bottom third of the draft, you just wait and sit," said Pederson.
Pederson discusses coaching staff additions
The Jaguars sought out and hired wide receivers coach Chad Hall, who was essentially a free agent after his contract was up with the Buffalo Bills earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Pederson was asked about Hall for the first time since his hire and stated that Hall was the top guy on his list for the team to bring in.
"I actually got a chance to coach him when I was an assistant coach in Philadelphia. Again, he played the position, he knows it, he’s got a great mindset, he’s energetic, he’s a great teacher," Pederson said when asked about Hall. "Those are all kind of the traits you look for in assistant coaches, and he was the top guy on my list.”
The Jaguars were also tasked with replacing former passing game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who is now the Indianapolis Colts' offensive coordinator. Jacksonville hired Nick Holz to replace Cooter earlier this month.
When asked about the change, Pederson joked by saying he would rather not have seen Cooter join a rival club, but he is happy for the young coordinator. When asked about Holz specifically, Pederson praised Holz for his NFL experience.
"Nick [Holz]'s a veteran in the NFL. He's been an assistant wide receiver coach with the Raiders for many years. Former offensive coordinator with UNLV this past year, calling plays and the whole thing and he's a smart guy," said Pederson. "He understands our offense, he's been a part of a similarly structured offense and he's gonna be with [Jaguars offensive coordinator] Press [Taylor] again."
Holz and Taylor are long-time friends.
Holz's role as the team's passing game coordinator will consist of helping with game planning, superficially situational aspects of the game. He fits who the team has as a staff, Pederson added.
Demetrius Harvey is the Jacksonville Jaguars reporter for the Florida Times-Union. You can follow him on Twitter at @Demetrius82.