Get ready, because the Jacksonville Jaguars' foray into the free-agent market is just about a week away.
In order to gain a better understanding of what we can expect from general manager David Caldwell, we first must break down the team's salary-cap situation.
Using Spotrac.com as a reference, the Jaguars have an estimated $59 million in cap room. That astounding amount of coin ranks them as the No. 2 team in the NFL with the most money to spend, behind only the Oakland Raiders.
If the front office chooses to put that robust amount of cap space to work, the Jaguars will be in a great position to accumulate talent that can help strengthen the core of this roster.
|Jacksonville's Impending Unrestricted Free Agents|
|Name||Position||2013 Salary Cap Hit|
|Maurice Jones-Drew||RB||$6.8 million|
|Chad Henne||QB||$4.65 million|
Pursuing Chad Henne
When you look at the free-agent market for quarterbacks, what you see is a group of aging veterans and injury-prone backups.
Knowing this, Caldwell must make a serious play for Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne.
Realizing that Henne understands Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's scheme, Caldwell told Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union (subscription required) that he wanted to discuss the QB's future before free agency officially begins on March 11.
Making his own case to keep Henne, ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco said:
He is the best option of the quarterbacks currently on the roster and would be a good mentor to a young quarterback. GM David Caldwell has indicated that it’s hard for rookie quarterbacks to play right away and the team would be confident in Henne starting at least the first part of the season.
In any facet of business, you never like to overspend. But in Henne's case, spending a little more then market value for an experienced "system" QB is the right decision.
It's going to be interesting to watch how Caldwell and Co. handle the negotiation process leading up to and possibly throughout the impending free-agency period.
Figuring out what to do with Cecil Shorts
Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts is one player who flashes enough talent on the field to warrant a long-term contract extension.
Currently working off a four-year deal worth about $2.6 million, Shorts has been a bargain for the Jaguars.
When it comes to extending Shorts' contract, the biggest issue on the table is the history he's had dealing with injuries since being drafted in 2011.
Detailing his bout with injuries, ESPN's Michael DiRocco notes:
The 6-foot, 202-pound Shorts has missed 11 games in his first three seasons because of various injuries. In 2013 he played through a painful shoulder injury and missed the final three games with a sports hernia. He missed two games with a concussion in 2012, and six with hamstring injuries as a rookie in 2011.
When he's on the field, Shorts has been a productive component of this football team. Compiling 121 receptions for 1,756 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last two seasons, Shorts has figured out a way to contribute even without a high-caliber quarterback throwing him the pigskin.
Injuries or not, the jury is still out on whether Shorts can ever been a true No. 1 wide receiver. To me, when you watch him on film, he looks like a vibrant No. 2 target who can hurt opposing defenses with his speed and effective route running.
Expected to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014 season wraps up, Shorts is going to have to stay healthy and prove to the front office that he is deserving of a lofty extension.
Players to target in free agency
Just because the Jaguars have a surplus of cap room to work with this offseason doesn't necessarily mean that Caldwell will go out and lure free agents down to Florida with dump trucks full of cash.
Fleshing out a sound strategy for attacking the free-agent market should start by addressing the team's biggest needs.
Without the presence of a transcendent pass-rusher on the roster, one of those needs has to be finding guys who can come in and consistently get after opposing quarterbacks.
Browsing through a watered-down marketplace, there seem to be only a few "big" names left that Caldwell and Bradley could get transfixed by.
In a 4-3 alignment, Bennett and Johnson are classic edge-rushers with good athleticism and a stellar burst off the line of scrimmage. When you try and find a role for Houston in Coach Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich's scheme, things get a bit more complicated.
Detailing how he envisions Houston will fit in Jacksonville, Alfie Crow of BigCatCountry.com said:
We all know the Jaguars run a hybrid front seven, very similar to what the Seattle Seahawks run defensively and it's not a typical 4-3 defensive front. While the focal point of the defense is the LEO rush end, Houston is not that type of player. He is however a player who can play the five-technique position and hold up stout against the run, but also threaten off the edge as a power rusher and disrupt in the backfield.
If Caldwell is willing to shell out the loot, Bennett, Johnson or Houston would all be stalwarts in Coach Bradley's defense.
Stepping down a tier, there are some other intriguing names that could be added to this roster for a fraction of the cost.
At 28 years old, Willie Young made the most of his opportunity playing for the Detroit Lions in 2013.
Grading out as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 16th-best 4-3 defensive end, Young was credited for 48 quarterback hurries coming off the edge.
A pass-rusher who won't command nearly the market value that some of the more established players will, Young's production on the field makes him a low-cost, appealing option for a Jaguars team looking to build through the draft.
After being cut by the Seattle Seahawks, Red Bryant is another big-bodied player who could be a natural fit for Jacksonville's hybrid 4-3 scheme.
Finishing as PFF's (subscription required) 15th-best 4-3 defensive end, Bryant was dominant at stopping the run. Playing in a rotational capacity for the Seahawks last season, the man they call "Red" posted a positive 10.6 run defense grade.
Performance aside, as Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com put it, "Red Bryant always left it all on the field." A 323-pound bruiser in the trenches, Bryant is one free agent who would instantly improve Jacksonville's 29th-ranked run defense.
|Other Free-Agent Options for the Jaguars|
Building and maintaining a successful NFL franchise is a difficult task. Luckily for the Jaguars, Coach Bradley and Caldwell are the guys running the show.
With 10 picks at their disposal in the upcoming draft and a ton of cash to utilize in free agency, turning this team into a legitimate contender is a lot closer than most people think.
While wishing for a trip to Super Bowl XLIX may be a bit premature, as SportsIllustrated.com pointed out, one-season turnarounds in this league can happen in the blink of an eye.
All NFL free agency information and stats courtesy of NFL.com unless noted otherwise.
All cap information courtesy of OverTheCap.com unless noted otherwise.