Shopping the NFL Free Agency (read: unemployment line) at this point in the year is kind of like using the obituary section for real-estate. The players left are either past their prime, injured, or have so many character concerns that teams would rather sign the unproven rookie to see what he’s got left in the tank. FOX recently ran an article on the top free agents left in the unemployment line. Among them are two players that could potentially help the Jaguars in 2012.
The Jaguars have addressed the depth of the secondary and wide receiver positions very well this offseason. However, they have avoided a glaring need at right tackle. The bookend complement to left tackle Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, has struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Having only appeared in 11 games over the past two seasons, Britton has to prove that he has the skills to reproduce his high level of play in his rookie season of 2009 that made him a “sure thing” until he was injured. The Jags are counting on Britton returning to form in order to shore up the right side of the line.
Last season Guy Whimper allowed 14 of the 40 sacks that Blaine Gabbert took. Whimper started 15 games for the Jaguars allowed the loss of 99 yards due to sacks, and managed to be the perfect sieve that defensive ends hope to line up against. The Jags rewarded Whimper for his poor play by giving him a contract extension this offseason. While it is apparent to us couch GMs that Gene Smith made a poor decision, there is still time for him to rectify his mistake.
There are two high quality tackles left on the market that could fill in if Britton goes down with injury or doesn’t return to form in 2012: Vernon Carey and Max Starks. Carey is a right tackle that can also play guard and Starks has been a solid left tackle some years. While I lean toward Carey because right tackle is more of his natural position, it is entirely possible that Starks could transition his game to the right side as well (he just has to allow less than 14 sacks on the season…).
Both Carey and Starks allowed 4.5 sacks during the 2011 campaign for the Dolphins and Steelers respectively. Carey has never allowed more than five sacks in a single season. Carey also has the benefit of having played with new backup quarterback Chad Henne in Miami. Starks also has the ability to protect a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who has a habit of hanging onto the ball too long. While both men are in their thirties, they could provide some much needed depth to an offensive line that has the difficult task of trying to protect Blaine ‘Happy Feet’ Gabbert who tends to feel phantom pressure far too much.
Gene Smith likes to have his own guys make an impact. Until the 2011 season he had shied away from big free agency moves and preferred to bring in his own “home grown” talent. I think it is safe to say that it is time for the Jags to think past what Guy Whimper can do when filling in as a starter and search elsewhere. It may be a bit depressing to be shopping this late in free agency, but there is still some talent there that can help the Jaguars in 2012 and maybe beyond.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims