WR Cecil Shorts III is an important part of the core that the Jaguars will build off of.
The quicker Jacksonville Jaguars fans forget about the 2012 season, the better. Bringing nothing but heartache and disappointment, the season seemed to go on without any indicator as to how this team could get better.
With a new general manager and coaching staff, the Jaguars look ahead to better days. The question is, who will be kept to help build the team?
Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne both have seen extensive playing time over the course of their careers. Like Henne, Gabbert has yet to show any type of consistency to establish himself as a worthy franchise quarterback for the team. Jaguars fans all knew the truth at the start of last season, but wanted to ignore it for the belief that Gabbert was the future. One year later, the franchise is set back yet another season.
With both quarterbacks still on the roster, David Caldwell has made in publicly known that he is looking for competition and wants the best player to start. He has also made it known that he will be bringing in some fresh faces in an attempt to either outplay or help both Gabbert and Henne step up their game. At this point, neither of these quarterbacks are in Jacksonville to be built upon.
Maurice Jones-Drew is the leader of the offense, and could become the incredible weapon he was just a season ago. After being the league's rushing leader, MJD took the selfish route to holding out, which ended up hurting both him and the Jags.
Despite the bad blood from a year ago, MJD has already made it known that he will not hold out this season and is looking to play for one last contract in the NFL. With that type of motivation, he becomes a solid piece to the puzzle. The Jaguars have a guy to build around at running back, and he's one of the best.
Which position will the Jaguars attack to upgrade through free agency?
The most improved position from a year ago is without a doubt wide receiver. Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon are two very young, talented players who add a dimension to a team that has not had anything like it since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell.
Both players are key pieces for the offense, and allow the team to address more important positions come free agency and the draft. Laurent Robinson will enter the second year of a five-year, $30 million deal he signed a season ago. Robinson did not play up to his contract a year ago. However, the positive on Robinson is that he made a killing as a double-digit TD slot receiver in Dallas. With Blackmon and Shorts III as the "x" and "y" receivers, Robinson can go back to his role as a slot receiver.
Marcedes Lewis has become a very underrated tight end in the NFL. He possesses certain traits that many tight ends do not, but has not been able to utilize them to his maximum ability since his 700-yard, 10-touchdown season.
The Jaguars have gone year after year without providing a liable backup to Lewis, which could make a world of difference for the 29-year-old. From oft-injured and now released Zach Miller to undrafted Zach Potter, the Jaguars will need to bring in a threat to give Lewis additional opportunities for both catches and rest. Either way, Lewis is a very important part to the 2013 Jaguars.
The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012, and offers only a few solid options with Eugene Monroe and Uche Nwaneri. Brad Meester is an unrestricted free agent, and may decide to retire if the Jaguars do not attempt re-signing him. The return of these three players would benefit the Jaguars greatly going into next season.
Will Rackley, John Estes and Jason Spitz were lost for the entire 2012 season, and may have made a large difference if they were able to play. Rackley has the most to prove after an up-and-down rookie season. Drafted out of Lehigh in the third round, Rackley has plenty of raw talent and still needs to showcase his worth in Jacksonville.
The offensive line should see Monroe, Nwaneri, Meester and Rackley as solid pieces of their 2013 unit. Free agency and the draft will have to add at least one more starter at right tackle and possibly left guard.
The defensive line was one of the league's worst, and will need a load of improvement in order to give this team a better chance next season.
Acquiring Jason Babin was by far the best move of the year for the Jaguars, and he will lead a line in desperate need of another pass rusher. Jeremy Mincey played poorly after signing a rich contract in the offseason.
Injuries to John Chick, George Selvie and Austen Lane throughout the year pushed rookie Andre Branch into the starting lineup far too early. Branch produced only one sack on the year, and did not produce the way an early-second-round talent in expected to.
Babin and Mincey are likely to be the key pieces at end, but the Jaguars will without a doubt add a pass rusher with either their second overall pick, or may make a run at Jacksonville native Cliff Avril. Avril will be extremely expensive, but may be worth every penny if he can generate double-digit sacks in Jacksonville.
Terrance Knighton was expected to be a key piece to the defensive line, but between on- and off-field struggles, will likely not be retained as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
C.J. Mosley earned the starting spot at defensive tackle alongside Tyson Alualu and played better than Knighton. Mosley and Alualu will look to be part of a rotation at tackle next season. The Jaguars may look at defensive tackle with their first few picks. Star Lotulelei should not be ruled out as a possible draft selection for Jacksonville. The days of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud proved to be very successful for the defensive line.
Paul Posuluszny was by far the best defensive player in Jacksonville the past two seasons. Despite being overpaid by previous general manager Gene Smith, Poz has played up to it thus far and will without a doubt be the starting middle linebacker next season.
Daryl Smith had an unfortunate injury sideline him for the first 14 games of 2012. Smith, in a contract year, may get a team to offer him more than what the Jaguars will look to based on his career up to last season. With any luck, Smith will be with the Jaguars next season as a healthy, starting outside linebacker. If he is not, the Jags may look to add a premium player in Jarvis Jones or Barkevious Mingo with their first-round pick.
Russell Allen took full advantage of injuries and accumulated over 100 tackles this past season. Allen was re-signed last offseason, and may or may not continue to start in Jacksonville. At worst, he will without a doubt be on the Jaguars as the main backup at linebacker.
Cornerback is a position in much need of upgrading. Derek Cox was the only reliable source of coverage a season ago, and he struggled at times. Put that along with a slew of injuries for Cox, and it makes it difficult to gauge if the Jaguars will re-sign or franchise the young corner out of William and Mary.
Rashean Mathis will most likely not be re-signed, and Aaron Ross will possibly be cut after signing a rich contract last off season and not producing near to the results expected. Mike Harris showcased a small amount of consistency his rookie season and will most likely begin next year as the nickel corner.
The Jaguars have some options in free agency and the draft to address getting in some new talent for the struggling secondary. First-round option Dee Milliner is a possibility with their first pick if he proves worthy.
Safety is not a position of major concern as Dwight Lowery and Dawan Landry both played pretty well last season for a team that gave them no help by getting to the quarterback and inconsistent cornerback play. Chris Prosinski filled in decently for Lowery after he sustained multiple injuries last season. I would expect to see at least one new face for the Jags next season, but only to increase the depth.
Kicker and punter are both solidified with Josh Scobee and Bryan Anger. Both played very, very well a season ago and will likely not see any competition pushed their way.
The Jaguars have some players who are not only worth keeping around, but establish a decent foundation to build off of. The key upgrades are needed at quarterback, defensive line, cornerback and offensive line.
Both Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley have similar philosophies when it comes to building a contender, so it will be interesting to see what they do from here.