Defensive end Malik Jackson officially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday. It is a six-year contract worth up to $90 million with $42 million guaranteed, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport. The deal easily makes him the highest-paid player on the Jaguars and is one of the richest contracts for a defensive player.
"They’ve got something good going," Jackson said of his new team. "They’ve been building a lot of players. They’ve built the offense up, and now they need some help on defense. They called me and it’s a great opportunity to change the culture and get the ball rolling again."
Jackson, 26, was a crucial part of the Denver Broncos' league-best defense last season. Alongside Von Miller, he helped form a ridiculous defensive front that dominated most teams during Denver's Super Bowl-winning campaign and made every quarterback they faced exceedingly uncomfortable. He only hit the open market because the Broncos already had Miller, one of the best defensive players in the whole league, also on an expiring contract.
Jackson had a breakout season in 2015, and was widely considered one of the top free agents likely to hit the open market this spring. The 2012 fifth-round pick will improve any defensive line in the league immediately with his high level of play and tremendous upside.
Last year he recorded a career-best 45 tackles, five sacks, two fumble recoveries and also defended seven passes. He finished the season ranked 16th out of 123 interior defenders in overall performance, per Pro Football Focus' grades, including a strong seventh-place standing as a pass rusher. Jackson's durability is also a strength, having played in all 16 games over the past three seasons.
Jackson was always going to get a big contract, whether it came from the Broncos via an extension, from the Broncos via the franchise tag or to another lucky team on the open market. Armed with the most cap space of any team entering free agency -- more than $80 million -- the Jaguars certainly had the financial leverage to lure Jackson, who spent the first four years of his career in Denver.
Entrenched in a rebuild, Jacksonville has successfully developed a dynamic and productive offense over the past few seasons, while its defense was clearly the weak link last season. The Jags ranked 23rd in sack rate, 24th in total defense, 31st in points allowed and 31st in third-down defense.
The Jaguars badly need impact players on the defensive side of the ball and Jackson should immediately help fill the void. With first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. expected to be healthy in 2016, the Jaguars are starting to build the foundation for a strong pass rush along the entire defensive front for many years to come.