By John Tuvey, Executive Editor Jaguars Offseason Needs We continue our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the Jaguars, who plummeted from a 12-4 season and an early playoff exit to a spot on the sidelines for the postseason. How can a team beat both Super Bowl XL entrants, ravage XLI-bound Indy, and get swept by Houston? That's just one of the questions Jack Del Rio and his staff will have to address this offseason.
Areas of Need: Decision numero uno for the Jags will come when they pick their quarterback. Though Del Rio has denied a dislike of Byron Leftwich, rumors abound that the former first-round pick won't be with the team next season. Leftwich, while not exactly being a world-beater, has been better than average but felled by a steady stream of injuries. David Garrard stepped in again this season and played well at times, poorly at others. Will that inconsistency prevent him from usurping Leftwich as the starter? And what of Quinn Gray, who rallied the troops in the regular-season finale? There's also the possibility that the Jaguars roll with d) none of the above; when Del Rio hired Dirk Koetter as the team's third OC in the past five years, the possibility that the former Arizona State coach might woo Sun Devil alum Jake Plummer to Jacksonville was broached. Obviously, the Jags need to figure this one out soon so they can proceed with the rest of their planning.
One of the reasons Garrard was so successfulâ€”Leftwich, too, for that matterâ€”was the overwhelming success of Jacksonville's running game. The loss of Greg Jones to a knee injury in the preseason opened the door for rookie Maurice Jones-Drew, who responded with a ROY-worthy campaign as a complementary back to Fred Taylor. Moreover, MoJo's work helped Taylor stay healthy, fresh, and productive far deeper into the season than anyone anticipated. But here's the rub: Taylor is entering the final year of his contract and wants to get paid now, going so far as to threaten a holdout. The Jags don't really need to bring him back, though it certainly wouldn't break the bank as they're an estimated $32 million under the salary cap. A healthy Jones could give the Jags the two-back attack they wielded this season, as could LaBrandon Toefieldâ€”though neither nearly as effectively as Taylor did. It's a conundrum fantasy owners will be paying extremely close attention to, as more carries for MoJo could elevate him into the first round on drauction day.
The Jaguars would dearly love a go-to wide receiver, a void they've been unable to fill since the retirement of Jimmy Smith. It hasn't been for a lack of trying, though; both Reggie Williams and Matt Jones were first-round selections, and don't forget the second-rounder the Jags wasted on R. Jay Soward. Both Williams and Jones showed flashes this season, but ultimately they were done in by the inconsistency at quarterback as well as their own on-again, off-again play. The Jags could use a veteran to help stabilize this crew, but there isn't much available in the free agent market and it's tough to see Jacksonville going Matt Millen on the bit and drafting another receiver in the first roundâ€”especially after selecting tight end Marcedes Lewis last year. Thus, improvement will have to come from within; if it doesn't, it may not matter who's quarterbacking.
Jacksonville has consistently spent a second- or third-round pick on an offensive lineman, and that attention to detail has helped them build a solid line that continues to replenish itself. With no real worries there, the Jags can focus their attention on the offensive side of the ball at the skill positions.
Defensively, the Jaguars remain sound. However, after seeing their defensive line ravaged by injury they could use some depth in that area, and specifically someone who can get after the passer. Jacksonville could also use some depth in the secondary, though their starters are extremely talented so this is something more likely to be addressed on Day Two of the draft or at the bargain-basement end of free agency. The linebacking corps might require a bit more attention, though despite their fat wallet it's unlikely the Jags make a play for any of the marquee free agent linebackers. Again, depth and young talent to groom remains the primary concern here.
Help is on the Way? Jacksonville actually has many of the parts it believes it needs already on its roster. For example, are they truly going to find an upgrade to Leftwich in the draft or free agency? Wouldn't it be prudent to just give Taylor a little bump and enjoy the two-man backfield show once again? How would yet another high pick at wide receiver help the current group stop underachieving?
That said, Del Rio can't afford to use all his draft picks to restock the shelves, because another season out of the playoffs might mean he's not around to enjoy the fruits of such a labor. Drafting in the middle of the first round of a class rich with defensive ends could yield a pass rusher like Nebraska's Adam Carriker or Florida's Jarvis Moss, but the team certainly isn't drafting out of need here. Yes, the proverbial "best player available" will come into play here.
As for the Jaguars' big wad of free agent money, it wouldn't be surprising to see much of it earmarked for current players, with smaller bits and pieces carved off to woo lower-end players to Jacksonville to serve as depth and filler.
Funny how that $32 million in wiggle room can't help the Jags address their real needs: deciding on a quarterback, finding a leader at wide receiver, and determining whether or not Taylor has enough left in the tank for one more run. Nope, the money won't matter; it will come down to making the right personnel decisions in Jacksonville.