JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll answer the best one every Saturday morning. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco. Please use the hashtag #jagsquestion.
— Jagtastic (@ellisor3) February 5, 2016
@ESPNdirocco: It’s good that you put the qualifier of likely hitting the market, because hoping for Von Miller or Josh Norman to be available would be unrealistic. That said, there are a lot of options for the Jaguars.
The Jaguars have two big needs on defense -- pass-rusher and free safety -- so I’ll concentrate on those areas.
There won’t be any truly elite pass-rushers out there, because they’re too valuable, but if I were Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell I would target defensive end Olivier Vernon (Miami) and outside linebacker Tamba Hali (Kansas City). Vernon has 25.5 sacks in his past three seasons and is 25 years old, which puts him squarely in the "young and ascending" category. He would be a good fit at Leo (pass-rushing end) and someone that could handle the bulk of the work there while Dante Fowler Jr. gets mainly third-down work.
Hali's situation is different than Vernon's. Hali is 32 and approaching the end of his career, but he still has been and effective pass-rusher (12.5 sacks the past two seasons combined). Caldwell said at his end-of-season news conference that the rebuild is at the point where he will pursue aging veterans to help fill a role for a year or two, so Hali could be on his radar.
Another player I’d consider is defensive end Robert Ayers (New York Giants), who had 9.5 sacks in 2015 and 19.5 over his past three. He’s an older player as well (30), which means he’s not going to command a huge contract.
The Jaguars could be in a similar situation at free safety. The best available is Eric Weddle, who will turn 31 in 2016. He can play sideline to sideline and has a reputation as a really smart player, so he would be a perfect fit in Gus Bradley’s defense. If the Jaguars draft safety Jalen Ramsey in the first round, he would be able to learn behind Weddle, too.
If Weddle is unavailable, Eric Berry would be my next target. He’s younger (25), so that might make him a better option. He is coming off a Pro Bowl season, which is remarkable considering he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in December 2014.