NFL Team Report - Jacksonville Jaguars - INSIDE SLANT
What to do with Chad Henne? What to do with Blaine Gabbert? What to do with the quarterback spot in general?
Three key questions that the Jacksonville Jaguars face as an organization during the offseason. It's tough to answer any one question without having a ready answer for the other two. All three are intertwined to a certain degree, with two of the three somewhat out of the Jaguars control.
Breaking down the three:
Henne: He's a free agent so the Jaguars aren't sure if he'll be back. As of today, nearly four months before the college draft, yes, the Jaguars would like to re-sign him. It's not that Henne was overwhelming in the 13 games that he started, which included the final 11 of the season. Granted, he did become just the third quarterback in franchise history to throw for more than 3,000 yards (3,241), but he had more interceptions than touchdowns (14-13), had a yards per attempt of just 6.4, was sacked 38 times and finished with a pedestrian-like passer rating of 76.5. But as of this moment, he's the best that the Jaguars still have access to.
Gabbert has one year remaining on his rookie contract, one that he's been largely overpaid compared to what he's delivered on the field. The starting job was Gabbert's to lose entering training camp in August. Sure enough, Gabbert lost it. Several injuries enabled Henne to step in as the starter, and while he failed to guide the team to a win until the ninth game, by then he was entrenched as the starter.
So what do the Jaguars do with Gabbert? Reports had it they would take a late-round draft pick for him just to get something back on the former No. 10 overall pick of the 2011 draft. The Jaguars are hesitant to do anything with Gabbert until they know where they are with Henne. If the latter signs elsewhere, the Jaguars don't want to be left without their first- or second-stringers.
Which leads to the third question; the quarterback position in general. If Jacksonville knew it would draft a quarterback with its pick at No. 3, they could then afford to lose either Henne or Gabbert, but not necessarily both. Henne would be the more reliable backup and could even be the starter for the first part of the season. If Henne were to leave and sign with another team, the Jaguars would likely sit tight with Gabbert, asking him to once again serve as a backup and to help mentor the newbie quarterback. One thing Gabbert wasn't in his backup role in 2013 was a distraction. He remained positive and upbeat and still prepared himself every week as if he might get the starting call.
As general manager Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season, there was no downside in keeping Gabbert as a backup.
"At the very least, he's a very good backup and he's under contract, so there's no reason why not to keep him here," Caldwell said.
What the Jaguars will have to determine in the months ahead of the draft, is whether there is someone in the college ranks that they feel could lead the franchise to playoff contention within a year or two and do it on a regular basis after that. The club thought they had such a person in Gabbert, but it hasn't worked out that way for the past three years.
Caldwell wouldn't tip his hand as to how far he's leaning on drafting a quarterback with the third overall selection of this year's draft.
"We're not sure exactly who's going to be available in this class; there's still a handful of unknowns," he said. "And then there's a lot of evaluation that has to take place by Gus (head coach Gus Bradley), our position coaches, our scouts and our pro department. So I would prefer to reserve judgment on that until a later date."
Once that date comes, and Caldwell issues the first answer as to what the status is with the team in pursuing a quarterback in the first round of the draft, the answers to Henne and Gabbert's status with the team can also be answered. Until then, everything is in flux, including the future of Henne and Gabbert as Jaguars players.
NFL Team Report - Jacksonville Jaguars - NOTES, QUOTES
--Having your coaching staff be utilized in the Senior Bowl is the proverbial good news/bad news situation. The good news is that it allows your entire staff extra time to evaluate some of the top talent that will be available in the upcoming college draft.
The bad news of course, is that it's an indication you were among the worst NFL teams in the season just completed. The NFL awards the coaching spots to the two teams with the highest upcoming draft picks, providing that team did not make a coaching change following the season. With the Jaguars No. 3 in this year's draft and with Houston and Washington having fired their coaches, the Jaguars were a lock to grab one of the openings.
