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Free Agency: Expectations, Picks, and Prospects

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Gibril Wilson: Our next Free Agent signing?

Update [2008-2-28 19:28:52 by River City Rage]::Pete Prisco is saying that the Jaguars are going after Bryant Johnson. From the Jaguars.com Message Boards:

Prisco stated on his show today some of his sources inside the Jaguars whispered that the Jaguars are interested in free agent WR Bryant Johnson.
Prisco said Johnson made sense to Prisco as Johnson was a player who may be ready for that next level.
To illustrate his point, Prisco used the once unknown Joe Horn from the KC Chiefs, all of a sudden appearing on the landscape as a quality New Orleans Saint.
Prisco said the infusion of Johnson, Troy Williamson, and Mike Walker, combined with Todd Monken would really push the current WRs and may just mean the end of Matt Jones if Jones underperforms in training camp.
Finally, Prisco stated his sources said to totally discount the talk of microfracture surgery on Walker's knee.

Update [2008-2-28 18:49:31 by River City Rage]:: Andre Davis re-signed with the Texans, scratch him off the list.

Update [2008-2-28 18:11:29 by River City Rage]:: Just so you know, the Twitter Feed to the left of this post will be my "rumor mill" of the things I hear that I can't really justify devoting a full post toward. Like the one there now about Ernest Wilford and the Buffalo Bills.

Only a few more hours till the opening of free agency.  While I don't expect to see a huge amount of big money signings out of the Jaguars in the opening days, I've no doubt that we'll make quick moves on a few key players.  What I'm going to do here is lay out who I think we'll grab.  Some of this is speculation, some is an educated guess, and some is directly from team sources.  When possible, I'll grab some outside opinion on each player, as to give the best perspective possible.  While I'm pretty confident in each of these guys being targeted by the Jaguars, this is by no means a sure thing.  The NFL Free Agent market is a fickle thing, Agents have a chance to sign many "biggest ever" contracts.  Don't believe me?  The best fullback to hit the market, Greg Jones, is the highest paid fullback ever, Raiders Defensive Tackle Tommy Kelly, is the highest paid DT in league history.  Asante Samuel, more than likely, will be the richest cornerback ever.

The big money comes early as the market adjusts to a rapidly decreasing talent pool.  There are just enough top tier talents to start a spending spree as teams try and nail their needs before the talent drops a tier.  After the first 72 hours, unless something tremendous happens, the market will slow down and we'll start to see the second tier players get their signings.  Jacksonville has been very consistent in making a very quick "big signing" and then staying out of it till the money levels out.  I'd expect that trend to continue.  With all this in mind, here are my expectations for free agency.

1.  Gibril Wilson, Safety, New York Giants: Jacksonville needs some help in the defensive backfield, to say the least.  Tackling and consistent pass coverage were our weakest point on a defense that struggled.  Jacksonville could stick with Sammy Knight to backup Gerald Sensabaugh, but it makes sense for Jacksonville to go after Wilson, make him a starter, and increase our flexibility in the secondary.  What I like about Wilson is that he can play both free and strong safety and he's a solid tackler.  But don't take my word for it, SB Nation's Giants Blog Big Blue View :

Wilson is a guy the Giants can't afford to lose. That's not because he's a superstar -- he's not. He is a good player and the Giants have no way to adequately replace him.
Wilson, a four-year veteran, became a mainstay of the Giants defense halfway through his rookie season. At the time it looked like he might become a star. He's never quite reached that level, but there are a lot of teams who would love to have him.
He's a physical safety, a sure tackler and is excellent coming on the blitz. Typical of many safeties, though, he can get exposed in single coverage against a wide receiver.
I expect him to be a Giant next season. Because the Giants have no real way to replace him, and there are suitors like the Jaguars and Eagles, I think the Giants will overpay to keep him in New York.

According to A Philly paper, Wilson would be a 12 million per season, 20 million dollar signing bonus sort of guy.  Which is exceedingly expensive.  But everyone is going to be expensive, and since we're not going to pay 20 million dollars a season to someone like Asante Samuel, it makes sense to go after someone like Wilson.  If they cannot reach a deal with Wilson, look for the Jaguars to look at Madieu Williams of the Bengals.

2.  Josh McCown, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders: Quin Gray will not be a Jaguar next season.  He's going to taste the free agent market and play somewhere else.  Jacksonville is not going to pay near the money he'll get offered somewhere else.  Jacksonville will be aggressive in going after a solid veteran quarterback, and McCown tops their list.  They also like Washington's Todd Collins, but he's likely to be a little more expensive.  McCown is the right age to be a solid backup (28), and he can secure the second QB spot behind Garrard for a very long time.  I'd predict our Depth Chart at quarterback to be Garrard, McCown and Lester Ricard going into next season.  This is a high priority signing that will be completely under the radar, simply because we hope Josh never gets to see a start.  Cleo Lemon could be another possibility if McCown and Collins are unsignable.

