With the Defensive Tackles out of the way logically the next area to examine are the Defensive Ends. Clearly this is a far bigger task than addressing our tackles, simply because there were just so many problems with our play on the ends. The role of the pass rushing defensive end, while always important, will reach astronomical levels as the league seeks to emulate what Tom Coughlin and Tony Spagnulolo accomplished with the Giants. I can just see Jared Allen watching the Super Bowl and salivating at the thought of what that game did for his market value. Julius Peppers, a year away from Free Agency, will probably re-double his efforts to have a crazy contract year so that he can cash in.
My point is that the price of premium pass rushers, while already high, just rose exponentially. We might look back on the Colts 72 million dollar (30 million in guaranteed money), signed only last July, as an underpayment, considering what could happen in the next month or so. But I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit. We can't understand what's going to happen through free agency or the draft unless we know what we have on our roster right now, what we're going to lose, and who might step up from inside the organization.
It is important to remember that there are really two types of defensive ends on the Jaguars. You have your traditional DE's like Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer. These are the "big guys", 6-4 to 6-6, and between 260 and 300 lbs. However, Jacksonville has a group of "tweener" DE/LB's. Players like Brent Hawkins, Kenny Pettway, and Brian Smith fit this mold. Some places list these guys as Linebackers. Even the Jaguars Official Roster is misleading, listing a player as a linebacker but calling him a DE in the description. These smaller players are considered to be designated pass rushers, put in on obvious passing downs, and are to use their quickness to sprint around the edge and make the sack. They're considered too "small" to be a run stuffing DE, somewhere around 6-4, and 240 lbs.
Last week I described Marcus Stroud's 2007 campaign as a disappointment. The same could be said for Reggie, though I'm far more understanding with Reggie's situation than I am Stroud. Don't get me wrong, both players are recovering from a significant injury, but when I watched the two players this season I just got the feeling that Hayward was working harder to recover. It's a completely subjective opinion. Reggie blew out his Achilles Tendon early in the 2006 season against the Cowboys and simply wasn't the same player in 2007. Good defensive ends need an explosive first step to get around the offensive line and go after the quarterback and a healthy Reggie has just that. Unfortunately, between the surgery and rehab, we just don't know if he'll get that quickness back and be the force we paid so much for in 2005.
Reggie is a little expensive for a player that has a lot of unknowns. He has a 3.5 million dollar salary in 2008 and given that he's clearly struggling to perform, I don't know if the Jaguars will want to invest that much, especially if an expensive free-agent is brought in. I'd imagine that Reggie will have a lot to prove in Training Camp, and having a full two years since his injury could bring back the spring in his step to return him to his 2005 numbers (8.5 Sacks). My instinct says that Reggie will be part of the Jaguars 2008 plans under just about any circumstance, considering that we're sure to lose at least one other player at that position, and while 3.5 million is a lot to pay, he deserves the chance to prove he's still got it. Besides, he's only 29, and can basically treat this as a "prove it" year if he want's to get one more big pay day out of his career.
Bobby had a chance to get a giant check from the Jaguars. McCray was fantastic in 2006, with 10 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and simply made big plays. Bobby decided that he wanted to hold out for a big contract, knowing that the Jaguars wanted to merely pay him his RFA Free Agent Tender and make him prove that he's worth the big money. So what did Bobby do in his "contract year"? Nothing. He got deactivated by Del Rio for two games, he only made 3 sacks, all of which came late in the season. In fact, the two sacks against the Raiders in week 16 shouldn't even count, considering the opponent. Bobby only had 3 tackles from week 1 to week 10, and then stayed home in weeks 11 and 12. Sometimes players get an extra boost of motivation when they're playing for a huge signing bonus, like Shaun Alexander did a few seasons ago. Bobby went the opposite route, and probably cost him several million dollars in the process. He said that 5 million a year is too little to stay in Jacksonville. Quite frankly, I hope he gets that money somewhere else, cause I don't want his attitude and poor play anywhere near our defensive line. I'm ok with addition by subtraction.
He Will Not be a Jaguar. His perceived value is far larger than what the Jaguars will pay him. He had his shot with us, now it's time for him to go burn another teams Salary Cap.
All Hail Paul! Here we have the most consistent and powerful presence on the defensive line, drawing double teams, and leading the team in sacks! All this from a 32 year old elder statesman on the line who should, for all intents and purposes, be on the declining edge of his career. Yet right now you'd have to consider him the Jaguars best defensive end going into the 2008 season (as of today, of course). Paul's best game came in week 6 against Houston where he had a sack, a forced fumble, and 6 tackles. My favorite thing about Spicer is that he has a knack for getting to Peyton Manning (2.5 times this season), and brings a relentless pressure to our rush. His production to cost ratio is just about right and he's under contract through this season, so he might have one final pay day in his future as well.
We'll have a 33 year old Spicer going into the 2008 season, which could mean that we see a bit of a decline. Realistically, I'd expect to see his numbers fall a bit, but more so due to the presence (hopefully) of some fresh talent on the line and the return of Hayward to form. As long as Paul remains technically sound and healthy he'll be part of our rotation at end. It could be his last year with the Jaguars, so I'd love to see him go out with a bang/play like it's a contract year.
James spent the 2007 campaign on injured reserve with a groin injury. Which is a shame because he showed flashes of greatness in training camp. Vic Ketchman described him as a first day (of the draft) talent that fell to the 7th round. Unfortunately, he's never played a snap for the Jaguars in the regular season. He's a big fast guy though, and considering what little we have at defensive end, he's a guy who has to step up and prove he's worth something this season. He is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he'll be a Jaguar or nothing next season, so there's that.
