I was intrigued, like many others were, by the Wall Street Journal's story earlier this week about how the Jacksonville Jaguars are changing up the free agency game by asking prospective players to bring along their wives for their recruiting visits. Jaguars general manager Gene Smith and new owner Shahid Khan have been praised in recent days for wanting to keep athletes' wives informed and happy. "Being an NFL player is a unique and demanding line of work, so some strength at the homestead could go a long way towards keeping a players' head aligned in the proper position," said one blogger. Since they're integral in the ultimate decision-making process, the reasoning goes, wives should be included from the start.
Discussion quickly turned to the question of whether having happily-married players on a roster could make for better personnel, a strategy a Florida Times-Union writer pointed out the team hasn't committed to in the past. It seems to be a new tactic the team has employed this off-season -- with moderate success so far. But why has the organization moved in this direction now if there's no evidence that it pays to have married guys instead of bachelors?
Although it's important to remember that a player has many considerations when making his next career move, what I think has been lost in this conversation is the importance in recognizing the team charting the new waters. The Jaguars have struggled for consistency on the field in recent years, and they haven't exactly found free agency to be much of a savior over the past decade. One of the major factors that comes into play when players weigh different offers is the makeup of the city they're signing with. Jacksonville doesn't have much to boast in this area. People were none too pleased when the city hosted Super Bowl XXXIX.
"It's just that the very things that make this place so livable for you -- no big-city bustle, no discernable tourism industry, no apparent geographic center --unfortunately make it, by far, the worst Super Bowl burg ever," wrote Sports Illustrated's Josh Elliott at the time. In fact, Jacksonville has been ranked among the most boring U.S. cities to live in, something that free agents undoubtedly discuss with their agents, wives, and fellow players when deciding whether to sign with the Jags.
So it should come as no surprise then that Jacksonville has opted to go after players who are already settled down, who most likely won't be looking for the nightlife that other cities offer. They want homebodies. Players have to make sense within the offensive or defensive systems that the teams' use, but for them to fit as longterm solutions and staples of the town, they also have to match up with the personality of the surrounding area.
When LeBron James signed with the Heat, he telegraphed that he was heading to South Beach, where he felt he belonged. Cleveland couldn't give him what he needed. David Beckham came overseas to play in the MLS for the one team that made sense for him -- the L.A. Galaxy. And Indianapolis fans were so attached to Peyton Manning all of those years for his small-town temperament as much as his winning ways. Now, at last, the Jaguars are tailoring their pitches to the style and structure of their city. They'll promote the quality of life in Jacksonville and its serenity that other cities can't match. Once you're targeting the right receivers, every perceived negative can be spun into a positive.
Some players are actually in search of a small-town feel and a place where they can raise their kids. The first step for the Jaguars is getting these young couples to experience it for themselves.