This isn't to totally just brush aside the rest of the 2013 NFL season and give up on it, despite the fact that it looks like the Jacksonville Jaguars could realistically go 0-16, but more of a sort of epiphany I had while going back and watching some of the Jaguars games on coaches film.
The Jaguars aren't a good football team, but I don't think they're nearly as bad as we all think they are.
The big problem for the Jaguars is that they're critically bad at the two most important positions in the NFL; Quarterback and pass rusher.
At this point I think it's safe to assume the Jaguars will be drafting a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. It's easy to say they need to trade down and get more picks, but the reality is they need a quarterback first and foremost. A quarterback can hide the problems on your team and makes team building that much easier, but you have to hit on the guy. So, for the sake of this we'll assume the Jaguars pick a quarterback with their first pick in the draft.
Now, heading into free agency and knowing you're drafting a quarterback in the first round it still leaves a void at the defensive end position. It's likely the Jaguars lose Jason Babin in the offseason, be it by releasing him or Babin using the void clause in his contract to become a free agent. I also think it's likely the team loses Jeremy Mincey because his deal balloons to a $6.5 million cap hit, which is a lot of money for a role player (which is what he's been in this defensive scheme). I also think it's likely that Paul Posluszny is gone, especially if LaRoy Reynolds makes progress from where he's at currently. There's still a chance Posluszny sticks it out another year, but as a $9 million cap hit, that's a ton of money to use on a limited defender.
Not only will the Jaguars be losing those players on the defense, but I feel it's safe to assume Brad Meester will retire at the end of the year, which will leave the Jaguars searching for a center. This leaves big holes at defensive end and center, which in turn are the two positions I could see the Jaguars spending money on in the offseason.
I think the Jaguars are going to approach free agency similar to how they did in 2013, but they're going to have to spend money at one or two positions just for the sole fact that you can't completely build through the draft and it goes a long way in showing fans that you're trying, though that's never really a reason to go spending in free agency.
One target I think may need to keep our eyes on is Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, who was franchise tagged this past offseason and looks destined for free agency. The Bengals just signed Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap longterm, and given how they operate Johnson seems destined for free agency. He's a bit of a tweener defensive end that the Bengals use at linebacker at times, drop in coverage, and as an edge rusher. Sounds like a LEO to me, and he's only 26 years old, turns 27 in February.
The big problem is, he could be coming off two double-digit sack seasons, which means you're going to have to pony up some cash, which I think the Jaguars will if they feel he can be a long-term solution to the position. Signing someone like Johnson wouldn't prevent them from drafting a pass rusher, either. Just look at how the Seattle Seahawks have stacked themselves with pass rushers, and you can see why this could be a play. It gives you an immediate pass rush threat, which is sorely lacking from the team, and also gives you a rookie to groom and work into the lineup.
There's also guys like Michael Bennett, Brian Orakpo, Greg Hardy, Lamarr Houston, etc. scheduled to hit free agency, though doubtful most of those guys make it. It's also possible someone like Chris Clemons of the Seahawks is a depth/cap cut (however, unlikely) that we can look to as well.
The next big issue is the center position, which is in my opinion the second most important spot on the offensive line outside of left tackle. While the interior line play of the Jaguars guards has been subpar, a lot of the issue is that Meester's play has severely fallen off. If you have good center play and adequate tackle play, it can make up for a lot of the other issues on the offensive line. Center is the other position I could see the Jaguars targeting and spending on in free agency, maybe if someone like Alex Mack or Brian De La Puente hits the open market.
I mused a little about it on Twitter yesterday, but after watching all five weeks of the Jaguars losses on the All-22, I feel like they're a bad football team, but they're not as bad as it appears. If they can hit on a quarterback (A big if, I know) and land a consistent edge rushing threat, this team has the blocks in place to make huge strides in 2014. Of course, right now huge strides appear to be 5-8 wins, but they're still strides none-the-less.
The other factor in this window is that, if the Jaguars get their quarterback and hit on him, they'll have a short window where he's a highly cap-controlled player because of the new CBA. Teams and players cannot begin negotiations for a new deal until after their third season. This means that for the first three seasons of the quarterback's career, he is cost controlled. His salary cap hit will be minimal, which frees you up to absorb bigger cap hits early on potential free agents or re-signings.
Building a good, young roster has a lot to do with managing your competitive windows now, as well as hitting on key draft picks and free agents.
Look at what the Seahawks did this offseason, knowing they have Russell Wilson for ridiculously cheap for at least another season, they can gobble up free agents before handing Wilson a new deal. Typically when you get to that second contract for a quarterback, which you absolutely hope to do, it's going to start controlling your cap. It will likely be the biggest cap hit you have year-to-year, so you have to plan ahead with it.
The Jaguars will have tons of cap room, especially if they let other players walk which will clear cap space, so if they want to make a select splurge or two on potential long-term solutions, they can do so without messing up their future spending/cap.
But anyway, I just wanted to put this down before I forgot about it.