In the middle of the locker room, Jaguars Linebacker Kevin Hardy stood, with the help of crutches, surveying the landscape. As he looked around, the sight was different than anything he’d seen in the past, and is different than anything the locker room will look like in the future. There are remnants of the Jaguars past, Mark Brunell, Seth Payne and Jimmy Smith, and there are glimmers of the Jaguars future in Marlon McCree, Danny Clark and others. Hardy is a free-agent, and after a 7 week rehab on his knee, he’ll be fielding offers from other teams. The Jaguars won’t be in that market.
“It would be tough,” is how Head Coach Tom Coughlin characterized the Jaguars chances to re-sign Hardy.
Getting many veterans back is going to be very tough for the Jaguars from top to bottom. Some estimates have the Jaguars being able to keep fifteen players off the 2001 team and the rest will have to be minimum salary contributors (rookie and first year players). So who are these fifteen?
On offense, Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor have cap friendly salaries that will have them on the roster next year. Keenan McCardell’s cap number is about $4 million, and will only return if the Jaguars agree to a long-term restructuring of his contract with some guaranteed money. Sean Dawkins isn’t affordable, Kyle Brady won’t be back because of his cost and Zach Weigert’s a question mark because of his salary.
Stacey Mack is a free-agent who should attract some attention after his late season performance. Elvis Joseph is a coaches’ favorite and comes at the right price. Maurice Williams returns, so does Brad Meester. The Jaguars will weigh Todd Fordham, Jeff Smith and Patrick Washington’s production against their cost.
As for Tony Boselli, his status could be a very hard decision for the Jaguars. His cap number is around $7 million and in recent years hasn’t shown an ability to stay healthy. His work ethic is unquestioned, his ability unmatched, and his leadership a key factor in success for the Jaguars. But can he stay on the field? He’s a Coughlin type of player, in fact he’s the Coughlin type of player and no doubt he’ll be on the roster next year. But at least once this off-season, the Jaguars will look at Boselli as a number, instead of a player, for the first time in his career
On defense, Tony Brackens is back, as is Marcus Stroud. Paul Spicer won’t cost too much. Renaldo Wynn is a free-agent and the Jaguars will have to decide between Seth Payne and Gary Walker. They can’t keep both, and might have a tough time fitting either under the cap.
T.J. Slaughter and Danny Clark will be two of the starting linebackers but who’s the middle linebacker? Marlon McCree and Donovin Darius will be in the defensive backfield. Have Kiwaukee Thomas and Jason Craft played well enough to allow the Jaguars to cut loose Aaron Beasley and Fernando Bryant? Bryant’s production is down, and Beasley’s cap number is too high. (Beasley should market himself as a free-safety at this point in his career. He has the size to stop the run and the cover skills to play on third down against a third wide receiver.)
So there you have it. Next year’s Jaguars team will have a few remaining veterans and a lot of young players. Some, like Joseph, Thomas and Craft, have gotten plenty of playing time. Others, names unknown as draft picks and rookie free-agents have yet to see the field in the NFL. Coughlin, his coaches and personnel department will be tested this year. They’ll have to do a better job of gathering players who can make their team and contribute right away.
Chris Hanson is the best find of the year, but the Jaguars spent a 5th round pick on a punter who didn’t make the team. Could that pick have been used better at another position?
The Jaguars lost 6th round pick Chad Ward to the 49ers this week off their practice squad. Another draft pick currently not on Jaguars roster. Add Anthony Denman to that list, and the trend of the team’s draft picks is not what they were hoping for. From Cordell Taylor, a second round cornerback bust, to R.Jay Soward, a first round washout, the Jaguars haven’t been able to stock their team sufficiently from their own draft classes whether it’s with special teamers or starters on offense or defense. They won’t be able to hide the 2002 class. How well the Jaguars do on the field will be a direct result of how they do in the war room in April.