I'd say he needs to double his stats from last season, but considering doubling zero is still zero I guess we need a different standard for Wyche. How about playing in a regular season game? Seriously, after two years with the team it's pretty much now or never to show you can have some sort of impact. He could show up in August and blow everyone away with his speed, and I'd be OK with that, but just show us something. The team's obviously seen something in him to keep him around, now he's just got to do something to justify it.
With Jeremy comes the start of our "DPR" or undersized defensive ends. Jeremy played in 6 games this season, as well as in both post-season games. Due to his situational nature, his stats are misleading as he does bring pressure, but it's hard to break that down without having a few copies of the coaches tape. He came to the Jaguars off of the 49'rs practice squad, and was originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the 6th round, so the investment in Mincey is limited. However, because he's only 24, he has the potential to fill out a bit on his frame and become a full time DE, especially if he can work on his technique and not get blown away in running plays.
He's inexpensive, he's got potential, and of all the DPR sort of ends, Mincey has the potential to grow into a full time DE. He'll be a Jaguar next season, but the expectations will be high in training camp, considering that cutting Jeremy would cost the team next to nothing.
Fairly or not, the biggest thing you heard out of Brent Hawkins was his January DUI arrest. Though he did have one hell of a game against the Steelers in week 15 (2 sacks). Brent is only used on passing downs and he's a true DPR, though his numbers don't really show much impact. He's a guy who needs to either get much better at bringing the heat or bulk up and play the run better. I'm not a big fan of his, though I'm pretty biased against any Jaguars who drag the teams name through the mud. I mean seriously, take a cab. Don't be dumb.
This is where I have questions about our new Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. Is he going to focus on bringing the heat from our linebackers and use our DPR sort of players in that role? Or is he going to want to fill out the ends with more traditional "big guys" and cut guys like Hawkins who are less useful in stopping the run. I can't predict how we use Brent and what he does for us in 2008 until I get a better idea of how Williams brings the pressure. Brent is an "attack guy" sort of player, so I'd imagine that he'll stay with us next season, but it's just too early to tell.
Yet another "tweener" type player, he's also an unknown quantity as he spent his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve. He could also replace Hawkins as the DPR guy, considering that in college he racked up a ton of sacks (31.5 in 44 games), but de to a hip injury was unable to do anything for the Jaguars. Frankly, I hope he spent the year on IR bulking up a bit because at 6-4, 239 he seems a little thin to be a defensive end.
I'd love to see what this player can do. He was a sack machine in college, and Jacksonville could certainly use that at DE. We don't really know what he can do though, so all eyes will be on him in training camp. I can't imagine broken hips being too detrimental of an injury over the long term, so hopefully he's a big producer next season.
The Jaguars will, without a doubt, address the Defensive End position during the off-season. Our lack of a pass rush, especially off of the edge, prevented the Jaguars from making any sort of legitimate pressure. Ending drives early through sacks and forced fumbles can take some pressure off of the offense and prevent teams from coming back (like Pittsburgh did in the playoffs)
Potential Free Agents:
Jared Allen: Sorry, I just don't see the Chiefs letting Allen get away from them. They'll either sign him for huge money or slap the franchise tag on the guy. Though I love the idea. Character issues though, we'd have to put a personal taxi in his contract, just to prevent any DUI's.
Terrell Suggs: Another guy doomed to the Franchise Tag, Baltimore will be using the tag on him before the 21st, eliminating him from consideration. Of course, the Jaguars could give up two first round picks to get him, but that's just a really poor choice. Nobody is worth two first round picks. Maybe Tom Brady, but that's a big maybe.
Justin Smith: Here's a guy that could be a Jaguar. Because of his current salary, the Bengals would have to pay him 10.372 million dollars. You see, the franchise tag is either the average of the top five players at that position OR 120% of his previous years pay, whichever is greater. In this case, he'd get the 120%, and there's just no way the Bengals spend that much to keep him off the market. Ask Vic has been high on Smith as well, and he seems to be an underutilized player who can play the run as well as rush the passer. I'd be ok with him, though I'd like more information.
Antwan Odom: My personal favorite choice for the DE Sweepstakes. The Titans have just too many players to re-sign, and certainly won't spend money on Odom with Haynesworth needing a new contract. The problem with Odom is that he's got two other great players on the same defensive line, so you can't really tell how much his numbers are padded by default. He's got a good motor though and he's also going to be cheaper than some of these other guys, and I really like that.
Jason Taylor: He's 32, he was defensive player of the year in 2006, and he's subject to debate as to if he's worth trading for or not. I'm torn about him myself. First off, he'd need a reasonable contract, as I think he's due over 6 million this season, and that's way too much for an aged veteran. Though, there's something to be said about a well timed influx of talent on the defensive line, especially if we get some youth through the draft. If the Jaguars could get him for like a 3rd round pick, I'd be pretty happy. But nothing more, and it better be a reasonable contract.
So there you go, a look at our Defensive Ends. We've got a lot of work to do at this position, and the salary cap money to make a big move. Unfortunately, the big name talent might be slapped with the Franchise Tag and be off the market before we can even do anything. Then there are guys like Jason Taylor who are on the later side of their prime but could bring a quick influx of talent. It's a big decision all around.
What do you think?
(next up: Linebackers!)