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was more than ready to accept the league's invite to coach the South team in the Mobile game later this month. He just wants to make sure it's a one-time deal for the Jaguars' staff.
"I think it's awesome. It's a great opportunity," he said. "I was part of it when we did it in Tampa and I think it's great. It's a great evaluation tool. We can evaluate all aspects of the game. I don't want to make a habit of it, but as long as we have this opportunity, we need to take advantage of it."
--The anticipation of Denard Robinson becoming an "offensive weapon" didn't materialize in his rookie season. The former Michigan quarterback who was drafted with the notion of using him as a punt returner/running back/receiver did not materialize, at least not with any success.
Robinson was used in all three areas, but failed to excel in any. The coaching staff even put in a couple of trick plays that called for him to pass the ball after taking it on a handoff or throw back. Even that didn't work.
Robinson had asked, and was granted, the request to be listed as OW on the depth chart. Even that didn't work as the league put the nix to it, saying he had to be listed as one of the normal offensive spots, whether it was a wide receiver/slot or running back.
Robinson's season stats are not impressive. His only pass attempt was an incompletion. He ran the ball 20 times for 66 yards and he failed to catch a pass. He had four kickoff returns for 88 yards with a long of 27.
But even with the less than impressive final numbers, the Jaguars aren't about to give up on their fifth-round pick.
"I think this year has been really good for him," coach Gus Bradley said. "He asked me during the season, 'How do I need to get better, what do I need to do?'
"Part of it is just he needs experience. He went out there and got some experience and it really came to light. He needs to be more consistent in how he handles the ball, more consistent in his protections. My hope is that this has been a good process for him and he makes big strides. He's such a competitor; I know he's going after it."
--The Jaguars have more than their share of needs entering the 2014 season. Some positions will depend on what happens with free agency, specifically, whether the team elects to re-sign some players that can enter free agency. No question looms larger than at running back where veteran Maurice Jones-Drew will have the opportunity to test the free-agency waters.
That became clear at the Jaguars' final press briefing with coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell. Jones-Drew's five-year contract expired at the end of the 2013 season and while the team has talked with Jones-Drew's agent, it became clear this would be a decision that would be made during the offseason.
When Bradley and Caldwell met with the media following the team's season finale against Indianapolis, it became clear the Jaguars were in no rush to sign the eight-year veteran.
"Gus and I and Maurice and I had a good conversation (the day after the season ended) and I think he'll leave that up to his representation in terms of finding him the best value for his deal," Caldwell said. "I'm not pessimistic at all about it. I think (he) has earned the right to go to free agency. He's had a great career and he's earned the right to see what his value and his market is, and it's our right to decide if we want to match it and bring him back."
The Jaguars will probably offer Jones-Drew a two-year deal that would be heavy on incentives. Jones-Drew has told people close to him that he prefers a four-year pact with the emphasis placed on the amount of money being offered.
NFL Team Report - Jacksonville Jaguars - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
--QB Chad Henne
--RB Maurice Jones-Drew
--RB Jordan Todman
--OT Cam Bradfield
--DT Brandon Deaderick
--DT Kyle Love
--DB Will Blackmon.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Chad Henne. Backups -- Blaine Gabbert, Ricky Stanzi.
Henne beat out Gabbert early in the season and Gabbert never got back on the field. Henne is a free agent, but will likely re-sign with the team, knowing that the Jaguars very well may take a quarterback with their first pick in the draft. It would appear that Gabbert's days are numbered with the team, but should the team not get the elite quarterback they want, they may retain him as a backup. First choice would be to try and trade him for a fifth- sixth- or seventh-round pick but if Henne doesn't re-sign or the college quarterback isn't there for the Jags, Gabbert could be on the roster again in 2014. Stanzi will stick around only if the team comes up empty at this position in the draft.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Maurice Jones-Drew, FB Will Ta'ufo'ou. Backups -- Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Delone Carter. Injured reserve -- Justin Forsett.
