Where Do the Jacksonville Jaguars Stand in the AFC South Now?
The Jacksonville Jaguars have become an afterthought in the AFC South after finishing in the basement of the division last season with a franchise-worst 2-14 record.
Owner Shad Khan has shown he will not accept failure by making wholesale changes this offseason, which include a new general manager in David Caldwell and head coach in Gus Bradley. These moves were made to get the team back on path to capturing its first division title since 1999.
But after four years of bad drafting and free agent contracts by former GM Gene Smith, the Jaguars are behind the rest of the division not only record-wise, but talent-wise, too. Smith's tenure left the team's roster gutted of talent and current GM Caldwell is paying for those sins.
The Jaguars have been purging large contracts and letting veterans test the free agent market. Players such as Derek Cox, Terrance Knighton, Dawan Landry and Rashean Mathis will not be in Jacksonville next season, which is a huge blow to a depleted roster.
Although the other teams in the division have been making big splashes in free agency, Caldwell has been quietly adding lesser known players who can contribute and challenge for roster spots.
The Jaguars have added defensive tackle Roy Miller, running back Justin Forsett, cornerback Alan Ball and linebacker Geno Hayes, but Jacksonville doesn't appear to be finished adding players.
The previous four years of failed talent acquisition have left the Jaguars firmly at the bottom of the AFC South. But how does Jacksonville compare to the other teams in the division?
The Houston Texans are still the team to beat in the AFC South after capturing two straight divisional crowns, but the gap between them and the rest of the division isn't as wide as it once was.
They lost several key players this offseason as safety Glover Quin signed with the Detroit Lions, while linebacker Connor Barwin and tight end James Casey signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Texans also cut wide receiver Kevin Walter, who had been very productive during his time with the team.
The departures left gaps in Houston's roster, which they filled by signing veteran free agents. They reached a three-year, $15 million deal with nine-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed to replace Quin. Reed will be entering his 12th season in the league, and at 34, there are questions as to how much he has left in the tank.
In addition to Reed, the Texans also signed former Jaguars fullback Greg Jones, who will be 32 entering the season, and punter Shane Lechler, 36. They are adding older talent who won't contribute more than a couple seasons.
The free agent signings may be aging, but the rest of the Texans have shown little sign of slowing down.
Although quarterback Matt Schaub will be 32 entering next season, he is still among one of the more productive quarterbacks in the league. He finished last year with a 64.3 completion percentage for 4,008 and 22 touchdowns. His numbers have declined over the past few seasons, but each of those totals are still near the top of the league.
Playing quarterback is made a lot easier when he has Andre Johnson to throw to. Despite being in his 11th season, he was still one of the league's best receivers. He hauled in 112 receptions for a career-high 1,598 yards and four touchdowns. He has shown no signs of aging and will once again be among the top receivers in 2013.
In addition to Schaub and Johnson, they still have a terrific running back in Arian Foster and a dangerous defense led by J.J. Watt. The Texans are the cream of the crop in the division.
Houston will have another chance at an AFC South title and Super Bowl run this season, but the Indianapolis Colts won't be far behind.
The Colts had the third-best turnaround in league history with 11 wins last year following a 2-14 season in 2011. Much of the Colts success can be credited to 2012 first-round pick Andrew Luck, as the roster wasn't strong as a whole.
Luck resurrected the franchise by throwing for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns. His play led the Colts to the playoffs, which will become a norm for the team in years to come.
Although Indianapolis lost Donnie Avery and Dwight Freeney this offseason, the Colts improved the team through free agency. Luck was the league's ninth-most sacked quarterback last season (41), but that will change this year with the team signing offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus early in free agency.
The Colts also added former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Greg Toler, which should improve upon Indianapolis' 21st-ranked pass defense last season.
These moves make Indianapolis roster better, but there's one thing that has to be said: As long as Luck is under center, the Colts will be one of the favorites in the AFC South.
Much like the Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans are a level or two (or five or ten) below the Texans and Colts.
And also much like the Jaguars, the Titans shortcomings can be attributed to a struggling young quarterback and poor play on defense.
Jake Locker has yet to live up to being the eighth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10) last season, and completed just over 56 percent of his passes. The Titans lost veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to free agency, but were able to sign Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If Locker continues to look like a bust, the team would be in decent hands with Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
Luckily for the Titans, running back Chris Johnson bounced back last season after an off year in 2011. He should continue to perform well since he will now have Andy Levitre blocking for him, who was signed to a five-year, $39 million contract in free agency.
They also improved their running game by adding Shonn Greene. It will give the Titans a two-dimensional backfield, which they have been missing.
Who will win the AFC South in 2013?
Even with those moves, the Titans are closer to the Jaguars than they are the Colts or Texans, and they will once again finish in the bottom half of the division.
There is a gigantic gap in talent between the top two and bottom two teams in the AFC South, which makes the division one of the most top heavy in the league. Jacksonville is still a few years away from competing for a divisional crown, and a lot can change between now and then.
But for now, the Jaguars are still looking up at all the other teams in the AFC South.
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