Hungary for the Truth: the Lockout’s Effect on the AFC South

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We are just days away from the summer and if this were an ordinary year, our minds would soon be turning to training camp battles with the pre-season just 2 months away. But this year is everything but ordinary, due to the lockout and the labor unrest. Right now the players who were drafted in April cannot practice with their new teams (95% of them doesn’t even got their own playbook yet) and undrafted (college players) and veteran free agency hasn’t even started yet. It seems the solution is still weeks away, which gave me an idea. Let’s see how much the lockout and its consequences impact the teams of the AFC South – who is in big trouble and who has an advantage from the labor situation?

It seems the Colts have yet another advantage on their side, thanks to the lockout. They have only five rookies and they aren’t likely to sign any big name free agents, if any, so assimilating new players to their system is not a major hurdle. Bill Polian has operated with one goal in mind, this offseason – to extend Peyton Manning’s career in Indy in every way possible. First, the Colts must extend Peyton Manning’s contract, which just expired at the end of last season. Although Manning’s name is right next to Brady’s and Brees’ in the lawsuit against the owners, I think the odds of him not remaining in Indianapolis are immeasurably small. Forget Michael Vick or anybody else, Manning is the true one-man show of the NFL; there is no player who has bigger impact on his team than #18. If he goes down, the Colts are toast. Polian knows that and he selected two personal bodyguards this draft in Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. If these two and the rest of the Colts’ offensive line can protect their quarterback better, the Colts will continue to easily rule the division. Usually, lineman (and specially interior lineman) can make the jump more easily into the NFL than other positions, so Ijalana and 3rd round pick DT Drake Nevis will likely not need much time to adapt to the pro game. Due to the limitations already imposed by the lockout, time will be a huge factor in 2011. If Castonzo quickly proves to be a premium OT (possibly replacing Charlie Johnson in the near future), then the Colts will benefit in a major way from their small draft class.

What about the Jaguars? Unfortunately, this lockout will hurt them in a big way, especially on defense. As for the offense, they have two proven QB’s, so the development of Blaine Gabbert will suffer no major setbacks from the lockout, as the Titans will with Jake Locker. I think Rackley can make a quick transition, but if not, the Jaguars have insurance in Vince Manuwai and Justin Smiley (though his days might be numbered). But on defense, things are really looking bad now. The Jaguars need to add two-to-four starters to the defense from free agency and will have very little time to do so. The back seven currently look to be in rough shape, with the Jaguars’ front office still speculating which free agents are willing to sign in Jacksonville. I think because of this, either Durant or Morrison will return. A team can’t start a new season with two brand new LBs, who will have spent very little time with their new team and expect better results than the year before. The secondary is an even bigger problem and the Jaguars must find a new starting FS sooner than later( I know Gene Smith likes the players he brought to this team, but I hope last year’s horrible safety play reminded him that Don Carey is not a starter at this level and the prognosis is similar for Chris Prosinski. Also, the front office must decide what to do with Rashean Mathis. With this season being the last on his contract, is Mathis still the undisputed starter at CB or are his contract demands and disappointing 2010 campaign enough to lead the Jaguars to move on sooner rather than later? Another possible challenge for the Jaguars is defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s takeover of the defense. He likely wants to install some slightly different schemes and philosophies than the ones Jack Del Rio had used, as he acted as the team’s d-coordinator for the past two seasons. The Jaguars will need additional time to make these a reality, as well. Because of the huge needs at the defense (most in the LB’s and DB’s) and because of the uncertainty concerning incoming free agents, the lockout is hurting the Jaguars in a big way.