I don't know about you, but I'm currently of the mindset that there will be a new CBA in place before too long, and that free agency will happen. If so, the Jaguars have some significant players whose contracts are up and will be heading into free agency. Part of building through the draft is securing more picks for your team without sacrificing current success. Compensatory picks are given to teams who "lose" more (in terms of contracts and on-field production) than they acquire in free agency. Last year we signed Aaron Kampman to a big deal and gave Kassim Osgood a three year deal also, so the jaguars will likely not be awarded any extra picks this year. Compensatory picks are signs that your team has talent to spare, and also allow teams to draft more players for the franchise's future. I want to see if there is a way the Jaguars could come of free agency this year having earned compensatory picks in next year's draft. I think I've formulated a decent plan. So, how would I handle free agency this year? Keep reading to find out.
The first thing to do is to see who is on the way out. Players whose contracts are up with the Jaguars: QB Luke McCown, WR's Jason Hill and Mike Sims-Walker, LB's Justin Durant, Kirk Morrison, and Freddy Keiaho. OT Guy Whimper, S Sean Considine. There may be others, but these are the ones I know of.
Technically, Adam Podlesh and Marcedes Lewis are free agents also, but I fully believe that both players will be locked up in long-term contracts very soon. Podlesh proved his worth in the Jaguars excellent special teams unit, and Lewis is an absolute stud TE, possibly top three in the NFL. I consider those two players the only sure-fire absolute given re-signings.
The next question to ask is, who are the Jaguars willing to drop? The Jaguars will likely be adding a QB in the draft, and even if they don't, Trent Edwards is still on the roster for cheap. I believe the Jaguars will be willing to let Luke McCown go in free agency. I believe that between Durant and Morrison, the Jaguars will likely only keep one guy. Morrison is a pretty good tackler, but not the consistent performer the Jags were hoping for, and Durant is injury prone. Freddy Keiaho will probably be gone. I could see the Jaguars being willing to keep Guy Whimper, actually, and Sims-Walker controls his own destiny. If he wants number 1 receiver money, the Jaguars will probably let him walk, if his bottom line is more humble, the team might hold on to him. Considine is replaceable. So, there are lots of options here.
Question number two: Would anybody want these players in mid- to high-priced free agency? In a year when the quarterback crop in free agency is pretty light, Luke McCown might draw some slight interest. He probably wouldn't find a starting spot, though, so at best he'd sign a 2-year deal. Durant and Morrison have both proven to be starting-quality players. Durant is younger and would probably get more attention, but I would expect someone to make a play for either of these guys. Freddie Keiaho will likely not have any impact on the picks. I believe the player with the greatest help for the Jaguars' hope for compensatory picks is Sims-Walker. Some team out there will put on tape of MSW and see a number one wide out. He could command a pretty penny in free agency, something like 3 years, $13-15 million, probably without much difficulty. Whimper and Considine won't be big-time free agents.
If it was me, I'd let McCown, Morrison, Sims-Walker, Keiaho, and Considine make it out to free agency. I'd expect Morrison and Sims-Walker to command decent-sized contracts. McCown might make a little splash, and Keiaho could be signed to a small-time deal as well.
Now, with that in mind, what would the Jaguars like to do in free agency, and can the team still wind up "losing" more than they add? I think the Jaguars are likely to make a maximum of three signings in free agency. The team will almost certainly try to fill the holes at the LB spot and in the secondary, most likely as a patch, so that the team can comfortably draft without worrying about need. The team needs a little bit of depth along the D-line, but the draft is deep in defensive linemen, so I'd expect that to be handled in the draft.
If Sims-Walker leaves, Gene might be tempted to try finding a wide receiver, but given Gene's propensity for finding guys like Hill off the street, this doesn't seem like a likely move. There are some concerns about age in the middle of the offensive line, but the team has some jars on the shelf and could very easily draft an interior lineman. Value is good at that position. No matter what happens, Rashean Mathis is about 90% to be on the team and in the starting lineup next year. I'm one of the people who think he could play safety. He did it in college and played 6 games at FS in his rookie year with the Jags in 2003.
The way I see it, the Jaguars are most likely to "lose" Sims-Walker, Morrison, and McCown, and sign only one linebacker and one safety. If this happens, the Jaguars could come away from this off-season addressing team needs and still getting a 6th or 7th round compensatory pick. If it works out that way, I'd consider it a pretty sweet offseason by Gene Smith.