With Free Agency inching closer, and the NFL combine beginning, Jacksonville's off-season options are becoming more apparent. The Jaguars coaching staff is filled with new, talented coaches, like Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson and Wide Receivers coach Jerry Sullivan. One of our biggest moves already in this off-season has been the ability to keep Mel Tucker as Defensive Coordinator.
As Free Agency gets closer, this coaching staff has already received praise from free agent wide receivers such as Brandon Lloyd, and the QB coach Greg Olson had a proven record with helping young quarterbacks become successful (Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman). Perhaps the most meaningful coaching move was retaining Mel Tucker at Defensive Coordinator, because this allows our defense to build on last years success. These coaching moves, along with the "Blank" check handed to Gene Smith, have placed the Jaguars in an opportunistic situation to improve the roster to playoff potential.
I want to break Free Agency down into the 3 or 4 positions we need. They will be written starting with most important. (This is assuming we resign Mincey, but let Mathis walk)
#1 WR : With Free Agency almost here, it is becoming obvious who will NOT be available. All the dreams of Dwayne Bowe coming the Jacksonville ended when the KC Chiefs signed Stanford Routt this week(yes, the fat lady is singing). Dwayne Bowe will be Franchised, along with another #1 Desean Jackson of the Eagles. This leaves Vincent Jackson (Mr. DUI), Marques Colston, Stevie Johnson, and Brandon Lloyd. There is still a chance that Jackson and Stevie Johnson get Tagged, though very unlikely.
The Jaguars, with new wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, will have some appeal for Free Agent Wide Receivers. This is something Jacksonville hasn't had in a LONG time, if ever. In terms of the best targets for the available "#1 WR's", Vincent Jackson I would avoid simply because of A) the price-tag B) The DUI history
This leaves The Jaguars with Colston, Stevie Johnson, or Brandon Lloyd. Gene Smith has a "Blank" check, and he likes signing players that are young and still improving (Paul Pozluzny, Dawan Landry). The Jacksonville Jaguars will take advantage of the Bills letting Stevie Johnson Hit the Market. Stevie Johnson will be the Jaguars #1 receiver in 2012.
Verdict: Stevie Johnson
#2 WR: Jacksonville's offense will not be fixed with just Stevie Johnson, so that turns Gene Smith's attention to his #2 receiver. Mike Thomas is at best a #3, so we hit the market again for our #2. Players like Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Laurent Robinson have all been mentioned here on BCC as solid #2 options.
With Gene already landing a young, improving Stevie Johnson, he has some flexibility with his #2. Mario Manningham stands out with his Superbowl performance, he is young and improving, but his price may be inflated because of this. Pierre Garcon is also a very intriguing sign as a #2, being young and with "home run" capability. I think Gene Smith could go with Pierre Garcon as his number 2, but i believe he pays a little more for Brandon Lloyd and creates one of the best duo's in the league at wide receiver. Lloyd has recently mentioned that he would want to be here in Jacksonville. Although a little older (30), Lloyd still has years left in the tank. With Johnson and Lloyd, who does the defense cover?
Verdict: Brandon Lloyd
#2 CB: Gene Smith did an incredible job building the defensive roster in 2011, and equally impressive was Mel Tucker's coaching job. Assuming the Jaguars let Mathis walk in 2012, Gene Smith will have to find a #2 CB to play next to the oft-injured Derek Cox.
The popular pick here at CB would be Brandon Carr of KC. As much as the signing of Routt hurt our chances with signing Dwayne Bowe, it increases our chances of landing Brandon Carr. That being said, Carr is going to get HUGE money on the market, and this will prompt Gene to look elsewhere. Brent Grimes, Terrell Thomas, and Cortland Finnegan are all viable options for Gene. One player I have not mentioned is Richard Marshall (WHO?!?) from the Arizona Cardinals. He was great against the run and played well against the pass towards the end of the season, and would come at a lower cost compared to Carr, Grimes, and Finnegan.
I think Gene targets Terrell Thomas and Richard Marshall (27), but ultimately I think Richard Marshall will be the CB the Jaguars sign for 2012.
Verdict: Richard Marshall. (Although, they may re-sign Will Middleton and give him a shot. He played well last season.)
Life after Free Agency
Obviously with these 3 moves Jacksonville will still have holes on the Defensive Line (who plays opposite Mincey?), and issues at RT on the Offensive Line. How amazing would it be to sign Mario Williams and line him up next to Mincey? It would turn our good defense into a potentially great one, but with our holes at WR and CB, Mario Williams and Cliff Avril will command a HIGH price tag (not to mention what we will be spending to bring back Mincey). With Mincey and Marshall, our defense is solid. Yes, we need another starting End, but that might just be what the draft is for.
Otherwise, the Defense with Mel Tucker will be effective with the the only hole at DE next to Mincey on the line.
Offensively, I have one word: Explosive. Adding Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd will not only help Blaine Gabbert, but how will the defense plan to stop Jones-Drew? Our biggest question mark (Other then Gabbert) is our Offensive line (who plays RT?).
If it plays out this way, our draft needs would be:
1. Starting RT
2. Starting DE
3. #3 WR