JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars took the first step — a huge one — in rebuilding their defense Tuesday.
The Jaguars agreed to teams with Denver Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson on a six-year, $90 million contract that includes $42 million guaranteed, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because free-agent deals can’t be finalized until Wednesday.
Jackson will be an immediate starter for a team desperate to improve an inconsistent pass rush and add several playmakers on that side of the ball.
The Jaguars finished near the bottom of the league in just about every defensive category during coach Gus Bradley’s three-year tenure, and showed little, if any, improvement last season despite adding some pieces. The Jaguars gave up the second-most points (448) in franchise history.
Bradley responded by firing defensive coordinator Bob Babich and replacing him with defensive line coach Todd Wash.
Wash plans to make some tweaks within the scheme, but mostly just wants the defense to play with more toughness, effort and discipline.
Jackson should help. He was general manager Dave Caldwell’s primary target in free agency since January, a month before he helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl.
Jackson had 129 tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles in his past three seasons in Denver. He started all 16 games in 2015, finishing with 45 tackles, 21 quarterback hurries, seven passes defensed and five sacks.
The Broncos tried to re-sign Jackson prior to free agency, but it was clear they weren’t going to be able to match Jacksonville’s offer. The Jaguars entered the week with the most cap space in the league, at more than $82 million, and plans to spend big for the second straight year.
The Jaguars signed defensive end Jared Odrick, cornerback Davon House and linebacker Dan Skuta in free agency last year and expect to be even more aggressive this time around.
Jackson is just the first of several defensive pieces Caldwell plans to add to the roster.
Regardless of who else joins the D-line, Jackson, Odrick and defensive tackle Roy Miller should be a formidable front. The Jaguars also expect big things from defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the third overall pick in the 2015 draft who tore a knee ligament in his first practice.
It was clear Jacksonville didn’t have enough depth on the line last season, especially after Fowler and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (biceps) were out for the season. Aging Chris Clemons and former second-round pick Andre Branch failed to pick up the slack, and it showed on the field.
Jackson, meanwhile, was a force in Denver. He and Von Miller gave the Broncos one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league. Jackson can play anywhere along the line, the kind of versatility rarely seen in a 6-foot-5, 293-pound defender.
The Jaguars plan to take advantage of his flexibility.
Jackson is also the third consecutive Denver player to leave the Broncos for Jacksonville in free agency, following guard Zane Beadles and tight end Julius Thomas. Beadles signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Jaguars in 2014, but was cut last week. Thomas signed a five-year, $46 million deal last year with the Jags that included $24 million guaranteed.