2013 Team Needs: Jacksonville Jaguars
As Mike Renner writes, the Jaguars' need to find multiple roster improvements could be best served by chasing talent wherever they find it in free agency.
2013 Team Needs: Jacksonville Jaguars
Another year, another new head coach in Jacksonville. Shahid Khan brought in GM David Caldwell shortly after the season and Caldwell then proceeded to fire head coach Mike Mularkey. Now Gus Bradley is the head coach and the good news is they have the No. 2 overall pick. The bad news is there are a lot of positions of need in Jacksonville that the No. 2 pick alone won’t fix.
There was no singular reason the Jaguars struggled to 2-14. Their offense finished 31st overall in PFF rankings and their defense finished 30th. So when the Jaguars are looking to make personnel changes this offseason, they might be better served to look for talent and value as opposed to need.
The Jaguars’ biggest need position might not even be addressed this offseason. No free agents would be much of an upgrade from Chad Henne at quarterback and they just drafted Blaine Gabbert in the first round two years ago. The Jags reportedly have over $20 million in cap space and if the they do choose to upgrade through free agency, I see it being at these positions.
It will be interesting to see what the Jaguars do at the linebacker position this offseason. It was obvious that the unit had a down year as no linebacker graded positively. They have a considerable amount of money locked up in Paul Posluszny. Russell Allen played as a full-time starter last season but has been very inconsistent. Then they have Daryl Smith. Smith had been an anchor of the defense up until his injury last season, but his play (+59.7 overall grade from 2009-2011) could demand another good contract. Will they be able to keep all three on the roster? And how much money would you invest in a 31-year-old linebacker?
Someone will need to fill their outside linebacker position better than it was last year. Julian Stanford and Kyle Bosworth were both lackluster as they took turns manning the position. Bosworth was weak against the run (3.1 Run Stop Percentage) while Stanford was weak against the pass (84.2% catch rate). That is not getting it done and they could be well served bringing in new talent for next season.
Free Agent Fix: Brad Jones
It would be great if the Jags could re-sign Daryl Smith, but you don’t go through a rebuilding process by overpaying veterans. Brad Jones would be a quality signing at a fraction of the cost. Jones played inside linebacker in a 3-4, but his size and speed would translate well to a 4-3 outside linebacker. He covered well (+4.6 cover grade) and did well against the run with a Run Stop Percentage of 9.2 (Posluszny’s was 7.5).
The most attractive part about Jones could be his price and availability. Jones could easily be a backup in Green Bay next season with Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith returning. Also, the past season was his first season playing middle linebacker and that unknown would drive his price down.
With as many needs as the Jaguars have, they can’t go handing out big money. Rather, they should be focused on making young value pickups where possible. Jones would fit that description.
The Jaguars just plain need a left guard. Any other left guard. They have had by far the worst left guard performances in all of football the past two seasons. Will Rackley started as a rookie in 2011 and had the worst grade of all guards at -30.4. Then in 2012 Mike Brewster and Eben Britton combined for a grade of -38.0 at the position. Rackley missed the entire 2012 season with an ankle injury so he will be back competing for that position again, but you can’t expect too much from the former third-round pick.
The Jaguars could also use a center as Brad Meester is a free agent and will be 36 years old before the start of next season. Meester’s play took a downturn last season and at his age it is difficult to see the Jags moving forward with him while rebuilding. That leaves two positions of need on the offensive line with no obvious candidate to develop into a legitimate starter.
Free Agent Fix: Donald Thomas
The Jaguars would have to dig deep for this one, but could strike gold if they land Donald Thomas. The Patriots guard was outstanding in his first season of real playing time, as he alternated between left guard and right guard because of injuries. Thomas managed to record a grade of +11.2 in 616 snaps while compiling a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 97.0. Once Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly were healthy though, Thomas was back on the bench.
What makes Thomas so intriguing is his price tag. Thomas won’t command a hefty signing bonus and there likely won’t be much competition from the Patriots who can’t afford to give a big deal to a backup. It would be the type of low-risk, high-reward deal that would be a nice contrast to the excessive contracts they have taken on recently.
Last offseason the Jaguars added Aaron Ross to help bolster their secondary. It didn’t quite work out as they expected though as they went from the eighth-ranked pass defense to the 22nd-ranked pass defense. Now with Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis hitting free agency, it is clear that the Jaguars need to address the cornerback position once again.
Cox has developed into a solid corner and, even though he gave up a lot of yards this season (1.68 Yards Per Coverage Snap), it was mainly because he was targeted at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Ross was about as good as he had been his previous few seasons. I wouldn’t call him a liability, but he has never been a game-changer as evidence by his three passes defensed all season. Mike Harris showed some potential, but he had serious issues in run defense with his size (-4.3 in run defense). Harris’ .95 YPCS was 12th in the NFL this season, but the 65.9% catch rate he allowed is a little too high to be considered a viable option.
Free Agent Fix: Bradley Fletcher
After being benched at midseason there is a fairly good probability that Bradley Fletcher won’t be sticking around with the Rams next year. What Fletcher did while he was in was pretty impressive though. Fletcher allowed a YPCS of only .52 and had a coverage grade of +5.7. Fletcher was injured most of 2011, but played over 1,000 snaps in 2010 and had an overall grade of +3.1. I would guess there wouldn’t be a booming market for a player benched at midseason and Fletcher could be had for a good value.
Of course, signing Cox to an extension should be a priority as well, and the Jags should have the money to do it. To truly improve the secondary though, they can’t stop there. Cornerback is becoming one of the most highly sought after positions in the NFL and bringing in new talent at that position regularly is a must. Fletcher is going to be only 27 next season and could be another low-risk, high-reward player.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner