Gene Smith has been steadfast in his belief that the best way to build a team is through a best available player approach. Value is the most important thing to consider when making a selection, and while matching value with need is ideal, value is paramount.
With that said, the Jaguars have set out in each of the last two offseasons to upgrade at the positions they are most bare at. In 2009, offensive tackle and wide receiver were the two positions that the Jaguars were weakest at. Rather than put themselves in a position where they might have to reach in the draft in order to obtain one of the tackles and/or receivers in the draft, they signed free agents Torry Holt and Tra Thomas.
While they were able to draft Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard and Tiquan Underwood, the Jaguars allowed themselves room to draft the best available player rather than force themselves into taking players to fill gaping holes.
In 2010 the gaping hole was at defensive end. After racking up only 14 sacks in the 2009 season, finding pass rushing defensive ends was of high priority for Gene Smith and co. Using a similar strategy to that of the 2009 offseason, the Jaguars signed two-time Pro Bowler Aaron Kampman.
Again they had the luxury to draft whomever was the best player available and represented the most value. They added youth to the line in the draft with Tyson Alualu, D’Anthony Smith, Austen Lane and Larry Hart.
Looking at the Jaguars roster as they approach the 2011 season, there is only one clear gaping hole that has to be filled and fast. Defensive back. At safety, the Jaguars are probably safe feeling comfortable with Courtney Greene and at cornerback, they are probably ok to feel good about Derek Cox. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go much deeper than that.
It can be argued that Rashean Mathis still has quality play left in him, but he’ll be 31 in August and is approaching the last year of his contract with the Jaguars. It’s very possible, if not probable, that he’ll be wearing another team’s colors in 2012.
What this all boils down to is that I absolutely expect the Jaguars to sign a defensive back in free agency to automatically fill a starting role in the secondary and allow the team the luxury to draft the best available player. While I expect the Jaguars to draft cornerbacks and/or safeties in April, if a team is true to the mentality of value being first and foremost, those players’ availablity can’t necessarily be relied on.
While this strategy is excellent at providing a team with the tools to stick to their philosophy, it is all-for-naught if the NFL and NFLPA negotiations slow. If CBA negotiations force free agency to happen after the draft, the Jaguars could be in a lot of trouble. They may be forced into a situation where they have to move around in the draft order and ensure they get a starting quality defensive back to shore up the secondary. If they don’t they would have to rely on free agency to do so.
The scary part of that is that if other teams also have the same problem it could turn into a desperate bidding war between teams that have to sign a certain player to fill a gaping hole. If there’s something Wayne Weaver and the Jaguars aren’t built for, it’s a desperate bidding war.