3.  Andre Davis, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans:  I'm confident that the Jaguars foray into the rebuilding of their Wide Receivers is a two part move.  The first, Troy Williamson is a reaching sort of move for a possible career turnaround.  The second, Andre Davis, is a move to get a speedy straight line guy who can move the vertical zones.  One of our readers, Cuffs, was kind enough to write a scouting report:  

Andre came out of Virginia Tech in 2002's draft and was signed by the Cleveland Browns. He had an up and down series of years there which included a great rookie season followed by two more years with dwindling stats. His star seemed to have risen with the awesome ability as a kick returner / wide receiver.  After being placed on injured reserve near the end of 2004 with a toe injury, he was picked up by the New England Patriots (cough-Spygate-cough) for the 2005 season and was used very sparingly. Deciding to make a move with the Buffalo Bills for 2006 didn't prove very useful as he was primarily a special teams player and had his worst season as a wide receiver and kick returner. The Texans took a chance in 2007 where Andre had a resurgence and had stats just as good, or better, than his rookie year. His 30.3 yard average on kick returns tied for second in the NFL that year and his three touchdowns from kickoff returns tied for first. Of course, I'm sure everyone remembers that two of those TD's came against the Jaguars in one game, right?  

     It seems that the Texans felt he was up against two of the better NFL receivers in teammates Andre Johnson and Jerome Mathis. Perhaps they felt his talents weren't as necessary with the upside of the oft-injured Mathis' kick return proficiency. Maybe they felt they received everything they could out of his contract. What the Jaguars know is that they should be getting a NFL caliber receiver who has excellent acceleration and has proven himself to be able to compete at the same level as some of the leagues best. This is sounding like the year the Jaguars are grabbing, so far, wide receivers with velocity to stretch the field and give us an additional edge, which wasn't prevalent in last years offense.

And the ESPN Scouting Report:

Davis is a lean, solidly-built player with very good athletic ability. He has excellent straight line speed and can stretch zones vertically. Davis has good foot agility and quickness to avoid press coverage and run effective routes. He does tend to gather in his stems too often and needs to continue to develop as a route runner. Davis does have very good hands and adjusts well to make difficult catches. He appears to be more of an outside threat than a player that will go over the middle effectively. Davis has shown explosiveness with the ball in the past but was utilized little in 2006. He is a willing blocker but is not very physical and needs to improve in this area. He had his least productive season as a pro with only two receptions but does have value as a No. 2 receiver and a special teams contributor. He was an excellent returner out of college and has shown flashes as an effective kick returner in his early years with the Browns. Davis will be a good addition to a team's receiving corp if given a chance to show his ability. .

4.  Bryant Johnson, Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals: This is a more speculative guess at what we'll go after as a free agent receiver.  Arizona is in a difficult wide receiver situation because of the Larry Fitzgerald situation and it's unlikely that they can re-sign a guy like Johnson.  I'm not super excited about the guy because he seems to feel as though he's a number one guy that's stuck behind two pro-bowlers.  I worry that signing Johnson gives us another tall receiver with potential, but can he be the deep threat we're missing?  Here's his Scouting Report:

ohnson is well-built, physical and fast. He has quality tools and a good feel for the game. He can find voids in coverage when a play breaks down. He knows how to use his size and strength to create separation. He is a solid intermediate target. He has decent hands and can be an effective route runner. But Johnson's focus and consistency need to improve. He sometimes appeared frustrated with his role as Arizona's No. 3 receiver last season. His play seemed lackadaisical at times. He will peek at defenders around him in traffic and drop balls as a result. He muffs easy catches due to poor concentration. He makes many of the plays he should, but he doesn't offer much big-play ability. He doesn't play up to his timed speed. His effort as a route runner and downfield blocker could be better. He could be even more physical and a little tougher.

I don't think Johnson would be exceedingly expensive, but he's someone to keep an eye on.

What to do at Defensive End:
If you asked me a month ago what we were going to do at Defensive End, I'd declare that the Jaguars would be going "all-in" on someone like Antwan Odom or Justin Smith.  As I went through the combine and asked around, I'm much less confident.  Justin Smith and Odom are going to get paid and paid big.  I don't think the Jaguars will be in that sweepstakes.  There's Tennessee's Travis LaBoy, who's less of a full time DE and more of an obvious passing downs DE.  And then there's Calvin Pace, who's better in a 3-4, though alluded to in a very positive light by Jaguars.com's Vic Ketchman:

Calvin Pace--The same can be said of Pace. No one's quite sure what he'll command in free agency, but he offers more bargain upside than most pass-rushers. A former number one pick, Pace has a great first step and may only need to find the right team and the right coach.

I've also seen from the Florida Times-Union that Marcus Stroud MIGHT be traded for Lions Defensive End Shaun Rodgers. Doing so would sort of relieve our DE problem, but it's still something that would require a draft pick.

So there it is, my best guesses as to who we'll acquire in Free Agency.    If I'm right, I'll accept all praise for my amazing ability to prognosticate the Jaguars, if I'm completely wrong, I'll try harder next year.

My plan for the next several hours is to keep my ear to the ground and report whatever it is that shakes up.  They'll be a lot of nonsense and speculation, and I'm glad to be a part of it.  With a little luck the next few days will tell us a lot about the 2008 Jacksonville Jaguars

Stay Tuned!

-Chris