When the Jaguars hired Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, the team's outside perception changed.
Agents, players and other NFL executives took notice.
Coughlin's presence alone has turned some heads. Under his direction, the outside view of the team is a bit rosier.
That shift in thought has led the Jaguars down a strong path in the first week of free agency.
“Well, I think Tom is invaluable in this process,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said. “I mean his reputation, his ability to – you know he has a lot of relationships with agents and as we start to get the ball rolling and getting Tom on the phone with some of these agents was critical in closing the deals.”
Coughlin is the closer. While Caldwell and his trusty assistants, Tim Walsh and John Idzik, work to recruit and negotiate with free agents, Coughlin's inclusion in the process seemingly seals the deals.
New left tackle Branden Albert, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church have all suggested Coughlin had a major influence in their decisions to join the team.
The new trio, along with cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Lerentee McCray, complimented the young roster as well. With good players already developing in Jacksonville, the latest crop of free agent additions were intrigued by the team.
“When I was taking my opportunity to look at teams in free agency, I kind of went down the roster in Jacksonville and just saw how much talent they have at such a young age," Church said.
"It’s a young hungry team on all three sides of the game, which is special teams, offense [and] defense. So just coming in here and bringing my [veteran] leadership to work, hopefully we can get these guys, this team going in the right direction. Like I said, they all the talent in the world, we’ve just got to buy in and things will get done.”
In the past, big name players avoided the First Coast in free agency. Money can only be so tempting if your desires dwell on championships.
“First off all, I played in Kansas City,” Albert said. “This place reminds me of Kansas City, they’re serious about their football, they want to win. As you can see, they’re doing a lot of things to make it happen.”
The team was able to sign Campbell to a massive deal on Friday. He joins fellow defensive lineman Malik Jackson as one of the highest paid players on the team.
Caldwell said the team was able to sign players like Campbell and Bouye because of the change in perception over the last several years.
“We have the cap space,” Caldwell said. “When I first got here, it was difficult to get players to take a visit. There was a big misconception about Jacksonville. I think anybody that has come here has changed their perception of Jacksonville. It’s a great city, it’s a great community and it’s a great place to play football. Now we just have to show the results. The hard work comes now on the field and getting wins.”
Campbell said the roster appealed to him.
“When I see a team, I see a team full of talent and their hungry,” Campbell said. “Anything is possible, you’ve just to put the work in.”
Albert said that while he was traded to Jacksonville, he felt like the Jaguars were an ideal fit for him. He felt wanted here.
“Being a mature man about the situation, and realizing it’s all about football, and all about purpose,” Albert said. “Jacksonville is the perfect spot for me right now, where I’m at in my life.”
While the Jaguars have had a nice early run in free agency, some will still question the validity of their improvement as a team.
Based on his experiences, Campbell was quick to devalue those potential naysayers.
“The perception is way different than the reality,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t matter what people think though. Nobody expected Atlanta to be any good and they went to the Super Bowl. That’s just how it goes. They expected us – when I was in Arizona last year – to be Super Bowl champs and we didn’t make the playoffs. All of that doesn’t matter, it’s about winning games.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.