When Evan Engram thinks concerning the “darkish instances” he went by throughout his 5 seasons with the New York Giants — usually the goal of followers’ ire for dropping too many passes and usually not residing as much as his first-round draft standing — it makes the 28-year-old tight finish endlessly grateful for the Jaguars’ office atmosphere.
That is why Engram, considered one of a dozen unrestricted free brokers on the roster, hates to even take into consideration the potential of leaving the Jaguars after one season.
Like so lots of his teammates, Engram solid relationships in Jacksonville that he shudders to consider not persevering with if he and the entrance workplace one way or the other do not come to phrases on a brand new contract.
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Engram, after delivering profession highs in catches (73) and yards (766) this season, ought to warrant a considerable increase from the one-year, $9 million deal he signed in March.
He simply hopes that occurs with the Jaguars, a group Engram cannot bear to depart now after all of the bonds he shaped throughout a turnaround season that fell one recreation in need of reaching the AFC Championship. The Jaguars even have the choice, if crucial, to maintain him for another 12 months by making use of the franchise tag.
“God confirmed up big-time in my life this 12 months,” Engram mentioned after Saturday’s 27-20 AFC Divisional playoff loss to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs. “I do not assume it occurs anyplace else.”
Thirty-six hours later, the Jaguars’ tight finish was no much less emphatic about wanting to remain in Jacksonville.
“One thing nice is being constructed right here,” mentioned Engram. “That is not straightforward to do on a brand new group. Coming into a brand new scenario for me this 12 months, it wasn’t a straightforward course of. When you do it, you do not wish to go rebuild that. You do not wish to begin over.”
However with the Jaguars’ season over, the drama now shifts to the enterprise aspect of the NFL life for Engram and plenty of of his unrestricted agent (UFA) teammates.
As a lot as gamers discuss wanting to remain right here due to the brotherhood tradition first-year head coach Doug Pederson has nurtured, the fact is GM Trent Baalke cannot hold each impending free agent.
Realistically, in his GM profession, how usually does Baalke see considered one of his personal free brokers conform to sacrifice much less cash — the so-called “hometown low cost” — to stick with the group?
“I believe you’ll be able to say at instances that does happen,” mentioned Baalke. “Does it happen throughout the board? No, however you wish to create an atmosphere the place they wish to be, and (head coach) Doug (Pederson) has achieved an important job. I believe the complete employees has achieved an important job, this participant group, it is a close-knit group. Whenever you’ve bought a scenario like now we have, it is powerful to depart in the event you’re a participant. Hopefully that works to our benefit to getting them again, whether or not that’s reflective of the contracts or not, that is still to be seen.”
Balancing loyalty, cash
With the Jaguars about $20 million over the wage cap, in keeping with Spotrac, which means contract negotiations might get dicey and can drive some gamers to hunt employment elsewhere.
Engram would like, relying on the worth, to not go anyplace.
However this query is now hovering for the entire group’s UFAs: can gamers emboldened by the tradition created by Pederson get a fascinating sufficient contract to warrant sticking round?
Beginning proper deal with Jawaan Taylor, who has began all 68 video games (playoffs included) in his Jaguars’ profession, and Engram are the Jaguars’ greatest high-profile free brokers. It’s going to be fascinating to see if their brokers and Baalke can work out offers to maintain them in black and teal.
Is Taylor prepared to sacrifice a few of his paycheck to remain within the work atmosphere he cherishes with Pederson.
“That is one thing I’ve to take into accounts,” mentioned Taylor. “That is one thing I’ve to debate with my agent [Drew Rosenhaus]. I have not had an opportunity to speak numbers with anyone but. No matter I’ve to do to remain right here, I will do it.”
After all, that is simpler for Taylor to say now within the Jaguars’ locker room, with feelings nonetheless stirring inside all of the gamers after a gut-wrenching, season-ending loss.
However with potential Jaguars negotiations possible nonetheless weeks away, and free company starting March 15, there is no telling what might occur as either side plot technique towards a possible settlement or separation.
“I am not going to touch upon the worth [of a new contract], however I simply know I wish to be right here,” mentioned security Andrew Wingard, one other Jaguars UFA. “The tradition, the blokes, profitable video games, understanding the teaching employees, all that goes into it. I can solely converse for myself. I wish to be right here. Time will inform.”
‘A pretty place‘
Over half of the Jaguars’ free brokers I spoke with all expressed a want to return by 2023. That sentiment is rooted primarily in seeing how a lot Pederson reworked a office that was rife with uncertainty and chaos underneath City Meyer.
