Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Jacksonville Jaguars

Jon Shumake@@JonShu89Contributor IIIFebruary 22, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Free agency provides a quick fix for teams looking to fill holes, and the Jacksonville Jaguars roster is full of them.

    Although general manager David Caldwell said the team won't be "overly active" (per Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union) in free agency, there are still moves they can make to improve the roster.

    The Jaguars need to go after players who will improve the team without breaking the bank. The potential free-agent class is deep at the positions the franchise needs the most at, and they should be able to find players to fill the holes.

    In addition to finding cheap talent, Jacksonville needs to focus on re-signing a couple of key players with expiring contracts.

    The moves Caldwell makes during free agency will impact his draft strategy and could make the team competitive during its rebuild.

    Here are the Jaguars' five biggest free-agent priorities based on the players available and the importance of the position.

5. Re-Sign Daryl Smith

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    Caldwell has several tough decisions looming in his first season as a general manager, none of which could be more difficult than whether or not to re-sign linebacker Daryl Smith.

    Smith, the franchise's all-time leading tackler, missed all but the final two games of 2012 with a groin injury and will be 31 entering next season. Caldwell has to decide whether re-signing the aging veteran fits into his rebuilding plan.

    Smith's presence on the field was obviously missed last season. The Jaguars defense fell from sixth overall in yards allowed in 2011 to 30th in 2012 in his absence.

    Smith should be re-signed for the right price. He's been an underrated playmaker for Jacksonville's defense for years and should return to form next year with an entire offseason to recover from his injury.

    Smith should still have a couple of effective years left in the tank to help the team until they find his eventual replacement.

4. Defensive Line

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    The Jaguars defensive line was terrible in 2012. The defense had the fewest sacks in the NFL (20) and gave up the third-most rushing yards per game (141), and most of the blame could be placed on the defensive line play.

    Players such as Detroit's Cliff Avril would solve Jacksonville's pass-rushing woes but would come with an expensive price tag.

    The Jaguars will forgo signing high priced free-agent pass-rushers in favor of finding one in the draft.

    The team could be in the market to find interior linemen in free agency, though, and Seattle's Alan Branch would be the perfect fit.

    Branch was an effective player for the Seahawks, and he would help solidify the middle of the Jaguars defensive line. Jacksonville also wouldn't have to overspend to get him, as his last contract had an average salary of $3.5 million a year. Although it would cost more to sign him as a free agent, it won't be the massive contract other defensive linemen would come with.

    Branch has ties with Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, as he was Seattle's defensive coordinator for four seasons before being hired by Jacksonville. Branch would bring a familiarity to Bradley's scheme and provide veteran leadership as the team gets accustomed to the new coach's system.

    If the Jaguars pursue a free-agent defensive lineman, Branch would be the best player to sign.

3. Re-Signing Derek Cox

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    Caldwell has another tough decision to make regarding the fate of oft-injured cornerback Derek Cox.

    Caldwell has already briefly addressed Cox's future. Caldwell said (via Ryan O'Halloran) the team will not place the franchise tag on him, but they will meet with the cornerback in hopes of re-signing him.

    Keeping Cox would be a smart move, as he is a very good player when healthy. He has 12 interceptions and 32 pass defenses in his four-year career.

    Cox's issue has been staying healthy enough to contribute. He's only played one complete season and has missed 17 games over the last three years due to various injuries.

    The Jaguars could potentially be thin at cornerback, which makes re-signing Cox a higher priority. He should be a good fit in Coach Bradley's defense and needs to be brought back for the right price.

2. Cornerback

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    Cox isn't the only notable Jaguars cornerback whose contract is expiring, as nine-year veteran Rashean Mathis is also set to hit the free-agent market.

    Unlike Cox, Jacksonville should not re-sign Mathis. His skills have been declining for a few seasons and his body has started breaking down on him by suffering several injuries over the last couple of seasons.

    It wouldn't make sense for the Jaguars to spend money on an aging cornerback when there will plenty of better options available this offseason in both free agency and the draft.

    The free-agent cornerback class is loaded with talent, and the franchise will be able to find a good player if they decide to go this route.

    Brent Grimes, Aqib Talib, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Sean Smith and Sam Shields could all potentially be on the market, but they will come with the high price tag the Jaguars are looking to avoid.

    One player Caldwell could target is Lions cornerback Chris Houston. He is a very good player, and the Lions most likely won't be able to re-sign him due to their salary cap troubles.

    Houston is a physical cornerback who has 11 career interceptions. He would be a nice fit opposite of Cox in Bradley's defense.

    With all the other big-name players available in free agency, a player like Houston may sign cheaper than expected.

    The Jaguars will most likely wait until the draft to find a cornerback, but Houston would be the best player to target if they do look to add on in free agency.

1. Right Tackle

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    Fixing the offensive line has to be the Jaguars' biggest priority this offseason. The line was awful last year and allowed the third-most sacks (50) and quarterback hits (103) in the league. 

    The poor play could mostly be attributed to the revolving door of right tackles.

    Finding a consistent presence at the position will improve the offensive line as a whole. Signing a good right tackle may be the one position Caldwell doesn't mind spending big money at.

    The free-agent tackle class is deep with talent. Players such as Jake Long, Branden Albert, Andre Smith, Phil Loadholt, Will Beatty, Jermon Bushrod and Sebastian Vollmer are all set to be free agents.

    The players the Jaguars need to target is Vollmer. He has been a good player for the New England Patriots for years and anchored the offensive line on the right side.

    Vollmer would improve the offensive line's pass protection problems. He has allowed just 11.5 sacks in his four-year career.

    Drive-killing penalties plagued the Jaguars in 2012. Vollmer is a disciplined player and is rarely penalized. He was the culprit of just three penalties for 20 yards last season.

    The Patriots may opt to not re-sign Vollmer with players like Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon under contract.The Jaguars need to jump on him if he does hit free agency.

    Signing Vollmer, along with the other potential free-agent moves, would set the Jaguars up for success in 2013.