Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars
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If there were a Richter scale in the NFL, the moment news broke that Christian Kirk would sign a four-year deal worth $72 million — with incentives pushing it to as much as $84 million — would have registered as an 8.0.

Seismic news, indeed. Kirk, who had been Arizona's third option at best during his four years with the Cardinals, was now being paid like a guaranteed No. 1 option. Players and executives around the league couldn't believe it. That much?! For him?!

Three weeks into the regular season and it looks like the Jaguars knew exactly what they were doing. General manager Trent Baalke paid a high price for Kirk, but so far you can't argue he hasn't played up to his contract.

Kirk is averaging six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown so far this season. The Jaguars are 2-1 as they face the undefeated Eagles today, and all of a sudden the Jags aren't the butt of NFL jokes anymore.

To be sure, Kirk was always the Jags' top option in the wide receiver market. That's because he fit the criteria they set before the start of free agency. The Jags wanted:

  • A player entering his second contract;
  • A player who has been relatively healthy in his career;
  • Someone who had speed to separate from defensive backs;
  • A player who was young enough to grow and develop with franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The Jaguars saw Kirk, still just 25 years old, for what he could become in their system. Kyler Murray isn't known for his quick trigger, and Kirk was rarely the first option anyway. In Jacksonville, a more decisive Lawrence could get him the ball faster.

Kirk averaged 3.3 yards of separation last season, above the league average of 3.0 and tied with the likes of Kadarius Toney, Deebo Samuel, Jaylen Waddle and Brandin Cooks. Opponents didn't respect Jacksonville's speed last year, and teams were in man coverage 30.2% of the time against the Jags in 2021, the 12th most in the league and above the league average of 27.9%.

Kirk broke his foot the final month of his rookie year and then missed three games in 2019 with an ankle injury. He's only missed two games (one for COVID) since then, so the health box was checked.

Finally, money wasn't an issue. The Jaguars had plenty to attract free agents, totaling about $56 million in cap space as the new league year approached.

The Jags knew Samuel, sooner or later, would get more than $20 million per year, so a number like $18 million per year for Kirk wasn't that outrageous to them. Amari Cooper was on the trading block, but his injury history wasn't appealing to Jacksonville. Fat chance they could pry Tyreek Hill or Davante Adams away in a trade. And did you want to risk waiting for DK Metcalf or A.J. Brown to possibly get traded?

Looking beyond in the draft, any receiver who'd make a difference in Year 1 would be gone by pick 15 or 20. The Jags at that time had the No. 1 and 33 picks, so they'd miss out on one of those guys in the middle part of the draft.

One team in the receiver market was prepared to pursue Kirk at the $13 million-per-year range. They were told quickly that wouldn't be close to enough and went a different route. Jacksonville's offer of $18 million per year (with incentives that could push it to $21 million per) got the job done just two hours after the legal tampering period opened.

"I don't listen to it," Kirk told CBS Sports' Pete Prisco during training camp when asked what he thinks about talk surrounding his contract. "People can have their opinions, people can talk. For me I know what I've earned and I know what I have worked for. So for that I'm just going to keep going and keep being the player I want to be."

Only once before has Kirk strung together three consecutive weeks with at least six catches (Weeks 14-16 of 2021). Never before has he had three straight weeks with at least 70 receiving yards in each game.

Now he's doing it in Jacksonville.