We learned last night that the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to let receiver Mike Sims-Walker hit free agency and retained wide receiver Jason Hill for two more years, signing him to a new contract. Wide receiver was sort of viewed as a position of need, but now it absolutely is. I don't think the reality really hit a lot of Jaguars fans until last night, but then again Jaguars fans seem to have quite a bit of faith in a group outside of Mike Thomas that's wildly unproven. Mike Thomas, while steadily improving, still really isn't a proven receiver.
TO THE WELL!
The feeling by myself and seemingly most Jaguars fans was that with Mike Thomas, Jason Hill, and Mike Sims-Walker, the Jaguars had a nice young group of talented receivers. Sims-Walker was kind of a do-it-all player, Thomas owned the short routes, and Hill flashed the big-play deep ability. Fast forward and the likely starting receivers for the Jaguars are Mike Thomas and Jason Hill. That could potentially be a nice duo, but it's that dreaded "P" word. Jason Hill was a third round pick in 2007 for the San Francisco 49ers and never really did much. In four years on the 49ers, Hill notched only 40 receptions, and it's not like the 49ers were a team loaded at the receiver position.
Mike Thomas' production has increased and he's proven to be a reliable target. Many Jaguars fans feel like he can be a number one wide receiver, but I don't see it. I think he's a nice player, but I don't feel like he has the overall ability to be a primary type receiver. Because of the season Thomas had in 2010 and being David Garrard's favorite target, many fans seem to feel like he'll break into that number one receiver role after finishing 2010 with 66 receptions, 820 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Well, Mike Sims-Walker finished 2009 with 63 receptions, 869 yards, and 7 touchdowns... He was expected to take over that role in 2010 like Thomas seems to be expected to in 2011.
Hill flashed for the Jaguars after he was picked up on waivers mid-season, but still managed only 11 receptions in six games. He's already being crowned as a receiver who's flashed the ability to be a number one receiver, despite the production not being there yet. Sims-Walker received the same designation in the past, and we see how that panned out. I assume you see where I'm going with all of this...
Mike Thomas and Jason Hill however are not the biggest concern. With letting Sims-Walker hit free agency, there is a massive gaping hole at the third receiver spot. The depth at receiver last year was severely lacking, which is part of the reason Sims-Walker played much of the season on a high-ankle sprain instead of simply resting it. Fan favorite Jarett Dillard is an enigma. He's played just 7 games in his short 2-year career and has had reoccurring foot injuries. I like his game as a player, but you can't rely on him stepping into the third receiver role just yet, as he can't even get on the football field. I think the Kassim Osgood at anything-but-blocking wide receiver role has pretty much run its course. After that it's Tiquan Underwood who I'd really not rather spend much time on and John Matthews.
So, receiver will be an important position to upgrade, especially if the team thinks they're contending for a playoff spot. The question however is, how do you address it? There's always the draft, but rookie receivers rarely make a significant impact. There's the free agent market, but who do you get and how much do you pay?
There are players like Sidney Rice who will be available, but it's likely he'll garner a ton of interest and cost some coin, which I don't feel comfortable paying to a player who's only had a single good season and coming off major hip surgery. Santonio Holmes is available and has the feeling of a true number one receiver, but he's got a plethora of off the field issues you've got to sort through, including a year's suspension after another failed drug test. Braylon Edwards is available, but he's inconsistent with his hands as inconsistent can be. Malcom Floyd, the other San Diego Chargers receiver, will hit the market... but again, how much do you pay that guy?
One factor that will need to be considered if you plan to address wide receiver in free agency is this; Why would a top flight wide receiver want to come to the Jacksonville Jaguars? You have to factor in a couple variables when players consider the Jaguars. Do you want to play for a potentially lame duck coach? Do you want to play with David Garrard as the quarterback? Do you want to play in an offense that's run-heavy?
Receiver was, as I said, a pseudo-concern previously. Reality has hit however, and the receiving corps the Jaguars currently have is a woeful bunch until they're proven. Mike Sims-Walker isn't necessarily a huge loss, but more of a "Hey that problem you have, this didn't help it any" situation.
And I'm not sure how much they can prove.