Jaguars WR Kirk proving to be worth every penny of $72M deal
By MARK LONG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) When Christian Kirk signed with Jacksonville in March, the financial details were eye-popping.
The Jaguars gave the former Arizona receiver a four-year, $72 million contract in free agency that included $37 million guaranteed.
Kirk essentially raised the bar for NFL wideouts around the league. His deal initially seemed like a stretch for a guy who was primarily a slot receiver with the Cardinals and hadn't topped 80 catches, 1,000 yards or six touchdowns in any of his four seasons.
Now, it looks like a relative bargain.
Kirk has 12 receptions for 195 yards and two touchdowns in two games, providing Trevor Lawrence a go-to guy and giving the Jaguars (1-1) some much-needed big-play ability.
"That's why we went out and got him in," coach Doug Pederson said. "And you can see it now two weeks in a row (with) some of the plays that he's made. He's made an impact for our offense."
Kirk finished with six receptions for 78 yards and two scores in Sunday's 24-0 drubbing of Indianapolis. He caught six passes for 117 yards in Jacksonville's season opener at Washington.
"I can't say that I predicted it," said Kirk, who hopes to stay hot at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. "But (the coaches have) done a great job of just putting us all in position to succeed. And that's it. We've just got to go out and execute."
Kirk has been a welcomed chess piece for Pederson, who calls plays. He lines up out wide, in the slot or in the backfield. He often goes in motion to help Lawrence identify defensive schemes and occasionally ends up one-on-one against linebackers.
"I'm here to do this for all 17 weeks and help this team win," Kirk said. "Me being productive and helping this team getting W's and putting us in position to make a playoff push, that's all I can ask for. That's my mentality and that's my attitude for the rest of the year."
Jacksonville has six takeaways in two games: five interceptions and a fumble. It's a huge turnaround from last season, when the defense finished with an NFL-low nine turnovers in 17 games.
The Jaguars were minus-20 in turnover differential in 2021, the worst in the league. They are plus-5 now, a significant improvement players and coaches expect will become a season-long trend.
The trajectory shouldn't be a huge surprise considering how much the Jaguars have invested on defense. They signed defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, linebacker Foye Oluokun and cornerback Darious Williams in free agency and then drafted linebackers Travon Walker (first overall), Devin Lloyd (27th) and Chad Muma (70th) in the first three rounds.
"Things are starting to kind of click for guys," Pederson said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville's special teams have yet to be a factor through two games. Jamal Agnew has three punt returns for 9 yards and no kickoff returns, far from ideal for a guy who returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2021. Agnew might have to be patient as opponents are seemingly intent on keeping the ball away from him.
Although Jacksonville's special teams are still looking for a big play, the units haven't done anything costly.
Linebacker Josh Allen is stating his case for a new contract. The seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft had two sacks against Indianapolis on Sunday to go along with a forced fumble. He forced another fumble in the season opener.
Scheduled to make $11.5 million in the final year of his rookie contract in 2023, Allen is no doubt benefitting from the addition of overall top draft pick Travon Walker. Walker had a sack and an interception in his NFL debut. He also had a quarterback hurry against the Colts.
Travis Etienne ran nine times for 20 yards against the Colts, averaging 2.2 yards a carry. His playing time is down with the healthy emergence of third-year pro James Robinson, who has 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns in two games.
Etienne missed his entire rookie season following a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. He's likely to settle into a role as the team's third-down and change-of-pace back.
The Jaguars have avoided significant injuries through two games.
15 - number of losses in 18 games on the West Coast. Jacksonville is 0-5 at the Chargers (0-4 in San Diego and 0-1 in Los Angeles), 0-4 at Seattle, 0-2 at San Francisco, 0-1 at the Los Angeles Rams and 3-3 at Oakland.
Start stacking wins. The Jaguars last won consecutive games in the same season in October 2019, when they beat Cincinnati and the New York Jets.
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Updated September 19, 2022