(pic via ESPN)
With the signing of Aaron Kampman and the continued improvement of Derrick Harvey (not to mention the massive contract), it is already apparent that Reggie Hayward's starting defensive end spot is gone for good. It was reported before free agency that the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted to re-sign him, but Hayward balked at the prospect of taking a large cut in pay and in playing time. Though the Jaguars were offering little above the veteran's minimum, it was playing time in particular that bothered Hayward and kept him from rejoining the team.
But would Reggie Hayward be an asset to this football team?
I say no.
First of all, Reggie's playing time is certainly not going to be as much as before, and it will likely never rise to a level that would satisfy him. With the two starting spots already occupied by Harvey and Kampman, Hayward can at best only hope to be the first one off the bench. But why would he be? This is Quentin Groves's make-or-break season. You have to know that he will be given every opportunity to shine this season, and whether or not he actually makes good on his opportunities, the fact of the matter is that he will probably be on the field a lot. A 2nd round player is not just discarded without knowing absolutely that he has no role on your team, and his trial will last all season.
As for the other options not named Groves, Julius Williams is pretty much a less-heralded clone. Jeremy Mincey has loads of potential to be a disruptive force. He is sneaky-quick and has a good burst, and he has the advantage of being sized like a true DE instead of the tweener bodies of Groves and Williams. Jeremy Navarre also has a 4-3 DE's body, some quickness, and a good head between his shoulders. All three of these guys will be given an opportunity to be a major part of the DE rotation.
And since the draft hasn't happened, I can't comment on the defensive end that will inevitably be drafted by Jaguars. Gene Smith is a fan of youth, and the rookie will certainly be another Gene Smith guy that "gets it" and will steal even more playing time behind the starters.
There are several more tangible reasons weighing against Hayward. First and foremost, there is the fact that he is coming off of a season-ending injury...again. A broken leg is no laughing matter, and that is not including the fact that he will likely never be the same after the torn Achilles tendon. Hayward is also suffering from decreased productivity. In 2005, Hayward played well and got 8.5 sacks. In the four seasons since, he has a combined 9 sacks. That's a startling decline, and one that history and everything else about older players says will not be reversed.
Of course, being injury-prone has not helped his stats, since he has missed 34 games in those seasons, plus the two where he was knocked out with his catastrophic injuries. The Jaguars are already taking a chance with Aaron Kampman's knee injury. Do they really need another aging guy past his prime coming off a major injury?
Given his injury and injury history, his age, the slow rate of recovery given his age, and the potential of the young guys on the roster, there is no reason to expect Hayward would be guaranteed meaningful playing time or that he could even earn it. It's a young man's game, and Reggie's injuries add even more "age" to his body. And if he is indeed unable to earn the level of playing time he wants, who's to say he doesn't become a negative brooding influence in the locker room? It's unlikely, and Reggie seems like a classy guy, but the defensive end position already has a good coach in Joe Cullen. It also has a "veteran mentor" in Kampman, though I personally believe older players are still there to play and coaches are there to do any actual coaching.
So if he's not bringing production, there's already a smart veteran fulfilling a mentoring role on the roster, and there would be 5 (including at least one rookie) younger guys competing for the same small pool of playing time, what exactly is the benefit of bringing back Hayward? Even at the veteran's minimum, which it sounds like Hayward wouldn't accept, I don't see much upside.