Jones-Drew is a free agent and the team has given him their blessing to explore options. They'd take him back but only on their conditions which is for a two-year deal at far less money than what he made this year. His days as the exclusive top back are over, at least with the Jaguars. If he returns, it will likely be in a shared role. Todman showed signs that he could develop into a starter, turning in a 100-yard game in his only start of the season against Buffalo. Robinson didn't pan out as well as the team had hoped and continues to see time in the backfield and as a wide receiver. The acquisition of Forsett as a free agent didn't pan out as he was never healthy long enough. He played sparingly in each of the first eight games but gained only 82 total yards and then saw action in just one of the final eight contests. He's not likely to return.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Marcedes Lewis. Backups -- Clay Harbor, Danny Noble, Allen Reisner.
This was supposed to be a breakout year for Lewis, especially after Blackmon was lost for the second half of the season. But Lewis had a calf injury that took much longer to heal, one that limited him to two snaps in the team's first six games. He's a valuable cog in the running game and showed his value in the passing attack as well with touchdown catches in four of the team's final five games. His limited status early on gave others like Harbor and Noble a chance to develop and both made solid strides to strengthening their spot on the roster. Reisner is another who spent more time on the sideline with injuries than he did on the field. He started the first three games, played in the next two but then was placed on injured reserve before returning for the last couple weeks of the season. This is one of the few positions the Jaguars won't be looking to add to, providing all four of the tight ends stay healthy.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Kerry Taylor, Mike Brown. Backups -- Lamaar Thomas, Ace Sanders. Injured reserve: Cecil Shorts, Stephen Burton, Taylor Price, Jeremy Ebert, Stephen Williams. Suspended: Justin Blackmon.
This was one of the most unpredictable areas on the team all season. Injuries and Blackmon's suspension created multiple different combinations of starters. Shorts was the only constant threat but then he missed the final three games and eventually had groin surgery. He should be ready for offseason workouts in April. Brown and Sanders flashed good signs at times, but not enough to make them locks for a starting spot or even a roster spot though Sanders showed enough as a returner that he'll likely stick with the club. What throws the entire position in flux is the uncertainty of Blackmon's status. His second offense with substance abuse drew the season-ending suspension that cost him 12 games and the Jaguars their best receiver. If he doesn't return, the team will need to either sign an elite receiver or draft one in the first couple of rounds. Shorts is talented but without another top performer at this position, teams were able to keep him in check. Taylor made good progress and the team likes what they saw in Burton and Williams before they were hurt. Price and Ebert only return if there is not adequate depth at the position.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Cam Bradfield, LG Jacques McClendon, C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, RT Austin Pasztor. Backups -- T Sam Young, C Patrick Lewis, G Drew Nowak. Injured reserve: T Luke Joeckel, G Will Rackley, G/C Mike Brewster, G Stephane Milhim.
Nwaneri and Meester were the only two starters for all 16 games, and only because they stayed healthy and the fact the Jaguars had no one better to put in, in their place. Meester is retiring after 14 seasons as a starter, the last couple of which were not his best years. Nwaneri is the closest thing to a lock to return as a starter, but he and McClendon are also candidates to replace Meester at the center spot. Rackley and Brewster have been on/off starters at the guard spots but neither has distinguished themselves and both will be in a fight to retain their roster spot. The only one of the five spots on the line that is a certainty is at left tackle where Joeckel should return for what could be the start of a decade of solidity at that position. He's nearly fully recovered from the fractured ankle that cost him the final 11 games of the 2013 season. He only experienced one start on the left side following the trade of veteran Eugene Monroe, but gained some experience in four starts at right tackle. Pasztor was a pleasant surprise as the third player to start at that spot last year. He and Bradfield should wage a good battle for the starting spot in 2014. McClendon played briefly in three games before starting the last two at left guard and showed some talent. He'll be in the running for a starting spot though the team is likely to look for a veteran free agent to come in as an instant starter at that spot, a move that could land McClendon in the center position.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DLE Tyson Alualu, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, DT Arby Jones, LEO Jason Babin. Backups -- LDE Ryan Davis, DT Jordan Miller, DT Kyle Love, LEO Andre Branch, DT Drake Nevis, LEO Gerald Rivers. Injured reserve -- DT Brandon Deaderick, DT Roy Miller.
