While the good news in free agency is that Jacksonville has plenty of money to spend, a bright spot in the draft is that general manager Dave Caldwell has done a nice job acquiring some extra picks, his most recent being a sixth-rounder from San Francisco in exchange for quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
The Jaguars have 11 picks and still have a multitude of needs, some of which may still not be completely patched up through both free agency and the draft. With that being said, what will Jacksonville do in the draft? Here’s what I think.
Currently, the Jaguars hold the third overall pick, right behind the Texans at No. 1 and the Rams at No. 2. There have been a thousand different mock drafts up to this point, each with their own spin on what Jacksonville should do when its number is up.
As of right now, I think there are only two players that would be an absolute given if they are available when Roger Goodell takes the stage: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Let’s start with Clowney. The Jaguars’ pass rush has ranked at the bottom of the league for the past few years. Even if the Jags end up landing Lions defensive end Willie Young in free agency, it’s still highly likely that Jacksonville would rank Clowney at the top of its board. Clowney would give an immediate boost to the pass rush. He would be able to put pressure on and get to the quarterback unlike any other player we’ve see in Jacksonville in the past several years.
If the Jags could land Clowney in the draft, there’s a chance they could potentially have one of the top defenses in the league by the end of the season and rank at the top of the league in sacks.
As far as quarterbacks go, the Jaguars have been searching (get ready for a “Matrix” reference) for “the one” since the Mark Brunell era. Bridgewater could give Jacksonville what it hasn’t had in years—a legit franchise quarterback. Some say that Bridgewater’s lack of size (as far as bulk, not stature) could be a problem in the NFL. Maybe so, but the Jags have had their eye on this guy since the start of last season. If he’s available, this would be the logical choice at No. 3. And yes, you start him game one of the regular season. No question.
But what if Clowney and Bridgewater go first and second overall? Then what? Well, trade down if possible. Caldwell has made it clear that he is all about stockpiling picks rather than letting go of them. Trade down, pick up an extra second-rounder, and go from there. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. But I still believe that would be the ideal scenario.
Either way, the Jaguars are in a good position to get a playmaker, be it a pass-rushing defensive end, be it a potential franchise quarterback, or be it an explosive receiver like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
The good news for Jacksonville is that when it comes to free agency, money is not an issue. The team has around $50 million dollars to spend, which is actually the second highest cap space in the league right behind Oakland. With that being said, they should be able to make a little bit of a splash. But will they be able to?
As for what they need to go after, there are two areas that the Jaguars absolutely have to attack: the pass rush and the interior offensive line.
Priority #1 is to get that edge pass rusher. I think they'll target Michael Bennett from Seattle if he hits the open market on March 11th but there’s no guarantee the Seahawks won’t lock him up. With that being said, I think Oakland’s Lamarr Houston is worth mentioning. He fits their scheme and he’s only 27 years old; but most importantly, he can play both end and tackle.
Jacksonville has had issues all along the defensive line. Roy Miller dealt with injuries all season, Jeremy Mincey is gone, Andre Branch came along toward the end of the season but has mostly struggled through out the course of his young career. Other than Sen’Derrik Marks, the defensive line has been mediocre at best. Jason Babin and Tyson Alualau haven’t really worked out as pass rushers. The Jags have been the worst in the league for several seasons now at putting pressure on and getting to the quarterback. (They had 31 sacks this past year and only 20 the season before.) So to add a guy like Houston, whose size and speed make him a legitimate threat at the point of attack, would be a nice addition.
The second priority is the interior offensive line. Let’s start with the center position. We know that Brad Meester has retired so ideally you’d love to see them get a guy like Alex Mack to replace him. Unfortunately, he may be out of the Jaguars’ price range and personally, I don’t think he’s going to get out of Cleveland. They may be ok with going with Jacque McClendon at center, who’s already on the team so maybe they feel ok about the position. Because of that, I think guard is going to be a bigger priority than center. Zane Beadles would certainly fit what they’re looking for (under 30, a starter, and healthy) so I could see them going after him.
Whatever the Jags do, look for them to try and sign at least one or two guys who can start immediately on the first day of free agency. Whether or not Jacksonville makes “splashy” moves or signs big name guys, if they add players that can help improve the team, then they’ve accomplished their goal.
“Justin Blackmon of the Jacksonville Jaguars has been suspended indefinitely without pay for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse ...”
As I read this official team statement Friday, all I could think was, “You've got to be kidding me.” That thought was then followed by, “I can’t believe this,” which was soon replaced with “No, I can believe this.”
In my opinion, Blackmon’s decisions that have ultimately led to an indefinite suspension from the NFL are decisions made by a selfish individual who has yet to learn how to handle fame and fortune. And while he should probably never play another game in a Jaguars jersey, I think he will. Here’s why…
First off, Blackmon is a hell of a talent despite his personal issues. If he can get his off the field troubles straightened out, he’s already proven that he can take care of his business on the field. In the NFL, talent forgives all, even multiple offenses. If this organization truly believes that Blackmon can get his act together, I believe they will give him another chance. This franchise is so devoid of talent, they need playmakers that they can build around for the future. (Again, this is contingent on Blackmon pulling it together.)
On the flipside, think about this: if the Jaguars decide to waive Blackmon and he does pull it together, what happens if he gets re-instated and another team snatches him up? What if after getting snatched up by another team, he puts up ridiculous numbers? The only talk that will come from Jaguars fans then will be about how Blackmon could be putting up those numbers in Jacksonville. It does this team no good to waive him at this point.
Blackmon is already on strike 2, meaning if he screws up again, he’s out of the league permanently. Thus, if Jacksonville brings him back and he does have another slip up, you don’t run the risk of him revitalizing his career with another team once you part ways with him. On occasion, you see players screw up their career with one team and then find redemption with another. That wouldn't be the case for Blackmon.
Finally, if nothing else, bring Blackmon back and trade him. Get something for him. Dave Caldwell has continually made it clear that he will rebuild this team through the draft; so get picks. Again, Blackmon’s talent is evident. Despite his off the field issues, I do believe a team would take a chance on him simply based on his abilities on the field. If that is the case, it’s a win for Jacksonville.
Again, all of these scenarios are based on Justin Blackmon getting help, following the steps to get clean and fight whatever issues he’s facing, and then being re-instated by the league. There are a lot of big “ifs” in these hypotheticals. But IF Blackmon can get help, fight his demons, stay clean, and get re-instated, I think he can once again find success on the field; and I still think he can find it here in Jacksonville.
If you’d like to weigh in on the Justin Blackmon situation or any Jaguar related topic, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.