Most teams out of playoff contention use the final four games of the year to assess their situation going forward.
What do we need?
How can we get better?
While the Jaguars have needs all over the field, the game against Indianapolis exposed the glaring weaknesses they have if they have any thought of getting better.
Andrew Luck is an excellent quarterback and even without Reggie Wayne, he’s figured out how to find the open guy and get it to him on a regular basis. He showed over and over that the Jaguars biggest need is creating a pass rush.
It’s not just somebody on the defensive line; it’s anybody who can get to the quarterback. Whether it’s an edge rusher from defensive end or linebacker or somebody who can push the pocket backwards towards the quarterback, the Jaguars defense will always be on their heels without that kind of pressure up front. Sen’Derrick Marks is a good building block and Andre Branch seems to have figured that part of the game out but without any fear of a pass rush, opposing quarterbacks will continue to have fun anytime they face the Jaguars.
At linebacker, Paul Posluszny is the only sure thing. Either one of the current guys has to emerge or GM Dave Caldwell will have to find something better. Guys who can cover and stop the run are hard to find but it’s a necessity they have to be willing to spend to get either in free agency or with a high pick in the draft.
The defensive backfield is more complicated. Jonathan Cyprien is a guy you can build around; everybody else has been a little slower than anticipated to develop. While the Jaguars spent a lot of time, money and picks on that position last year, they might have to go back to the drawing board to upgrade.
Everybody knows the Jaguars need a quarterback.
Nobody can agree on what to do about it right now.
Without a clear-cut franchise player in the draft at that position, it might be another year before the team has a new starter. There are no franchise-type QB’s in free agency that are coming to Jacksonville and there are no saviors in the draft either. But that doesn’t mean the Jaguars future QB isn’t out there. I just don’t think he’s there in the first round. With 10 draft picks, selecting a quarterback somewhere in the first three rounds, looking for somebody to develop is imperative. Watching Chad Henne miss open receivers against the Colts was painful. But it’s something Jaguars fans should expect for at least half the season in 2014. A.J. McCarron would be a good fit and available at the right spot in the draft.
It’s hard to predict what they’ll do at wide receiver since Justin Blackmon’s indefinite suspension leaves his situation up in the air. There’s no downside to keeping Blackmon and taking advantage of his skills. They don’t owe him that much and one more transgression and he’s out of the league permanently. After his injury history, it’s not hard to understand if the Jaguars have a little question as to whether Cecil Shorts can stay healthy enough to be a regular contributor. The rest of the guys on the roster at that position are nice slot receivers and backups but without a solid number one or number two, it’s where Caldwell and Gus Bradley will earn their money.
With less emphasis on the running back position in general in the NFL, finding guys who can run and block isn’t that difficult. They’re out there. But I do think the Jaguars will offer Maurice Jones Drew a deal he’ll probably take. He’s lost that second-level speed but can be a good compliment to Jordan Todman or anybody else they find.
At tight end, Marcedes Lewis has a decision to make on his own. He has superstar, Pro Bowl skills, but he hasn’t been that kind of consistent offensive presence you hope to have from an eight-year veteran. Sometimes he’s a force, other times he plays as if it’s the paycheck and not the performance that counts.
On the offensive line is where I think the Jaguars will be active in free agency. Potentially at center and guard. They like Luke Joeckel at tackle and Bradfield and Pasztor have been serviceable and they like one of those guys to develop into a legitimate starter.
If most NFL rosters have about a 40% turnover, the Jaguars will be substantially higher than that. With the number 3 pick in the draft (finishing 4-12) and a pocketful of cap space and money to spend, you have to put some faith in Caldwell and Bradley to make the right decisions.