Marks was the lone bright spot in a group that once again generated little pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Jaguars showed their appreciation to what Marks did this season by locking him down to a four-year contract extension near the end of the season. Marks had the solid season despite getting double-teamed a lot because there was little threat elsewhere along the line. Branch showed that he may be a force for the future with a strong second half of the season after he was on the verge of losing his spot on the roster. The move of Alualu to an end spot seemed to work better in the second half of the season and will likely leave him at that position for the future. Branch will likely move into a starter's role next year, replacing Babin whose year-and-a-half with the team is likely to come to an end. Miller fought through various injuries throughout the season, mostly a shoulder, before ending up on injured reserve. He'll be at full strength for 2014 and will likely reclaim a starting spot. Jones, Jordan Miller and Nevis were late fill-ins with the team due to multiple injuries at this position. The team likes Deaderick and he will join Love and Davis in supplying solid depth along the line next season.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Geno Hayes, MLB Paul Posluszny, OLB John Lotulelei. Backups -- OLB J.T. Thomas, LB Nate Stupar, OLB LaRoy Reynolds. Injured reserve: OLB Russell Allen.
Posluszny had another solid year defensively and along with Marks were the two most consistent players on defense. Posluszny started every game and rarely came out of games. Even with his big contract ($8.5 million) kicking in next year, he'll be around as he adds stability and leadership at the linebacker spot and the coaching staff loves his work ethic. Who will be on either side of Posluszny is a question mark that will need to be addressed in the offseason. Hayes and Allen were adequate though both ended the season missing the last two games due to injuries. The Jaguars will likely address the need for at least one new starter on the outside, leaving Allen and Hayes to compete for the other spot. Thomas, Lotulelei and Reynolds all showed enough that all three will likely return in 2014, though none of them are thought to be starter material at this time.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Dwayne Gratz, RCB Alan Ball, SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Josh Evans. Backups -- LCB Will Blackmon, RCB Mike Harris, RCB Jamell Fleming, LCB Demetrius McCray, SS Winston Guy, FS Chris Prosinski. Injured reserve: CB Jeremy Harris.
Along with tight end and special teams, this might be a position that the Jaguars don't tinker with a lot in the offseason. Gratz, Cyprien and Evans were all rookie starters last year. That resulted in opposing quarterbacks putting up some hefty passing numbers but it gave the trio valuable playing time and experience in moving ahead. Cyprien overcame some of his mistakes with some crunching tackles from his safety spot. Gratz and Evans have plenty of work still to do in order to take their game to another level. With NFL veterans Ball and Blackmon, the Jaguars had solid replacements who were instrumental in helping the trio of rookies make it through their first year. Add in the promise of another rookie in McCray and second-year players Harris and Guy, the secondary looks to be set for the next several years. Prosinski played in all 16 games with one start and offers dependable depth at a couple positions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Scobee, P Bryan Anger, LS Tinker Carson.
Three solid seasons by the team's trio of special team specialists and the best news is that all three are locked in for two more years on their contract. Scobee was as consistent as he's ever been, converting on all but two of his 25 field-goal attempts. He now holds the franchise's career record for most points and most field goals. Anger was among the league's elite punters, finishing with a 45.7 punting average and sending just eight of his 95 punts into the end zone for a touchback, compared to 35 punts that landed inside the 20. Tinker was on the mark with his snaps as a specialist and with a low cap number is all but a certainty to join the other two back on the roster in 2014.