The Jacksonville Jaguars move into February with a finalized coaching staff, a new logo and a fanbase that is regaining its steam after a terrible season.
Heading into the early portion of 2013, the Jaguars have more than a couple of big decisions on their hands.
Starting with who to re-sign, the Jaguars will need to lock up any player that they feel is necessary for their upcoming years. Players such as Daryl Smith, Rashean Mathis, Brad Meester and Greg Jones fall into the category of older players who have spent their entire careers with the Jaguars.
Smith is 31 and coming off a season where he missed 14 games. As the Jaguars' all-time leading tackler and a defensive playmaker, Smith was not able to showcase much in the two games he played. Does David Caldwell see Smith as an expensive veteran who has too many question marks, or is he a key piece to help build around on defense?
I'm not a big fan of playing the prediction game, mostly because I have learned that I have no idea how a general manager may be thinking. The smart thing would be to try to re-sign Smith for a low-risk, high-reward salary, similar to Rashean Mathis last season.
If Smith is not re-signed, outside linebacker becomes a large need heading into free agency. Russell Allen proved to be a reliable starter, but the Jags will have an empty spot on the other side. Neither Julian Stanford nor Kyle Bosworth proved to be much more than capable special teams players, and there is a good chance that neither is retained for the 2013 season.
Derek Cox may be the most important re-signing of the off season. Cox represents a young, talented corner who has been plagued by injuries thus far in his career.
When healthy, Cox is a very legitimate cover corner who has been the best defensive back in Jacksonville since being drafted in 2009. The question with Cox is: What is his true value? Does he represent a player you build around in the secondary and give a high-priced, long-term deal to? Do you let him test free agency if he thinks he is worth as much as Dunta Robinson or Jonathan Joseph? Do you just slap the franchise tag on him near $10 million and call it a day?
It is easy to say that Cox isn't worth quite as much as he thinks he is, but what happens if he is not a Jaguar next year? Rashean Mathis will not be re-signed after a terrible year, and Aaron Ross played horribly for being overpaid. Mike Harris is looking like the nickelback, but the team would be without its two starting cornerbacks heading into free agency.
No matter what happens with Cox, cornerback is a very big need heading into free agency. If Cox is brought back, the Jags may wait until the draft to address this position, but if he is not, the Jaguars will have no choice but to try and snag at least one legitimate starting cornerback via free agency.
Brad Meester wants to play in Jacksonville again, but I'm not sold on Caldwell wanting to keep him as the starter. With a new zone-blocking scheme being implemented by Jedd Fisch, the Jaguars will need to grab guys who fit into their specific needs on the offensive line.
If Meester does not fit, does Mike Brewster or John Estes? Estes is a restricted free agent who is very injury-prone, but he could be kept very cheaply. The Jaguars will need to address center one way or the other, whether that is bringing back Meester or looking ahead to filling in his spot.
Greg Jones has been a staple in the Jaguars offense for years, but it looks like his time may be up. As a hard-nosed running offense, the Jaguars were able to utilize Jones to his potential as he opened up holes for Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Jaguars look to get younger and quicker in the backfield. Fullback may not be high on the priority list, but will be a need to address. The Jags may open up to more two running back sets rather than the more traditional backfield, but again, who knows until Caldwell, Bradley and Fisch have their minds made up on what they want to do?
Other free agents include Rashad Jennings, Eben Britton and Terrance Knighton. Jennings and Britton are more than likely to see free agency, while Knighton may be a tossup, depending on how Bob Babich will want to use him.
The Seahawks used some big guys up front on their defensive line, and Bradley may see something he likes in keeping Knighton. It is hard to imagine Bradley keeping Tyson Alualu, CJ Mosley and Knighton on the team next year, but if he believes that they fit his scheme—well, then why not? With Jason Babin as the leading candidate as the team's "Leo", the Jaguars may go big on the other side of the line, meaning that Alualu could potentially play end.
With obvious needs at pass rush, the Jaguars will also head into free agency looking for a possible pass-rusher. Cliff Avril is always going to pop up in the discussion due to his age and fact that he is a Jacksonville native, but I do not see the Jags making that big of a splash. Caldwell has made it clear that he wants to build through the draft, and this year the draft has more than a few potential edge rushers.
Whether that means the team looks at Damontre Moore from Texas A&M, Bjoern Werner out of Florida State or Jarvis Jones out of Georgia, the Jaguars will more than likely wait until the draft to address their biggest need with either their first- or second-round pick.
Offensively, the Jaguars will have needs on the offensive line and at the quarterback position.
It seems relatively clear that the Jaguars will need to attack right tackle in either free agency or the draft. With the possible list of free agents at tackle, it would make the most sense for the Jaguars to try to get themselves a capable right tackle to go with Eugene Monroe.
A couple of names that may or may not fall through to free agency include Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith, Kansas City Chiefs tackle Brandon Albert and New England Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The odds that all three will be available are very slim, but tackle does have the most intriguing group out of all positions in free agency.
Blaine Gabbert has seemingly already locked down the starting spot, according to multiple media outlets, but there is no reason to buy that at this time. The Jaguars are only one month into their new leadership, and to think that they truly believe that Gabbert is really the guy to build around is silly.
Without knowing who will be available next month or at the draft, the Jaguars have a long ways to go before they name any starters, not to mention at quarterback.
Can Gabbert be the starter come September? Absolutely, but I would not put my money on it yet. The Jaguars will without a doubt bring in at least one more quality arm to push both Blaine and Chad Henne, and could potentially beat them both out. Whether that is a well-known guy like Alex Smith, a veteran like Kyle Orton or a rookie like EJ Manuel or Mike Glennon, nobody knows, but it's all about who fits and who has the hottest arm.
To summarize the Jaguars' potential needs, they seemingly outweigh what they do not need. With plenty of improvement needed and expected, the Jaguars will need a plan to eliminate one—and possibly two—of these areas of needs prior to the NFL draft.