AFC South: Alex Mack

Colts offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Indianapolis Colts' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Colts moved quickly in free agency to retain talented CB Vontae Davis.
Best move: The Colts couldn't let cornerback Vontae Davis walk in free agency. Not after giving up a second-round pick for him in 2012. Not when they'll likely have to beat Tom Brady and/or Peyton Manning to reach the ultimate goal of representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. Davis and Greg Toler (when healthy) give the Colts a solid cornerback duo. The Colts wasted little time -- just a couple of hours into free agency -- in re-signing Davis to a four-year, $39 million deal.

Riskiest move: Center, center, center. The Colts' belief in second-year center Khaled Holmes kept them from heavily pursing another option on the free-agent market. Cleveland's Alex Mack was the best center on the market, but the Colts didn't want to pay the heavy price tag to try to get the transition-tagged player. Indianapolis signed Phil Costa only to have him leave the money behind and suddenly retire before ever playing a snap with his new team.

Most surprising move: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw's time with the Colts looked to be over after the team announced in October he was having season-ending neck surgery. Bradshaw wanted to continue his career, but it appeared it would have to be elsewhere because of Indianapolis' loaded backfield. But Bradshaw's desire to win and team with Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson in the backfield brought him back for at least another year.

Best move Part II: The Colts couldn't risk not addressing the receiver situation. Veteran Reggie Wayne is coming off ACL surgery, and you don't know what you're going to get out of young receivers Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill and Griff Whalen. Signing former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks to a one-year deal is a win-win situation for the Colts and Nicks. Nicks is coming off a season in which he didn't catch a touchdown pass for the first time in his career, and he's looking to land a nice payday in 2015. Nicks is a proven receiver and gives the Colts another option to go with T.Y. Hilton if Wayne can't regain his previous form.

Jaguars offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
10:00
AM ET
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

.With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Jacksonville Jaguars' offseason moves:

Best move: It has been forgotten after the moves in free agency and excitement over the draft, but general manager David Caldwell trading Blaine Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick was a shrewd move. Caldwell managed to get something for a player who obviously wasn't in the team's plans and was going to be cut before camp anyway. He used that pick to draft Virginia center Luke Bowanko, a player who will compete with Mike Brewster for the starting job. Caldwell essentially got a potential starter -- and at least a player who can contribute at guard as well -- for nothing.

[+] EnlargeToby Gerhart
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerFormer Vikings RB Toby Gerhart is largely unproven as a feature back at the NFL level.
Riskiest move: The natural assumption would be taking quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, but the Jaguars at least have some insurance in the form of Chad Henne if the Bortles move doesn't work out. There is no such luxury at running back if the free-agent signing of Toby Gerhart doesn't work out. While he did produce in the limited work he got behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Gerhart hasn't been a feature back since his days at Stanford. The Jaguars' only somewhat proven option behind him is Jordan Todman, a third-year back with 79 career carries.

Most surprising move: The Jaguars didn't land him, but it was a bit of a surprise to see how aggressively they pursued Cleveland center Alex Mack despite the fact that the Browns put the transition tag on him. The Jaguars put together an offer they felt Cleveland wouldn't match -- $42 million over five years ($26 million guaranteed) with a player option in the third year and a no-tag clause -- but the Browns quickly did. Still, the attempt served as a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be an afterthought any longer.

Overlooked move: Drafting guard Brandon Linder in the third round didn't move the excitement needle, but he may end up being one of the Jaguars' biggest rookie contributors. The interior of the offensive line was a weakness in 2013, and the Jaguars started to fix that in free agency by signing Zane Beadles to start at left guard. Linder was picked to be the starter at right guard. The proof of how much they are counting on him was the release of guard Will Rackley, the team's third-round pick in 2011, three days after Linder was drafted. Linder played both guard spots and center at Miami, and that versatility is an added bonus.
Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I'll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.
 
INDIANAPOLIS -- Center Phil Costa wasn't even around long enough to be asked about dating Hulk Hogan's daughter let alone possibly hike the ball to quarterback Andrew Luck with the Indianapolis Colts.

