Cap Space as of today: A little under $50 million. (All monetary figures courtesy of Over The Cap.)
Unrestricted Free Agents (10): Maurice Jones-Drew, Will Blackmon, Brandon Deaderick, Clay Harbor, Chad Henne, Kyle Love, Taylor Price, Brad Meester, Delone Carter, Sam Young
Let’s get the known quantities out of the way first: Brad Meester will be retiring. Judging by what I saw of him last year, it wasn’t a moment too soon. His mobility had declined to the point where every combo block was an adventure. That said, I’ve got nothing but respect for a guy who I made old jokes about in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 making it another two seasons in the league. Meester wasn’t really an All-Pro type, or hell, even a Pro Bowl type, but he was a solid center that stuck with the Jaguars for 14 seasons. That oughta earn him a nice spot on a Duval County Ring of Fame somewhere.
There have already been media discussions about Chad Henne and the Jaguars getting together for a new contract. I’m not sure that’s how I would run things if I were a general manager, because I prefer my backup quarterbacks to be high-variance and Henne is a very known quality at this point — but if the Jaguars do value his steadiness, I can certainly see why they’d re-sign him. To his credit, Henne finished 33rd among qualifying quarterbacks in DVOA, ahead of players like Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub, despite being saddled with an in-flux offensive line.
Maurice Jones-Drew has finally earned his freedom after his aborted contract holdout in 2012. I’m thinking he’ll find that the market for older running backs coming off injury with pedestrian statistics is pretty shallow. I think that’s justification enough for using the little leverage he had at the time, but that doesn’t do him much good now. I do think he ran better than his advanced stats (-13.8% DVOA, 38th among 46 qualifying running backs) show, because the interior of Jacksonville’s line was ugly and the first four weeks of the season — where the Jaguars were breaking in new faces and trying to run more zone blocking — were downright gruesome. Can’t really see him as a fit for this team now, though. They’d both be served going in different directions.
Outside of that, the players that saw the field include two Pats defensive line castoffs, Clay Harbor, and Will Blackmon. Blackmon provided some decent low-leverage cornerback play for the Jaguars, as well as their biggest splash play of the season on the strip-fumble touchdown of Ryan Fitzpatrick for Jacksonville’s first win. I think he’ll be back with the team provided nobody bowls his agent over, though he probably won’t play as big a role as he did last year. Harbor was about as replacement-level as replacement-level gets at tight end — 18 DYAR, 0.3% DVOA. I assume he’s got a shot at training camp here, at least, though Marcedes Lewis’ contract probably means that he won’t get as much play as he did last year barring injury.
Restricted Free Agents (2): Jordan Todman, Cameron Bradfield
Both of these guys are players I expect the Jaguars to want to keep around. I’m not as high on Bradfield as they are, but if you say he’s a good third tackle in this league, it’s hard to argue with slapping the original round tender on him. Todman outplayed Jones-Drew on a per play basis, and I think he’ll at least be in a committee conversation this offseason. Fortunately for the Jaguars, running back is such a devalued position that it’s hard to see anybody surrendering a pick to try and get him on the cheap.
Franchise Tag Candidates: None of the free agents on this team have the trade value or talent to merit it.
Release/Restructure Candidates: Jason Babin ($6,175,000 saved against 2014 draft), Paul Posluszny ($5,500,000), Marcedes Lewis ($5,450,000), Uche Nwaneri ($3,705,000), Blaine Gabbert ($0)
Here’s the fun part about the Jaguars: almost all of their good talent is already cost-controlled. These five players make up half of the players on their roster with a cap figure north of $4,000,000 for next season. And frankly, if we were just doling out releases on the status of “is this guy worth it?” Posluszny would be the only real threat to stay on the roster. But, because the Jaguars have an insane amount of cap space already, they don’t actually need to make decisions on any of these guys this season if they would prefer to defer on them and save some future cap hits.
Posluszny is a player where the entire package is a little more underwhelming than his talent, partially because of his injury history — he’s missed one game in three years, but suffered a torn labrum in the final game of the 2011 season and missed games in three of his four years in Buffalo — and partially because he’s a linebacker built for the 1990’s. He’s just not that fast. He does make up for this with instincts and guile, and I’ve seen him adjust to routes that were being run over the course of the game, but he has some limits. He’s a good player, but he’s not a cornerstone.
Lewis was overpaid when he signed his contract off the franchise tag in 2011, and missed five games last year. When he’s been on the field, he was the worst tight end in the league by far in 2011, and was about league-average the last two seasons. Babin has played, but clearly isn’t the same player he was in Philadelphia or Tennessee. Nwaneri had been a fairly promising guard for the Jaguars until they signed him long-term, he was struck down by injuries (meniscus tear, torn cartilage, other knee procedures) and was clearly bad this season.
Cutting Blaine Gabbert wouldn’t save any money, but it would admit a grievous draft error and let him get a fresh start somewhere else. Somehow I don’t think the Jaguars will be on pins and needles waiting for the resurrection to come.
Overview: The Jaguars head into this offseason as a total blank slate. They have more money to spend than any team but the Raiders. If they wanted to get rid of Babin, Lewis, Nwaneri, and Posluszny, they could easily overtake them.
So, how Jacksonville handles this — and how the market handles them — will be fascinating. They could punt again this season, bringing in even more young players and just trying to hit the NFL’s minimum cap spending. One thing working against them is that we’ve seen time-and-time again that players will take less money from teams that are regarded as contenders, and what happens is a team that is a bottom feeder sort of has to spend their way past expectations to land a player to re-establish “credibility.” Think Pudge Rodriguez with the Tigers after their 2003 team nearly lost 120 games. I’m interested to see how that shakes out in the sense that I don’t think Jacksonville is going to step to that game. The analytics department is a big part of what their ownership believes in, and what happens when that group finds a player that they really want is more expensive than he should be?
So I could see this offseason going in any number of paths, from a big spending spree on Alex Mack and some new defenders, to a Seattle Seahawks-esque offseason where they pick up market-neglected pieces on one-year deals and see how things work out, to another year of rebuilding slowly with youth. I suspect they’ll be spending, but I think there are arguments to be made in any of the three directions.