The Jacksonville Jaguars head into the 2015 NFL offseason with a big bank roll and from the sounds of it, they plan to spend that bank roll on key free agents. The big question obviously are which players, but if we look at the Jaguars needs we can get a good idea of the direction they might go.
So, what are the biggest needs for the Jaguars heading into the offseason? Below I'll give my thoughts, based on logic and things the team has done/said to project what I think the Jaguars needs are.
When I look at team needs, I always look to the quarterback first since that's most important and for all intents and purposes there, the Jaguars are alright. They just picked Blake Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick and have an adequate backup quarterback in Chad Henne, so that area isn't really a need based on the situation.
Now, the offensive line is an area the casual fan seems to scream the loudest about as being needed to be completely overhauled. As I've tried to explain in the past and as general manager David Caldwell kind of alluded to in his press conference, they like the young players they have at most of the positions on the line. The one area the team can really go out and upgrade is at the right tackle position, but even if they stick with Austin Pasztor it's not a total disaster. The biggest problem here is the offensive tackle free agent market isn't likely going to be all that great. You'll potentially have Brian Bulaga who will cost quite a bit, then you'll have Joe Barksdale and Orlando Franklin who may not even be that much better than Pasztor, an older vet on the decline or roll the dice with a rookie in the draft. That's about it.
Ultimately I think if they address right tackle in free agency, they'll open the checkbook for Bulaga. Or some mid-tier guy I've never heard of. From left tackle to left guard I think is set as far as starters, but I wouldn't be shocked to see depth/competition added. As far as starters though, it's basically right tackle or nothing.
I think the team is fine at both running back (GASP) and the wide receiver position, though I feel strongly the team will go out and add a proven veteran wide receiver since it's clear they plan to let Cecil Shorts III hit the market. I think that would be the right move, because while you've got a lot of promise in Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, you still need to add a proven veteran to that bunch. Running back I actually think Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson are good enough to platoon the job, especially if the new offensive coordinator utilizes Gerhart to his strengths.
The tight end position though, and I hate to say it because he's my dude, has got to be shuffled. The team should part ways with Marcedes Lewis and go pick up a free agent at the position who's more of a threat catching the football. Lewis has seen a sharp decline, likely due to all his injuries, but he's not even that great of a blocker anymore and that was always his calling card. The team can save a good chunk on the cap, which they can in turn use on his replacement. Behind Lewis I actually still like Clay Harbor even though he seemed to get locked in the back once Lewis came back and Nic Jacobs looks like someone who could develop into quality depth.
The defensive side of the ball has more needs than people think, but it's also ready made to be a top 15 defense next season with some key additions. Firstly, I would pick the best pass rusher available at the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. For me, that's Leonard Williams, but regardless I add youth to that line. Yes, the team had a lot of sacks last season but they still did not have consistent pressure or a guy who teams really had to identify and worry about outside of Sen'Derrick Marks. Red Bryant and Chris Clemons are long in the tooth, so injecting more youth to work up through the ranks would be perfect for the team.
At the linebacker position it appears my arch-nemesis Paul Posluszny is going to be back, but he at least hinted towards figuring out a way to lower his salary to stay on. Regardless, he's here for me to rip apart weekly again next season more than likely. The team appeared to find a stud in Telvin Smith and at the worst a good utility backup in J.T. Thomas, but they still need more speed and talent injected into the position. Pre-season All-Star LaRoy Reynolds never materialized in the regular season and outside of him the position really doesn't offer very much. I'd expect this to be a position where the team spends multiple draft picks on or a combination of free agency and the draft.
In the secondary, the Jaguars are actually pretty great. Aaron Colvin and Demetrius McCray look like very good players and even with his hiccups, Dwayne Gratz is at worst solid depth. Johnathan Cyprien seemed to shore his play up quite a bit in the second half of the season, and though he's not the playmaker a lot hyped him to be when he was drafted, he still appears to be a building block going forward. The other safety position desperately needs to be upgraded, however. I don't think Josh Evans is necessarily a bad player, I just think he's not that center field free safety that you need in the cover 3. I think Evans is a great backup to Cyprien and even a good player to have if you go for a three safety package on the field, but he's just not the center fielder at the NFL level.
I'd rank the Jaguars needs this way:
1. Young pass rusher
2. Free safety
3. Proven veteran receiver
4. Right tackle
5. All of the linebackers