Costa, in a surprising announcement, has decided to retire.

"Phil feels it's in his best interest to retire from the game," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said in a statement released by the team. "We certainly understand and wish him nothing but the best."

The Colts signed Costa to a two-year, $2.7 million contract that included $450,000 guaranteed last month.

UPDATE: The Colts do not have to pay Costa any of the guaranteed money he was scheduled to make since he decided to retire.

The idea was for Costa to compete with Khaled Holmes for the starting center position, but I got the sense that the Colts were hoping Holmes would win the job. Costa, who started with the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, was beat out by rookie Travis Frederick last season.

Holmes only played 12 snaps and was a healthy inactive 11 times last season as a rookie.

Now the Colts are in serious of need of adding another center to the roster. This isn't a position they should be in with their franchise player Luck. The little bit of good news out of Costa telling the Colts he was retiring is that he did it now and not after training camp had already started. It gives Grigson some time to try to find another center to add to the roster.

Alex Mack?

Nope. The Cleveland Browns quickly matched the offer the Jacksonville Jaguars gave him.

Mike McGlynn?

McGlynn, who plays guard and center, was the best center on the Colts' roster last season, but the team had no interest in re-signing him. McGlynn is now with the Washington Redskins.

Samson Satele?

Next.

Kyle Cook, Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos are the three best centers still available on the free agent market, according to Bill Polian's free agent tracker.

Grigson said during the NFL owners' meetings last month that he wasn't overly impressed with the group of free agent centers.

That takes us to the draft. The Colts' first pick is not until No. 59 in the second round.

Here's a recap of the top 10 centers in the draft, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.:

1. Marcus Martin, USC
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado St.
3. Russell Bodine, North Carolina
4. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
5. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
6. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
7. James Stone, Tennessee
8. Bryan Stork, Florida St.
9. Corey Linsley, Ohio St.
10. Tyler Larsen, Utah St.

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
8:00
AM ET
Got questions about the Jaguars? I'll try to answer a representative selection of them every Saturday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences every once in a while. Sometimes it works and you do hit one into the stands.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell took a shot with Alex Mack. He didn’t connect because the Cleveland Browns quickly decided to match the Jaguars’ five-year, $42 million ($26 million guaranteed) offer sheet Mack signed earlier on Friday. But it was a heckuva swing.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit for attempting to steal one of the game’s best offensive linemen away from a Browns team that made a mistake by not using the franchise tag. The contract was structured in a way that was supposed to make it difficult for the Browns to accept by including a clause that allowed Mack to void the deal after two years, but Browns management accepted that risk.

Even though Caldwell was unable to pull it off, it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren’t going to be the last guy picked for the dodgeball game any longer. Owner Shad Khan has made a significant financial contribution to the team’s facilities -- spending $11 million to renovate the weight room and locker room and $20 million to help finance the stadium and scoreboard improvements -- and now he is showing he’s willing to do the same when it comes to improving the roster.

Adding seven free agents, including guard Zane Beadles ($30 million over five years) and defensive linemen Red Bryant ($19.5 million over four years) and Chris Clemons ($17.5 million over four years), was a good indication of that commitment, but his willingness to give Caldwell the green light to pay that much money to land Mack offers even more proof.

Caldwell has steadily improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Taking a shot at Mack was a shrewd gamble that would have accelerated the rebuilding process. It didn’t work, but the Jaguars are no worse than they were before Mack signed the offer sheet.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The next five days are not going to be easy for Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley.

At any moment, they may find out that the Cleveland Browns have decided to match the offer the Jaguars made to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. That news could come Friday night or they may not find out until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, which is the deadline for the Browns' decision.

Until then, all they can do is wait and hope that the potential contract is structured in a way that will deter the Browns from accepting despite having the significant cap room available (roughly $30 million). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for $42 million over five years, including $26 million guaranteed. The contract also allows Mack to void the deal after the first two years and includes clauses that prohibit him from being traded or tagged again.