Tight finish Chris Manhertz, who got here from the Carolina Panthers earlier than the 2021 season on a two-year, $6.65 million deal, noticed the transformation and now needs his household to remain in Jacksonville if the Jaguars need him.
“You need every part to remain intact, however there’s additionally the enterprise aspect of soccer that takes over,” Manhertz mentioned. “I might like to be again right here. Doug [Pederson]the teaching employees, the locker room, the expertise now we have, why would you not wish to be again right here?”
Defensive lineman Corey Peters, a 34-year-old defensive lineman the Jaguars signed the day after a season-opening loss to the Washington Commanders, is a UFA who views his scenario from a a lot completely different place.
He is on the retirement watch, however appreciates the Jaguars giving him one final shot after a mixed 12 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons.
“Fairly truthfully, I have not made any concrete selections, however I believe I am just about achieved,” mentioned Peters. “It has been a superb run for me. I have been excited to come back and be part of this group and supply no matter I can present. I believe the longer term is extraordinarily brilliant. This franchise is climbing now.”
Peters has seen sufficient of the Jaguars’ operation and its assist system to know why gamers wish to keep, in addition to free brokers from elsewhere concentrating on Jacksonville as a vacation spot.
“It will likely be a sexy place [for free agents],” mentioned Peters. “One factor I did not know that I used to be actually stunned by is how loyal and dedicated the fan base is, particularly these previous few weeks has been electrical. I believe the fan base is one thing particular right here in Jacksonville. No matter objectives you wish to accomplish, which might be Tremendous Bowls and all that, is feasible right here.”
Rely backup quarterback CJ Beathard as one other UFA who needs no a part of leaving. It is not simply the group tradition, however his tight bond with starter Trevor Lawrence additionally elements into his want to remain.
“I spend extra time with Trevor through the season than my circle of relatives at dwelling,” mentioned Beathard. “I’ve by no means been in a quarterback room as tight as we had it, particularly this previous 12 months.”
No one needs to depart
Pederson’s means to create a united office has modified every part. You hear the identical sentiment permeating not simply within the locker room, however the Jaguars’ repute across the NFL is altering as properly.
Receiver Marvin Jones, a free agent and California native who’s transferring his household to San Diego this week, beloved his two-year keep in Jacksonville. Although he is trying to signal elsewhere for household causes, Jones is definite the Jaguars will draw a number of free agent curiosity.
“After video games, you hear [opposing] gamers saying how the longer term right here is loopy,” mentioned Jones. “The Jaguars will not have issues getting individuals to come back right here.”
For now, the main target for Baalke and the entrance workplace is making an attempt to work issues out so their most coveted UFAs will stick round. The group’s tradition underneath Pederson could also be as a lot incentive for some gamers as any contract provide.
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who has been on injured reserve since late October with a again damage, is aware of his $13 million cap hit makes him a major candidate to get reduce one 12 months earlier than his contract expires. However that did not cease him Monday from pleading his case to remain.
“I am on the level in my profession the place it isn’t concerning the cash anymore,” mentioned Griffin. “Perhaps we will do one thing the place we will rebuild [the contract]. I’ve seen what a profitable tradition appears like from the within and outdoors and I want to be right here.”
The Jaguars’ bond is actual and loads of noticeable all through the locker room. When Lawrence was achieved together with his media obligations, he went as much as defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris to say his goodbyes to him they usually exchanged a heat hug.
When one of many Jaguars’ greatest defensive gamers in current weeks reminded him that he’d be again for the final 12 months on his contract, Lawrence reached in to present him one other embrace. It was one other signal of the group bond that makes present UFAs hopeful that they will stay part of the brotherhood.
“Everyone’s vibing,” mentioned Robertson-Harris. “It is one huge locker room. It is not divided in any kind or trend. Offense vibing with the protection, protection vibing with particular groups. Everyone’s simply having enjoyable taking part in with one another.
“It has been a enjoyable experience this 12 months. It’ll be even higher subsequent 12 months.”
Thus, it is no surprise Engram and all his UFA brothers do not wish to depart a superb factor. They love coming to a clique-free office the place everyone will get alongside, and profitable has a superb likelihood of being sustained for the foreseeable future. However will they be round to take pleasure in it?
“That is one thing that we will work on with Evan and all the opposite free brokers that now we have,” Baalke mentioned. “We’ve got a listing of them that we have got to mow down separately.”
One factor is definite: It’ll be fascinating to see how a lot the Jaguars can afford to maintain their free brokers. And whether or not all of the group bonding is price gamers taking much less cash than they may get elsewhere.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540