This article was written by Luke Sims of Black & Teal.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have 13 players set to hit unrestricted free agency and six players set to hit restricted free agents or to become exclusive rights free agents. General Manager Dave Caldwell has said that the Jags will not be active in free agency and will not be spending big money. The majority of the team’s free agent acquisitions will be undrafted free agents. This means that players like cornerback Derek Cox, linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, and fullback Greg Jones will likely be gone by next year.
This is a time of transition.
The Jags will let players with premier talent, like Cox, walk to because the market will be too competitive for them. The team is focusing on attaining building blocks that can create a foundation on which to build. Even though former GM Gene Smith’s focus was on getting “base hits” from the draft, the Jags have failed to find many players who are worth building around. As good as Knighton and Cox have been, they are expendable. Knighton lost his starting job to C.J. Mosley midway through the season and Cox has not completed 16 games in a season since his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, players like Jones and Smith are getting too old and will likely command more money than the Jaguars are willing to pay. Smith, the all-time franchise leader in tackles, missed almost all of 2012 with a groin injury while Jones is premier player at a third-tier position. Both have been with the team for a long time, but it is time to move on.
Other players who have played for the Jags for a long time and at a high level but will likely be departing include center Brad Meester and cornerback Rashean Mathis. Meester was unable to stay on the field for every down on many series and, despite his veteran experience, is starting to slip purely due to age catching up with him. Mathis lost a step or two a few years ago but signed an incentive-heavy one-year contract before the 2012 season. He was underwhelming and lost snaps to free agent acquisition Aaron Ross and then again to fifth round rookie Mike Harris.
The Jaguars likely will move past Meester and Mathis, but they would like to bring back Smith and Cox if the price is right. Cox’s agent believes there will be a “vigorous” market for the oft-injured corner, so it is doubtful he will return. Smith was recently listed as the best available free agent outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus, so it seems unlikely that he will return to the Jaguars despite his loyalty to the Black and Teal.
The Jags will instead focus on getting new, affordable, “value” pieces to add to the roster. The team is in desperate need for a new left guard, a new center if Meester walks, a new right tackle, pass rushers, two linebackers, and a cornerback. The team could also use improvement at defensive tackle. Not all of these pieces can be solved in free agency, and likely not in the draft as well.
Free agency offers some good opportunities at right tackle, particularly a player like the Detroit Lions’ Gosder Cherilus. The Jags should make a play for a mid-range right tackle who can play at an average level. If the team can’t get any form of improvement over the combination of Cameron Bradfield/Eben Britton/Guy Whimper (released) it would be shocking. Even a right tackle who is simply a road grater and could use work in pass protection would be better than what the team currently has.
The Jaguars do not look to be trying to solve many holes through free agency. With the depth of this year’s draft class, holes at left guard, defensive end, cornerback, and linebacker should be able to be filled with young guys with upside. Unlike Gene Smith, Caldwell is about hitting homeruns, so expect the Jaguars to aim for players who could be something special, even in undrafted free agent rookies.
Wide receiver Jordan Shipley, defensive end John Chick, and center/guard John Estes are all restricted or exclusive rights free agents and should likely be made offers by the team and retained. Shipley and Chick both have the potential to be effective role players for the Jaguars. Shipley managed to be one of the team’s best receivers even though the Jags picked him up in the latter half of the season.
Free agency will not be a busy time for the Jaguars as the team focuses on finding young talent to fit into the roster and build on.