That deal isn't exactly team friendly, but it's much worse for the Browns than it is the Jaguars -- and for that the fans can thank former general managers Shack Harris and Gene Smith. Caldwell can afford to pay Mack that much guaranteed money because he doesn't have to worry about having to pay big money to re-sign any current Jaguars players within the next three to four years.

None of the players from Harris' final two drafts (2008 and 2009) remain on the roster. Eight of the 26 players that Smith drafted from 2009-12 are still with the team, but none will deserve big contracts. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is gone and receiver Justin Blackmon is currently serving an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. A team would be foolish to sign Blackmon to anything but a minimum deal.

With the rookie salary structure keeping signing bonuses and contracts reasonable, the Jaguars will be able to handle Mack's front-loaded contract over the next three seasons. Even if players from the 2013 draft class like safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, left tackle Luke Joeckel or receiver Ace Sanders do become elite players, they are on four-year deals that won't expire until after the 2016 season.

The Jaguars added seven free agents (not counting Mack) but some of those contracts include bonuses tied to playing time and most are front-loaded, especially for older players such as defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Red Bryant.

So the Jaguars can certainly afford Mack, and if the Browns decline to match the offer the Jaguars will have solidified the left side of their offensive line for at least the next three years until Joeckel' s rookie deal is up after 2016.

Caldwell deserves a lot of credit if he can pull this off, and it should be a message to the rest of the league that the Jaguars aren't going to be last guy picked for the dodge ball game any longer. Caldwell has rapidly improved a roster that was the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. This potential Mack signing shows he's not a naïve, easy mark, either.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and GM Ray Farmer, who is in his first season with the team, certainly didn't handle the Mack situation as deftly as Caldwell. Instead of giving Mack the franchise tag, which guaranteed Mack a salary of $11.6 million in 2014 and meant any team that signed him would have to part with two first-round picks, they used the transition tag. That saved the Browns about $1.5 million in salary in 2014 and they had the right to match any offer that Mack received, but it also meant they wouldn't get any compensation if they didn't.

It was a gamble, and regardless of their decision on Mack they've lost. They either lose one of the best offensive linemen in the game or they agree to a contract that they can afford now but will impact their ability to extend the contracts of some of their other stars, like cornerback Joe Haden, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Plus, they could get Mack for 2014 and 2015 and lose him with no compensation if he exercises the clause that allows him to void the deal after two seasons.

The Browns may very well decide to match the Jaguars' offer, at which point the Jaguars will be no worse off than they were before Mack signed his offer sheet on Friday. But credit Caldwell for taking a calculated shot, one that could play a significant role in changing the franchise's direction.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell is close to putting together what could become a pretty good offensive line.

Provided the Cleveland Browns don't match whatever offer the Jaguars are expected to make to center Alex Mack on Friday, of course.

Mack
If the Jaguars are able to land the Pro Bowler, Caldwell will have put together a group of players that has a chance to become the team's best offensive line in more than a decade. The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack is a significant upgrade from Brad Meester, who retired after the 2013 season, physically and has shown he's adept at handling the myriad of disguised fronts and looks defenses are using.

The Jaguars added Pro Bowler Zane Beadles (6-4, 305) in free agency and installed him as the starter at left guard, lining up alongside second-year tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2013. Joeckel (6-6, 306) played in only five games, four at right tackle and less than a half at left tackle. He did show a lot of promise in the short time he was on the left side, keeping St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who had 19 sacks last season, at bay.

When Joeckel moved from right tackle to left tackle following Eugene Monroe's trade to Baltimore, first-year player Austin Pasztor stepped into the starting job at right tackle and held onto the job for the rest of the season. The coaching staff likes the 6-7, 308-pounder and is excited about his potential as a long-term starter.

The only question mark is what the team will do at right guard. The Jaguars released Uche Nwaneri last month and could move left guard Will Rackley, who started 12 games last season, into that spot. The Jaguars also could try Mike Brewster, Jacques McClendon or Cameron Bradfield there as well, or draft a guard in the middle rounds.

Another possibility -- which seems unlikely at this point -- would be for the Jaguars to draft Greg Robinson or Luke Matthews at No. 3 and slide Pasztor to right guard.

