The Jacksonville Jaguars are firmly in the offseason, having already fired defensive coordinator Bob Babich and started a search for ways to improve the roster.
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While the offense made enormous strides in quarterbackBlake Bortles
‘ second season, the defense regressed and had it’s worst season as far as production in head coach Gus Bradley’s tenure. Heading into his 4th season, Bradley needs to make big changes and show drastic improvement on that side of the ball to win more games and subsequently keep his job.
The first way to improve that side of the ball (after finding a new defensive coordinator) is free agency. As is the custom, plenty of big names currently on the market will be franchise tagged or re-signed before free agency actually begins, but there will be a handful of difference makers available on the market.
There are numerous positions the Jaguars need to upgrade so we’ll periodically look at each one in the coming weeks.
Let’s move on to by far the Jaguars most dire need on either side of the ball – pass rusher.
After drafting Dante Fowler Jr. with the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Jaguars were hoping they would have a much better edge rushing unit than they did the year before. Despite a respectable sack number, the Jaguars were horrific at rushing the passer in 2014, particularly on the outside. Andre Branch and Chris Clemons were arguably the worst defensive end duo in the NFL that year and not much changed this past season as the two maligned rushers were never really a factor in most games.
Even with Fowler coming back, the Jaguars need to bring in more pass rushers. His first round pedigree aside, it’s not fair to expect a rookie coming off a torn ACL to hit the ground running and start producing at a high clip immediately.
While there are some decent options in the draft, general manager David Caldwell should use some of the copious cap space he has to pursue a rusher in free agency.
"Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon should be the first, and main, guy Jaguars general manager David Caldwell looks at this offseason. After being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft out of Miami, Vernon has 29.5 career sacks, a career high 11.5 in 2013 and 7.5 this past season.Vernon is only 25 years old and would help give the Jaguars a formidble defensive line unit next year with Dante Fowler and Sen’Derrick Marks both returning next season along with Roy Miller and former Dolphin Jared Odrick.The Jaguars were 21st in the NFL in sacks in 2015 with 36. However, the number is misleading as the team barely generated a consistent pass rush much of the season. In order for the Jaguars to make the playoffs in 2016, they will need to add 10 more to that number, which is what Olivier Vernon could provide. The top eight teams in sacks all made the playoffs this past season.ESPN.com writer James Walker says,"
“Vernon should be able to command a minimum of $6 million per season and could go for as high as $10 million depending on the market.”
If that’s all it costs to sign Vernon, I wouldn’t hesitate to give Vernon that $10 million per year contract. With Cameron Wake on the downswing, the onus fell on Vernon to rush the passer for the Dolphins and he responded with a wildly productive second half of the year. Vernon is currently ranked as the number 2 overall free agent behind Alshon Jeffery according to Pro Football Focus and he graded out as the 3rd best edge defender in the league in 2015.
With the Dolphins having committed a ton of cap space to Ndamukong Suh, the likelihood of them keeping Vernon is dwindling. If the Jaguars can pair Vernon with Fowler out of the gate, the defense should be much improved in 2016.