The Jacksonville Jaguars came into the week with nearly $30 million in cap room, giving them plenty of room to make a splash in free agency. The Jaguars haven’t made any major moves yet, but after signing just one free agent in the first three days of the signing period, their activity increased Friday.
As of Friday morning, the Jaguars had only signed one free agent from outside the organization: outside linebacker Geno Hayes, a potential replacement at strongside linebacker for Daryl Smith, to a two-year, $2 million contract.
The Jaguars added three more players Friday, signing defensive tackle Roy Miller, cornerback Alan Ball and running back Justin Forsett, each to two-year deals (contract numbers had not been reported as of midnight Saturday). They also re-signed cornerback Antwaun Molden to a one-year deal Thursday at the veteran minimum of $850,000.
Even with those signings, the Jaguars still project to have more than $20 million of cap room below the $123 million salary cap—not including their four most recent signings, the Jaguars were more than $28 million below the cap as of midnight Saturday based on cap figures from Spotrac.
Although the Jaguars have added some potential key contributors on defense, they have also lost three key defensive players as free agents to other teams. Cornerback Derek Cox signed with the San Diego Chargers, cornerback Aaron Ross went back to the New York Giants and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is with the Denver Broncos.
As free agency hits its first weekend, more big-name players continue to go off the board, but many potential veteran bargains remain on the market. Additionally, the Jaguars will have plenty of ammunition to work with in the 2013 NFL draft, as they hold the No. 2 overall pick and will alternate among the top two selections in each of the draft’s seven rounds.
The Jaguars have many remaining options of how they can utilize their available cap space and high draft picks. How they use them will determine whether Bradley and general manager David Caldwell can build a team ready to make a significant move up the NFL ladder in 2013.
Roster Holes to Fill
Bringing in four new players from free agency is hardly enough—the Jaguars still have a long way to go in building their roster for the 2013 NFL season.
Bradley, Caldwell and the rest of the Jaguars’ decision-makers should be taking a wide-open approach to this offseason. With very few standouts on the Jaguars’ roster on either side of the ball, the Jaguars should focus more on finding the best players available who fit their schemes rather than pinpointing specific positions of need to address.
On the offensive side of the ball, this offseason’s changes could include finding an upgrade at quarterback, where Blaine Gabbert has yet to establish himself as a franchise quarterback in his first two seasons. The Jaguars also need to revamp their offensive line, a unit led by a very good left tackle in Eugene Monroe, but which needs competition and depth across the rest of the line.
Defensively, Bradley has a long way to go to build up the caliber of defense that he led last year as Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.
The deepest unit of the Jacksonville Jaguars is their defensive line, but it could also be the unit that they make the strongest effort to upgrade given that the Jaguars finished dead last in the NFL with only 20 sacks last season. While their acquisition of Jason Babin late in the 2012 season should help spark the pass-rush next season, the Jaguars could still be in the market for another defensive end and/or defensive tackle who can bring more pressure up front.
Signing Hayes should not be the Jaguars’ endgame at linebacker. Hayes, Russell Allen and Paul Posluszny could form a decent starting trio, but the unit still lacks a three-down playmaker. The Jaguars need to find at least one linebacker who can bring more pressure to supplement their defensive line and who can drop back to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield in pass coverage.
Speaking of pass coverage, rebuilding the secondary is the Jaguars’ most immediate defensive need. The Jaguars lost both of their starting cornerbacks from last season in Cox and Ross, and Ball struggled badly when pushed into starting action for the Houston Texans last season. The Jaguars should also be in the market for an upgrade at strong safety, after cutting Dawan Landry last week.
Remaining Free-Agent Options
The Jaguars have not yet made a push for any major free agents—or at least not successfully—but there is still plenty of time and cap room for them to upgrade their roster on both sides of the ball with more quality free-agent additions.
The offensive line is one area with many quality free agents still available where they could still make a splash and upgrade through a veteran signing. Mark Long of the Associated Press tweeted Friday that Washington Redskins right tackle Tyler Polumbus visited Jacksonville. Other logical choices to help improve the offensive line could include Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston, New York Jets guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson and Pittsburgh Steelers interior offensive lineman Doug Legursky.
Barring a surprise run at Elvis Dumervil, the LEO defensive end that the Jaguars could be looking for does not appear to be available on the free-agent market. One possible fit for their defensive line could be Alan Branch, who could reprise his 3-technique role that he played for Bradley’s Seahawks last season. While the Seahawks appear to have moved on from Branch, he is a potential upgrade over Tyson Alualu for the Jaguars.
The Jaguars should continue their efforts to rebuild the secondary and pick up more free agent defensive backs. Mid-level options who could compete for starting jobs at cornerback could include Tracy Porter (Denver Broncos), Sheldon Brown (Cleveland Browns) and/or Mike Jenkins (Dallas Cowboys).
If the Jaguars are looking to add free-agent playmakers at linebacker, potential fits could include Brad Jones (Green Bay Packers) or James Anderson (Carolina Panthers).
Will Jaguars Draft Geno Smith With the No. 2 Overall Pick?
Although we remain in the midst of the free agency period, the speculation of what the Jaguars will do with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft is already running wild. The player likely to be linked to the Jaguars in many mock drafts from here on out is West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.
The Jaguars showed, or at least feigned, serious interest in Smith at West Virginia’s pro day Thursday by sending their most prominent decision-makers to watch him throw. Bradley, Caldwell, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, director of player personnel Terry McDonough and senior vice president of football technology and analytics Tony Khan all attended the pro day, according to the Jaguars’ official Twitter account.
Caldwell said in February (via NFL.com) that the Jaguars’ quarterback competition would be “wide-open,” which certainly makes it sound as though drafting a quarterback early in the 2013 draft is a possibility. While selecting a quarterback at No. 2 may not lead to a wide-open competition, the Jaguars could pounce on Smith if they believe he is the franchise quarterback they can build a contender around.
What Should the Jaguars Do?
With plenty of cap room still to work with and a very high spot in the draft order, the Jaguars are fortunate to have many remaining possibilities of how they can continue building their roster for the 2013 season and beyond. Figuring out the best approach is the task Caldwell, Bradley and others must decide on in the coming days of free agency and going forward to the draft on the final weekend of April.
While the Jaguars should certainly bring in a rookie quarterback to compete with Gabbert and Chad Henne, selecting Smith is not the best move in my opinion.
If the Jaguars firmly believe Smith is a quarterback who can lead the Jaguars to becoming serious contenders, then he should and most likely will be the choice.
But in a draft class that lacks a sure star among quarterbacks but has solid depth at the position, the Jaguars could end up with a much better player by drafting a defensive difference-maker at the No. 2 pick, then using one of their Day 2 draft choices on a quarterback such as Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib or Florida State’s E.J. Manuel to bring in and compete for the quarterback job.
The Jaguars should look to sign two or three more players who can compete for serious playing time on defense as free agency continues, but adding playmakers on that side of the ball should also be an emphasis with their early draft picks.
Specifically at the No. 2 overall selection, potential choices who could be difference-makers on the Jaguars’ defense include Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
In addition to quarterback, specific positions of early emphasis in the 2013 NFL draft could be at pass-rusher, cornerback, linebacker and offensive line.
Potential Round 2 selections could include Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown and Florida strong safety Matt Elam. Third-round possibilities could include Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long, LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan, Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene and North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson.
Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.