Even taking the uncertainty at right guard into consideration, the Jaguars' new-look line has the potential to be pretty formidable over the next several seasons, as long as Joeckel continues to develop and Mack and Beadles continue to play at a Pro Bowl level.

The Jaguars haven't had a truly dominant offensive line since the 1999 season. That group was anchored by left tackle Tony Boselli, generally recognized as the best left tackle in the game at the time, and right tackle Leon Searcy. Ben Coleman, Zach Wiegert and Rich Tylski were the guards and John Wade started every game at center.

The '99 team didn't set any rushing records but long-time Jaguars observers consider that the best offensive line in team history. The Jaguars did go 14-2 that season and lost to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.

The potential lineup in 2014 and beyond has a chance to be better than any group the Jaguars have had in the last decade. At the very least it's pretty much a guarantee that newly-acquired running back Toby Gerhart is going to be spending a large amount of time running behind the left side.

Holmes has inside track at center

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:15
PM ET
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Khaled Holmes didn't give you an appetizer sampling size of what he could do during his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts.

For a player who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 319 pounds, what Holmes gave the Colts was more like a snack-size treat.

Holmes played a total of 12 snaps last season.

[+] EnlargeKhaled Holmes
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesKhaled Holmes played just 12 snaps last season but is primed to be the Colts' starting center at the start of the regular season.
But here Colts coach Chuck Pagano sat during the breakfast media session and general manager Ryan Grigson leaned back in his chair in the lounge area of the Ritz Carlton hotel Tuesday afternoon talking confidently about the player they selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.

So confident that you have to believe that Holmes -- the same Holmes who played 12 snaps last season -- has the inside track to be the Colts' starting center when the regular season begins. Holmes was handpicked by Grigson and the last thing the general manager wants is for his draft pick not to pan out.

"He's big, he's athletic and he's very, very bright," Pagano said. "He has great [football instincts]. From a mental standpoint, it's all there."

The Colts cut ties with center Samson Satele earlier this month after he played poorly last season. Of the top-tier free-agent centers, Cleveland's Alex Mack is the only one the Colts had their eyes on.

Could Mack have immediately fixed the interior part of the Colts' offensive line? Of course, but they shied away from heavily pursuing him because the financial commitment would have been too much.

The Colts signed former Dallas Cowboys center Phil Costa to compete with Holmes for the starting position.

"We looked at every center, we looked at all the guards," Grigson said. "We didn't like anybody. It's based off our facts, which is the tape."

So that leaves Holmes and Costa as the two leading candidates to start and possibly give the Colts the same center combination they had with Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning for eight years.

"It was unfortunate what happened to Khaled but he's a talented guy and the expectations are high for him," Pagano said. "To bring in a guy like Costa in the mix, who's to say there's not a guy? Time is going to tell. We feel like he might be sitting right there. We have to stay healthy and get them on the field and play at that level. Time will tell on that. I think we have two capable guys that can play at a high level."

Costa has the resume to be a starter even if he did lose his starting spot to rookie Travis Frederick last season with the Cowboys. Costa started every game for Dallas in 2011, but injuries limited him during the 2012 season and he played in only three games last season.

You're probably wondering how Holmes could go from barely breaking a sweat in a game last season to looking like the player with the best shot to be hiking the ball to Andrew Luck next season.

Holmes was behind in the learning process after missing a significant amount of training camp last year with an ankle injury.

"This league, unfortunately, when a guy gets hurt in training camp he gets shelved," Grigson said. "There was a lot of optimism about him in minicamp, his level of intelligence. He's unique, he's 318 pounds. He's got guard versatility even though I think he's a center, but he's got good arm length. At center, you have to have that ... The guy knows how to play football."

Satele's problems at center last season were well documented, but the Colts didn't want to just throw Holmes on the field because it wouldn't have been fair to do that to him since he missed a significant part of training camp.

"You have a trust level," Grigson said. "And even if you have a player you think doesn't have as high of ceiling as the guy that's sitting on bench, you have a guy who has been through some wars. Experience plays a major factor and it makes everyone comfortable when you have someone who has been there done that than throwing a guy to the wolves when you're in the middle of a run.

