JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Free agency begins March 14, and while the Jaguars don’t have as many needs as they've had in some past years, there are some areas where the team can find improvement. Here are the top three players at each of three positions of need for the team:
Interior offensive line
Brandon Linder’s versatility allows the Jaguars to target a guard or center here. The Jaguars led the NFL in rushing, and the offensive line surrendered 24 sacks, 10 fewer than the previous year and a vast improvement from 2014 and 2015, when they allowed over 50 in each season.
- Andrew Norwell, guard, Carolina Panthers. Norwell should be the Jaguars number one target. He’s coming off his best year and his first All-Pro selection. Pro Football Focus ranked him third among all guards. It would be a pricey proposition, probably in the same neighborhood as Kevin Zeitler’s contract last year. Zeitler signed a 5-year, $60 million free agent contract. Norwell played left guard for the Panthers, which would mean the relegation of Patrick Omameh, or it would force Omameh to compete with A.J. Cann at right guard, although his experience has been at left guard.
- Ryan Jensen, center, Baltimore Ravens. If the Jaguars want to increase competition at guard, and are willing to move Linder, Jensen could be the answer. At 26, he is just coming into his prime years. He played on a one-year deal in 2017. After becoming a full-time starter for the first time in 2017, the former sixth-round pick is likely to command a salary of over $8 million per season. There will be several suitors for Jensen, including, perhaps, the Jets.
- Justin Pugh, guard, New York Giants. Pugh can play guard or tackle, but was limited to eight games in 2017 because of a back injury. The injury did not require surgery, however. In his first two years in New York, he played right tackle for Tom Coughlin’s team, but was moved to left guard in camp in 2015. That didn’t last and he was moved back to left guard. He can be a flex player as a backup tackle, but his role would be as a left guard. Pugh played under his fifth-year option in 2017, and he likely wouldn’t be as expensive as Jensen. Still, he could add competition to the Jaguars offensive line.
Pass catching tight end or wide receiver
The Jaguars have some decisions to make in the receiving corps. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are both free-agents-to-be. Robinson is the more likely of the two to be retained. If neither are retained, they will need to add a receiver. If one is retained, they’ll likely be in the market to find a tight end who can stress the defense downfield in the passing game.
- Jarvis Landry, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins. In a shallow free agency pool of receivers, Landry is the best available--if it isn’t Robinson. He was the Dolphins more explosive pass catcher the past three years, averaging 105 receptions and 1,093 yards. In 2017, he set a career high with nine touchdown receptions. Landry would not be a value-acquisition, but he is 25 years old and coming into his prime.
- Jimmy Graham, tight end, Seattle Seahawks. Although he is getting older, the 31-year-old can still be a factor in the passing game. Since moving from New Orleans to Seattle, Graham hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of numbers. In five years with the Saints, Graham averaged 77 receptions per game, even including his rookie year, when he caught 31 passes. In three years catching passes from Russell Wilson, Graham has averaged fewer than 57 receptions per season. One notable area where Graham’s numbers were good in 2017 was touchdowns. He was a threat in the red zone, where he hauled in 10 touchdown passes. He isn’t as much of a deep threat as he once was. He averaged a career low 9.1 yards per reception in 2017. He likely wouldn't be as expensive as some of the others on this list, but he would bring some production to the position.
- Trey Burton, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles. Burton’s heroics in the Super Bowl aside, at 26, his age and experience, coupled with the weak tight end market could drive his price up. He played in 2017 under a one-year, $2.746 million deal. That could triple in this year’s free agent market, and remember, the Eagles could opt to re-sign him; however, Philadelphia has the worst cap situation in the league entering 2018.
This position only becomes a need if the Jaguars decide not to bring back Paul Posluszny. If they move on from the 11-year veteran, Myles Jack would move into the middle linebacker position in base and still stay on the field in nickel as he did this season. In that case, the Jaguars would be searching for an outside linebacker. Blair Brown and Lerentee McCray both spent some time in that role in 2017, and could be used in the role as well.
- Nigel Bradham, outside linebacker, Philadelphia Eagles. The 28-year-old former Florida State Seminole earned a Super Bowl ring in the final year of a two-year contract with the Eagles. He would project to a part-time player,and considering the number of snaps the Jaguars played in nickel in 2017, he would not have to break the bank on a contract. Again, Philadelphia is likely to lose some key players because of their salary cap situation, and Bradham could certainly be among those departing the champions.
- Tahir Whitehead, outside linebacker, Detroit Lions. Whitehead was moved from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker after the Lions drafted Jarrad Davis. He was a productive player at his new position, leading the team in tackles while recovering four fumbles. While he is not the caliber of Telvin Smith or Myles Jack athletically, he can cover ground ,and if used as an outside linebacker in base situations, he could be a good addition.
- Posluszny, middle linebacker, Jacksonville Jaguars. The linebacker pool is so thin that it's probably not a bad bet that Posluszny will return. He is revered by his teammates for the way he approaches the game. Telvin Smith and Dante Fowler Jr. both raved about Posluszny as they were cleaning out their lockers a day after the loss in the AFC championship game. If the Jaguars don’t bring him back, there will be a market for him, but he showed in 2017 that he still has plenty left in the tank.
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