Jacksonville Jaguars: 9 Early Winners and Losers of the Offseason

Vaughn JohnsonCorrespondent IIJune 20, 2012

Jacksonville Jaguars: 9 Early Winners and Losers of the Offseason

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars have had some victories during this offseason and have had its share of losses as well.

    The Jaguars have had an eventful offseason starting with the hiring a new head coach, some pretty big free-agent signings and some noteworthy draft picks (one being noteworthy for the wrong reasons).

    Those on-the-field stories are compounded by a player arrest and a potential holdout.

    The Jaguars enter the 2012 season not in obscurity like in most seasons, but in somewhat of the spotlight for the first time in a long time.

    After all of that, here some winners and losers at this point of the Jags' offseason.

Winner: Blaine Gabbert

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    Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert will actually be a winner and a loser of this offseason.

    We'll get to why he's a bit of a loser a little later, but here's why he's a winner. 

    Gabbert is a big winner because he finally has weapons to throw to. The Jaguars went out signed receiver Laurent Robinson away from the Dallas Cowboys and drafted Justin Blackmon in the first round of this year's draft. 

    Outside of former Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis, Gabbert had virtually no weapons to throw to during his rookie campaign.

    With productive receivers to throw to, it increases the margin of error for Gabbert. He should improve upon his 12-touchdown, 11-interception output from 2011.

Winner: Running Back Not Named Maurice Jones-Drew

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    For Rashad Jennings, DuJuan Harris, Jalen Parmele, Montell Owens and Richard Murphy, this is a very opportune time to get yourself noticed. 

    With the absence of usual starter Maurice Jones-Drew, that means more reps for these guys and more chances to show the new coaching staff what they have to offer. 

    Depending on how long Jones-Drew's contract squabble lasts, one or two of these guys could turn into the main running back(s) for the Jaguars offense. 

    Between the five backs, they have a combined 153 carries for 830 yards in their careers. The majority of that comes from Jennings who has carried the ball 123 times for 661 career yards.

Winner: Linebackers

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    The linebacker unit for the Jaguars was very productive during the 2011 season. Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith each recorded more than 100 tackles.

    The unit could get even better, not by their own doing, but with an improved defensive line.

    A good defensive line could make good linebackers look great, and the same could happen for the Jaguars in 2012.

    Being added to a defensive line that already has Terrance Knighton, Tyson Alualu and Jeremy Mincey will be rookie and pass-rush specialist Andre Branch out of Clemson.

    More attention paid to the lineman means more room for the linebackers to make plays.

Winner: Andre Branch

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    Speaking of Andre Branch, he's another one of the winners.

    After the Jaguars released veteran defensive lineman Aaron Kampman a couple of weeks ago, it essentially opened a clear path for Branch to become the full-time starter.

    The one drawback of not having Kampman was having him mentor Branch on the ins and outs of pass rushing. 

    But after a solid minicamp showing, Branch could turn into a player good enough to put on the field immediately.

Winner: Rashean Mathis

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    Cornerback Rashean Mathis was finally cleared to play a couple of weeks ago after tearing his ACL in November 2011.

    Depending on how healthy he is and how fluid he can be in his back pedal and going in and out of his breaks, Mathis could return to being the productive corner he once was.

Loser: Blaine Gabbert (again)

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    As much as Gabbert can be considered a winner this offseason, he could also be considered a loser, and in some cases, it could be for the same reason he's a winner.

    For instance, his new receivers are a factor. Gabbert getting new receivers will help him, but it also comes with higher expectations to perform as well, as there will be little to no excuses in 2012.

    In the event that he doesn't perform, he has a new head coach who didn't draft him who could be willing to pull the trigger and put in a quarterback he went out and signed during the offseason as a bit of an insurance policy in Chad Henne.

    There's also the possibility of a lengthy holdout from running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who Gabbert could always rely on when things got tough in 2011. 

    If Jones-Drew and general manager Gene Smith do not come to some type of common ground, even more of the onus will fall on the shoulders of Gabbert.

Loser: Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Maurice Jones-Drew is a loser of this offseason in a myriad of ways. 

    For one, he doesn't seem to be getting the new contract that he wants. Secondly, the time away from the facility and away from learning the offensive system of head coach Mike Mularkey could hurt his performance when it is finally time to play.

    Lastly, whenever a player uses a holdout as a means to get a new contract, it never necessarily endears him to the fanbase, and the same could happen to Jones-Drew.

    Although he's deserving of a new contract after leading the league in rushing, he still has two years left on his current deal and holdouts in general are never a good look. 

    When a player who makes millions of dollars asks for more money, it usually receives the ire of the average fan living from paycheck to paycheck—no matter the circumstances.

    Jones-Drew is one of the best players in NFL today, and the Jaguars need him in order to have any level of success in 2012. The only way for that to happen is to get back on the field with his teammates.

Loser: Gene Smith

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    Although Jaguars general manager Gene Smith has a point in not being on board with simply handing over a new contract to Jones-Drew with two years remaining on it, he should at least negotiate some way of rewarding the man who carried the franchise last season and led the league in rushing.

    If Smith doesn't nip this in the bud now, or at least listen to Jones-Drew, the problem could affect his on-field performance, much like it did for wide receiver DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, and the problem will still exist this time next year.

    The negotiations could last throughout the season. If Jones-Drew is having another great season, the talks could get more serious, and he could sign the deal late in the season. It's not outside the realm of possibility as Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a big contract in the middle of the season in 2011.

Loser: Justin Blackmon

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    We saved the most obvious for last with rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

    Blackmon is probably the biggest loser of the offseason because unlike the other losers, he doesn't have a contract yet.

    On June 3, Blackmon was arrested for the second time in two years for nearly the same thing, instantly raising red flags about his character.

    Blackmon hasn't caught a pass or even played a snap in the NFL, and he's already made a name and reputation for himself—but for all of the wrong reasons.

    The arrest not only raised red flags, but raised questions about his maturity and could effect how much money he could make and what kind of incentives are put into his contract. 

    None of the top eight draft picks have been signed yet so the Jaguars will more than likely wait and see what the Vikings give Matt Kalil (No. 4) and what the Cowboys give Morris Claiborne (No. 6) before deciding on what hand over to Blackmon (No. 5).

    It has been made quite clear that there is no place for this type of behavior in Roger Goodell's NFL. The sooner Blackmon can learn this, the quicker he can get off this list.