- 6. The Jaguars are desperately in need of turnovers on defense. Having back the old Rashean would help. Having a free safety that could make plays would help. But I think this starts with a linebacking corps that despite playing sound football, has become rather vanilla. Daryl Smith had a fantastic year, but Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant were only able to do the basics. More than a safety or pass-rusher and maybe even a cornerback (because I think Mathis would be able to hold the fort down for one more year if we had no other option), I want to see a ferocious linebacker taken in the first three rounds. Not the Sean Lee-type that Gene Smith was targeting last year. I want someone from the James Harrison mold – a punishing force that gets sacks and hits ballcarriers so hard that the ball is bound to pop out. He sets the tone for the entire defense and doesn’t do it vocally either, he does it by bringing discipline and intensity on every single play because it’s what he expects of himself. The defensive line may be the foundation of the future, but the defense needs an identity and a hard-hitting turnover machine at linebacker is what could push the whole unit over the top.
- 7. Guys who have been big names for Jacksonville the last few years will be gone in 2011. Mike Sims-Walker seems the most likely free agent to be allowed to leave. Despite a ton of talent, Mike has had injury issues and still hasn’t been able to put the whole picture together. He’s great in the endzone and sitting down in zones to get catches, but frequent disappearances and difficulty beating man coverage make it impossible to consider (or pay) him a #1 receiver. Mike Thomas and Marcedes Lewis have become the key players in Jacksonville’s passing game, combining for 124 catches, over 1500 yards, and 14 TD’s. Between Zach Miller, Jason Hill, Jarret Dillard (hopefully) healthy, and a draftee to be named (Weaver strongly suggested the Jags will draft a wideout), it just doesn’t make sense to move on with MSW. Linebackers Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant will also be UFA’s and between Russell Allen, the draft, and bargain free agency, can easily be replaced. As previously mentioned, Derrick Harvey is likely gone if Gene Smith can trade him (a 4th or 5th would probably do it). He’s owed only $1.4 million next year, so his salary is not the concern, but it appears he’s reached his ceiling. Rashean Mathis’ fate lies in the hands of the draft – if a suitable successor is selected, he’ll likely be traded (I’m thinking 2nd or 3rd rounder).
- 8. Draft predictions…I know Gene is a BAP guy, but I’m betting he gets his quarterback of the future in the first round. He always talks about having “the man” and even though I’m sure he could pull a decent starter out of the 2nd or 3rd that would draw plenty of praise, I think he gets his man right in the first. Even though we need a safety badly, I think that gets pushed late, as will wide receiver. 2nd round I’m predicting a stud cornerback or a stud linebacker or possibly a pass rusher that’s slipped further than he should, though I think Gene would like to see what he can get out of his four 2nd year linemen from last year’s draft. I expect the middle and late rounds to be heavy on defensive backs and middle o-linemen.
- 9. Marcedes Lewis will be back, but it could get ugly. He’s already said he’d like to test the waters in free agency, which is code for shopping his services and driving his value up. Rightfully so, because he is the best all-around tight end in the league coming off a Pro Bowl year. He’s too valuable to both our passing and running game to let him get away, so expect him to get the deal he wants. I’m thinking that he’ll end up clocking in as the third highest paid tight end in the league – the Jags will pay him, but not the Vernon Davis/Antonio Gates contract levels. Try not to hate him while his agent plays the front office, after all the man’s only got an 8-12 year earning window so he should get payed every bit of his value. And at least it’s not a rookie holdout, even if he did miss some practice time, he won’t fall too far behind.
- 10. We’re all certainly mired in disappointment right now, but I expect Team Teal to pick up momentum as the offseason continues. Yeah, we were really hoping the Jags would walk away with the AFC South Crown for the first time and they should have taken it in Indy. A lot of people are talking a big game about “this team will never get over the hump” and “I’m not renewing season tickets until…”, but that’s just the hurt talking. Nothing happened this year that’s actually going to alienate fans from renewing their season tickets, we all just need a little time to digest the disappointment. But anyone who knows what this team has been through knows that we’re milking our roster for all it’s worth and that GM Gene is only making it stronger and stronger each year. The good times are just ahead and once we do get there, it will not be on/off year to year. The Jags have finally established the culture and front-office discipline to succeed consistently over the long term. Tony Boselli knows this and if you don’t buy tickets, he will put you in a sleeper hold.
– Andrew Hofheimer