The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2014 offseason with needs at virtually every position except for cornerback and safety, as the team invested in those positions in the offseason and are loaded up with young talent. The team enters the offseason with 10 draft picks and somewhere between $50 and $60 million in cap space.
The big question is: What are they going to do with all of these assets.
Well, here's what I think.
As mentioned the Jaguars will have somewhere between $50 and $60 million in cap space for the 2014 offseason, but I do not believe that means they're going to go hog-wild spending money on free agents. The Jaguars are in essence slow playing the free agency market while they rebuild their roster, rolling over money from past seasons and compounding their cap space.
If you look at some of the more loaded rosters in the NFL such as the Cincinnati Bengals, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers they all have one thing in common: A young quarterback who is cost-controlled under the new rookie contract rules. This means that the teams can go ahead and invest front-loaded contracts to free agents and their own players to lock up their roster around the young quarterback before the quarterback eats up a good chunk of cap space. It's how the NFL is going to be "played" on the personnel side of things going forward.
This is precisely why the Jaguars will look to find their quarterback in the draft, but it's also worth noting the quarterback free agent market this year is a dumpster fire.
Moving on, I see the Jaguars approaching free agency much like they did this past offseason, signing a handful of fringe players on prove it type deals and hoping they can find another Alan Ball or Sen'Derrick Marks. While there are players like a Greg Hardy or Michael Johnson they could afford to throw big money at, they're still too far away to make that big splash on that kind of position right now. I'm not saying they won't pursue those types of players, but I just don't think they're going to throw those kind of contracts out this offseason.
There are a couple of exceptions here, depending on your definition of shelling out cash. The Seahawks could part ways with someone like Chris Clemons, who's on the wrong side of 30 and carries a roughly $9.7 million cap hit. The team can save $7.5 million by releasing him, which could also free up some funds to re-sign Earl Thomas and/or defensive lineman Michael Bennett...
...who could be a prime target for the Jaguars if he hits the market. I think the Bennett has shown the ability to make plays from all over the defensive line in the Seahawks defense, kind of signaling he'd be a perfect fit in Jacksonville. He's 28 years old, which might scare them off a bit, but his production in the same type of scheme has to be tantalizing if the Seahawks can't fit him into their cap situation. He finished the season with nine sacks and leading the Seahawks in pressures with 39.
Instead, I think they'll look for guys like O'Brien Schofield, who showed he still has pass rush ability during his limited play time with the return of the plethora of Seahawks pass rushers. The Jaguars had a chance to claim him this past offseason, but I've heard they passed because of his injury history and having to guarantee his salary if he was paid. He stayed healthy all season, albeit on limited snaps, but he might be someone willing to sign a 2-year type deal on a team with a similar defensive scheme.
Another player like Schofield could be Steelers rush linebacker Jason Worilds, who Adam Stites first brought up on Twitter. He's only 25 years old and has increased his sack total each season with increased playing time. It's unlikely the Steelers can afford to pay him anything significant, but should still be in the affordable range if the Jaguars want a pass rushing SAM linebacker, similar to how Seattle uses Bruce Irvin.
On the offensive side of the ball, I do think the Jaguars "spend" on at least one offensive lineman, be it a guard or a center. The big problem with the center free agent crop is it's really just two players, Alex Mack and Brian De La Puente. It's unlikely the former actually hits the free agent market and if he does, it's likely he'll be looking to be the highest paid center in the NFL, which puts his yearly salary around $6 million per year, a slight increase from what he was making previously.
The other spot the Jaguars could spend is the guard position, but like the center position it all comes down to how much you want to spend on non-premium positions. If they sign a starting player at the center position it's unlikely they do at the guard position and vice-versa.
TL, DR -- Expect more of the same as last year in free agency with possibly one "splash".
The way free agency plays out should signal some of the things the Jaguars will be doing in the 2014 NFL Draft. Two things I'm certain they will draft early on is a quarterback and a pass rusher. Be it with the No. 3 overall pick or the No. 39 pick in the draft, they should address both early on.
Speaking of the No. 3 overall pick I honestly think it's down to two things; If Teddy Bridgewater is available and if he isn't one of the pass rushers, be it Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr. I've noted before on Twitter that I don't feel they draft a quarterback if Bridgewater is not on the board, and that includes passing on Johnny Manziel.
Personally I just don't feel like anyone else is worth drafting at the No. 3 overall pick. Manziel is exciting and everything, but he has the potential to blow up in your face. I think he will do well in the NFL, but I'm not sure I'm spending that high of a pick on him to find out. Bridgewater on the other hand displays everything you look for in an NFL quarterback and appears he can start right out of the gate as a rookie. I'm not that high on Blake Bortles, at least in the Top 10 and the other quarterbacks mentioned don't really do much for me early on.
So, if Bridgewater is gone I would expect a pass rusher with the No. 3 pick, coming back for a quarterback in the second round, which I know goes against every fiber of my being and few on quarterback, but swinging for the sake of swinging is just as bad as waiting.
Moving forward, I think some other positions the Jaguars target will be offensive guard, running back and wide receiver. I wouldn't be shocked if the Jaguars took multiple receivers in this draft just because of the talent pool available with amount of underclassman declaring. The same could be said for running back, especially because I no longer feel that Maurice Jones-Drew will be back with the Jaguars.
The team has two fourth-round picks and three fifth-round picks and realistically could and should use four of those on running backs and receivers. The team still needs to add more speed to the offense and should really look to bring in a receiver who excels at contested catches, especially if they're going to be starting a rookie quarterback like most of us suspect.
Outside of that, look for speed on defense, especially at the linebacker position and a big defensive lineman. The Jaguars need to find someone to rotate with Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks next season.
TL, DR -- The Jaguars are likely going QB/DE with their first two picks in some order and add skill players on offense in the draft.