"That's a tough thing to do. When you're losing or if you've lost five games in a row and you're not going to the playoffs, then you can make those decisions."

Free-agency review: Colts

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
AM ET
Most significant signing: The Colts needed a legitimate cornerback to deal with quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the AFC. They had one on the roster last season and they just couldn’t let him go once free agency started. Indianapolis re-signed cornerback Vontae Davis to a four-year, $39 million contract that includes $20 million guaranteed. Now Davis has to live up to the contract and avoid the lapses he had at times last season.

Bethea
Most significant loss: Safety Antoine Bethea was the backbone of the secondary. He started every game he played during his eight years with the Colts. But Bethea knew there was a good chance he would be playing with another team next season. He signed a four-year deal with San Francisco hours into free agency on March 11.

Biggest surprise: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was the Colts’ most effective running back last season. His days with the team appeared to be numbered after a neck injury ended his season after Week 3 -- not because the Colts didn’t think he could be effective, but because they already had Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard on the roster. Bradshaw signed a one-year deal to return and hopefully give the Colts three effective running backs next season.

What’s next? The Colts need to find somebody to replace Bethea and start alongside LaRon Landry in the secondary. They also need to finish addressing the interior part of the offensive line. A possible guard isn’t out of the question, and they need to determine whether Cleveland center Alex Mack is worth throwing a lot of money at since the Browns used the transition tag on him, and considering Indianapolis signed center Phil Costa last week.
The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
The Jaguars’ release of right guard Uche Nwaneri on Tuesday gives a clear indication of their plan of attack in free agency.

Nwaneri
Center and guard will sit atop general manager David Caldwell’s list when the signing period begins on March 11. Nwaneri’s release and Brad Meester’s retirement mean the Jaguars have to find a new starter at each spot, and Caldwell would like to add at least another guard to make a significant upgrade to the interior of the line.

The Jaguars weren’t exactly hurting for salary-cap space, but releasing Nwaneri saves the team about $3.7 million in cap space for 2014. That gives them approximately $60 million to spend, and a good chunk of it will be devoted to the interior of the offensive line. That is the team's biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early last season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme, and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.

The strength of a team’s running game comes from the center and two guards, and those spots for Jacksonville weren’t very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game), and running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s 3.4 yards per carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and didn't play at the same level he had the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013. Starting right guard Will Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.

The Jaguars were thought to be going to make a run at Cleveland center Alex Mack, but the Browns placed the transition tag on him earlier this week. The Jaguars could still offer him a contract, but the Browns have five days to match the offer.

Other possibilities at center include New England’s Ryan Wendell and New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente. Possible targets at guard include Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and San Diego’s Rich Ohrnberger.

The Jaguars drafted Nwaneri in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he played in 104 games with 92 starts. He started and played every snap in 2013.

Free-agency series: Offensive line

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
12:00
PM ET
Here is the fifth of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Offensive line

Who is on the roster: OT Cameron Bradfield, G/C Mike Brewster, OT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, OT DeMarcus Love, G Jacques McClendon, G Stephane Milhim, G Drew Nowak, G Uche Nwaneri, OT Austin Pasztor, G Will Rackley, and OT Sam Young.

Joeckel
Analysis: Injuries hurt the unit early in the season and really impacted it late. The group struggled in the transition to a zone-blocking scheme early in the season as well, which is why the Jaguars finished the first eight games last in the NFL in rushing. Joeckel, whom the Jaguars took with the No. 2 overall pick, spent the first four weeks of the season at right tackle before moving to his natural spot at left tackle following the trade of Eugene Monroe. He played less than a quarter against St. Louis before suffering a fractured ankle, but he was handling Robert Quinn (who finished with 19.0 sacks) pretty well before he got hurt. His injury forced Bradfield and Pasztor into the lineup, and Pasztor played surprisingly well. The team is encouraged by his potential. The biggest issue is the interior of the line. Brad Meester retired, so the Jaguars need a center. Nwaneri was solid at right guard, but left guard was an issue because Rackley played hurt all season and the Jaguars could never generate much push in the middle of the line.

