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Handicapping notable veteran returns

12/27/2013

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has some interesting decisions ahead of him in the next several months regarding several notable players who are under contract in 2014 and beyond.

Does he try and restructure those deals to be more cap friendly and avoid over-paying for veterans who aren’t as productive as they have been or no longer fit into the team’s plans? Are those players will to restructure, which often means taking a pay cut?

Or does Caldwell just cut them outright?

The Jaguars are more than $20 million under the salary cap so there’s no financial reason to do any of those things other than it’s bad business to overpay for players who aren’t performing or don’t fit into the team’s future. That’s how teams do get into trouble with the salary cap.

Here’s a breakdown of several notable players who are in the above situations along with my guess on whether they’re back or not:

QB Blaine Gabbert

Why he may be back: His salary of little more than $2 million is guaranteed for 2014 so there’s really no reason to cut him. The Jaguars would owe him his salary anyway so why not keep him on the roster? Maybe the last two months have been good for him in terms of seeing the game from a different perspective and that allows him to finally take the next step in his development.

Why he won’t: If the Jaguars have decided to move on and take a quarterback with their first-round pick, it’s going to be awkward in the locker room. You never know how that dynamic will work, so why take the chance of having any issues? Plus it would mark a clean break and give Gabbert a chance to hook on with another team before training camp.

My guess: He’s back, at least through training camp.

RB Justin Forsett

Why he may be back: The Jaguars’ running back situation is unclear because of Maurice Jones-Drew’s status. If Jones-Drew decides not to return, the Jaguars will have to add at least one running back. If that’s a young player through the draft, the Jaguars will need some veteran leadership in the locker room and meeting rooms. Forsett would certainly provide that. Plus, he’s only scheduled to make $1.1 million next season.

Why he won’t: Injuries and the emergence of Jordan Todman never allowed Forsett to find a place in the offense. He doesn’t add anything that Todman doesn’t as a runner and while he is a good receiver out of the backfield the Jaguars could certainly find a cheaper alternative.

My guess: He doesn’t return.

WR Justin Blackmon

Why he may be back: There’s no denying his talent, and he was clearly the Jaguars’ best offensive player in the four games in which he played.

Why he won’t: He has already been suspended twice for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and another violation will cost him another indefinite suspension. There’s no way the team can make him a key part of the offense because there’s always the threat of another violation.

My guess: If he’s granted reinstatement by the commissioner, he’ll be back. Personally, I think they should cut him as soon as he’s reinstated.

TE Marcedes Lewis

Why he may be back: He has been very productive over the last five games (14 catches, four TDs) and has shown he can be a viable part of the passing offense. In fact, if the Jaguars made more of a commitment to getting him involved he could be a 50-catch player who scores six to eight touchdowns. Plus, he’s a great blocker, which is a tremendous help in the running game. Though he’s scheduled to make $6.7 million next season, the Jaguars can absorb that number because of how far they are under the cap.

Why he won’t: His salary is still a significant chunk of the team’s cap and he would be the team’s second-highest paid player behind linebacker Paul Posluszny ($7.45 million). Plus, he’ll be 30 in May and the Jaguars want to get younger at every position.

My guess: He’s back in 2014 but may be gone in 2015.

DE Jason Babin

Why he may be back: Babin isn’t a double-digit sack guy any longer, but he has still been productive (6.5 sacks) and coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich both said he has played better than his stats indicate. A veteran presence is always good in the locker room, especially if the Jaguars are going to draft several young pass rushers. He has indicated that he is willing to re-negotiate his contract.

Why he won’t: Babin, who will be 34 in May, is scheduled to make $6 million in each of the next two seasons, but there is a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows him to declare himself a free agent after this season. That’s allowed when a vested veteran claimed after the trading deadline -- which the Jaguars did last season -- can declare himself a free agent after the season following the season in which he was claimed. He could opt to become a free agent and try and find another team.

My guess: He’s back, but at a reduced salary.