Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jaguars can't resist urge to splurge on Aaron Kampman

By Gene Frenette

March 9, 2010
Well, so much for the Jaguars being flea-market shoppers in NFL free agency. Anybody who thought this franchise would only try to win on the cheap, or not make any moves to excite the fan base, needs to rethink that misguided logic.

Given the right circumstances, the Jaguars will open up the checkbook. That's why they never let Aaron Kampman go anywhere after making Jacksonville his first visit, handing him $11 million in guaranteed money to stake his future here.

It's hard not to like this transaction. The 30-year-old Kampman is a high-motor pass rusher who figures to be a lot more productive than Hugh Douglas or Bryce Paup, neither of whom proved worthy of owner Wayne Weaver's investment.

From an image standpoint, this quick free-agency splash for Kampman looks more sensible than the 2008 splurge for Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence. There were questions about how they would fit in as soon as the ink was dry on their contracts.

When you see Kampman's body of work - though some uncertainty remains about how he will recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament - at least he has the resume and pedigree NFL personnel look for in a football player.

There won't be much doubt about whether center Brad Meester's high school teammate has the work ethic to make the Jaguars better. Meester has given the Jaguars everything in his tank for nine years, and Kampman wouldn't be one of Meester's closest NFL friends if he operated any differently.

The Jaguars are as desperate as ever to find a solution for an anemic pass rush. Because there was no guarantee that an impact rookie would fall to them in the NFL draft, signing Kampman gives them more flexibility on draft day.

It seems like the right call. With 47 sacks in his last 72 games and a history of durability before this knee injury, Jaguars general manager Gene Smith felt Kampman was a "calculated risk worth taking."

Let me put this in a way longtime Jaguars fans can understand: Kampman is ex-Jaguar Joel Smeenge (34 sacks from 1995-2000) with more ability to collapse the pocket. His presence should make it easier for Derrick Harvey, Terrance Knighton and John Henderson to put the quarterback down.

If his first public appearance Monday in his new NFL home means anything, Kampman should be a natural for this market. His blue-collar Iowa roots, playing well above his fifth-round draft selection, elevating himself into an elite pass-rusher - those are qualities that put people in the seats.

When he talked about his edge of mental toughness, Kampman said he learned from watching ex-Packers teammates such as Vonnie Holliday, Brett Favre and William Henderson.

"I looked at what separated them from other guys," Kampman said. "I learned at an early point in my career that the mind was still the greatest asset on the football field, coupled with your heart."

In the Jaguars' history, high-priced free agents have proven to be more fool's gold than instant success, but it doesn't mean you stop taking expensive swings to improve the team.

In Smith's 14 months as GM, he's given little reason to not trust his judgment. Paying for Kampman looks like a smart move.

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