One of the big areas of concern and biggest battles in training camp revolves around the interior of the offensive line. There is a 3-way battle for one position, as it seems like Uche Nwaneri and Brad Meester have solidified their positions at guard and center.
So, what happens when someone wins?
As it stands currently, the first team offensive line looks like this:
E. Monroe - K. Forney - B. Meester - U. Nwaneri - E. Britton
It's very, very possible it stays that way going into the regular season if Kynan Forney doesn't falter down the stretch. Ideally the Jacksonville Jaguars would like guard Vince Manuwai to return to his dominating form and beat out Forney for the other guard position, but it hasn't happened yet. This reason, leads many to speculate that Manuwai might be on his way out the door given his salary, which is approximately $3 million for the season.
While that is a good chunk of change to pay a back up offensive lineman, I feel it's a cost the Jaguars need to eat.
Earlier in the off-season I felt that Brad Meester might find his way off of the roster if certain factors were met, based on some information from a couple of my sources. Those factors were not met, and it's highly unlikely Brad Meester is released, nor should he be at this point. Meester has had a nice camp. Some of the factors included how certain reserve lineman such as John Estes (pictured, and who recently suffered a knee injury) looked in camp, how certain guards played, and how Uche Nwaneri performed.
One of those factors however, was offensive guard Justin Smiley, who the Jacksonville Jaguars acquired in a trade from the Miami Dolphins earlier in the off-season.
Smiley was traded for a conditional draft pick, and one of the conditions has to do with making the football team. One of the reasons I feel the Jaguars need to eat the cost of Vince Manuwai, even if he winds up being a back up, is that the risk of the interior line depth becomes too great. If Manuwai is released, the primary back up guard becomes Justin Smiley. When healthy, Justin Smiley is a very good football player and this wouldn't be an issue.
When healthy however, is the problem.
Prior to the trade, the Miami Dolphins would not allow Justin Smiley to even work out with the team in fears he might injure himself. Bear in mind, Smiley has not played a full NFL season since 2006. While Justin Smiley did take a $5 million pay cut when he was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, there are still concerns about his health. There hasn't been a practice that I've been to that Smiley has not had something iced either during or immediately after practice, most noticeably his shoulder. He's also missed quite a few practices all together.
This brings up a very serious issue with the idea of Vince Manuwai potentially being released.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are gambling on Justin Smiley, a player with an injury history and who still isn't fully healthy, being the primary back up at guard.
Lest we forget about the 2008 season, when the interior of the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line was ripped to shreds and starting just about anyone they could find to start for them. Smiley, while taking an overall $5 million pay cut, only had his salary reduced to $2.5 million this season which is only $500,000 less than what Vince Manuwai is due.
The trade for Justin Smiley was a very smart calculated risk by general manager Gene Smith, but I'm not so sure he's willing to take this much of a potential injury and depth risk in releasing Vince Manuai. Manuwai hasn't been poor in training camp and the pre-season, he just hasn't been the Vince Manuwai we've come to know, one of the most dominant run blockers in the NFL.
If Manuwai is released, he will most certainly be picked up rather quickly by another team. Releasing him and relying on a player with an injury history, unproven young guards, or converted young offensive tackles in a season as important as this one however, is too much of a risk to take.