NFL free agents of interest: C Alex Mack, C Ryan Wendell, C Brian De La Puenta, G Jon Asamoah, G Geoff Schwartz, and G Rich Ohrnberger.

Need meter: 9. After quarterback and leo, the interior of the offensive line is the Jaguars’ biggest need. GM David Caldwell has said the team would like to address that in free agency, and it would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn’t sign at least two starters, including a center, within the first few weeks of free agency. It’s unlikely the Jaguars would target the big names that are available, mainly because of cost, but if those players linger on the market and the price drops, the Jaguars would get involved. Even though Joeckel is talented and seemed to thrive in the very limited time he spent at left tackle, there are still questions about him, so the Jaguars might opt to add some experienced depth at tackle. Competition for roster spots on the line will be among the more interesting training camp battles.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars general manager David Caldwell can be very aggressive in free agency if he chooses because the Jaguars are projected to have the third-most cap room available when the free-agency period begins next month.

According to a Feb. 7 report from Roster Management System, the Jaguars will have nearly $30 million in cap space. The team's cap number -- which includes salaries, penalties, dead money, and futures contracts -- for 2014 is $96,517,190, well below the estimated 2014 salary cap of $126 million.

That leaves the Jaguars with $29,482,810 to spend on free agents and draft picks.

Only two teams in the NFL have more projected cap room: Indianapolis ($33,096,844) and Oakland ($58,242,920).

But just because the Jaguars have a significant amount of money to spend doesn't mean Caldwell will be writing a lot of big checks. The Jaguars will target some offensive and defensive linemen in free agency, especially a center, and will be somewhat aggressive early and then back off in the hopes of finding a bargain later in free agency.

That doesn't mean the Jaguars are going to jump into the competition for Alex Mack, who is one of the league's top centers. Ryan Kalil signed a six-year, $49.12 million deal in 2011 with Carolina that made him the NFL's highest-paid center and Mack's deal is expected to top that.

He may not even be available, either, because Cleveland could sign him to an extension before his contract expires last month. Mack also said he would give the Browns the chance to match any offer he received.

"Some of these guys [available linemen] are going to get signed before free agency becomes available," Caldwell said. "We'll just have to wait and see who becomes available and who's out there. You have the franchise tag and some other methods that teams use to keep their guys so we'll see.

"There will be another influx of guys that become available when teams have to get under the salary cap."

Waiting paid off for the Jaguars last year. They signed four unrestricted free agents from other teams (linebacker Geno Hayes, cornerback Alan Ball, running back Justin Forsett and defensive tackle Roy Miller) from March 13-15 and then added defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks on April 2.

Marks had a career year and ended up signing a four-year contract extension in December.

The next big thing: Jaguars

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:00
PM ET
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a good position to make some noise in free agency.

With more than $54 million in projected cap space for 2014, the Jaguars could go after several top-tier free agents (such as Carolina's Greg Hardy or Cleveland’s Alex Mack) or take a more conservative approach by mining the middle tier of free agents. The Jaguars have several areas of need they could address in free agency: pass-rusher, interior offensive line, running back, and outside linebacker.

Jaguars GM David Caldwell has said he wants to build through the draft, so it seems unlikely the Jaguars would be big spenders in free agency this offseason. Next offseason is more likely, especially if Caldwell’s first two draft classes are productive.

As for in-house work, the Jaguars hope to re-sign quarterback Chad Henne and running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the latter of which seems less likely.

As for the draft, it seems the Jaguars’ decision on what to do with the No. 3 overall pick comes down to this: Take one of the elite pass-rushers, which would address one of the team’s most glaring problems, or go with a quarterback.

There is no doubt that the Jaguars need to find a quarterback to build around, but Caldwell has to decide if he believes any of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft can be an immediate starter and make a difference right away. If he doesn’t, then the plan likely will be to take the pass-rusher -- Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr seem most likely -- and grab a quarterback sometime in the next few rounds.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider