Final Exam: Jags should wait on Shorts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This is going to be a big offseason for Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts, and you can bet the Jaguars will be watching carefully.

Shorts is entering the final season of his rookie contract, which paid him $2.67 million over four years, and knows that a big season will result in a much more lucrative deal, whether it’s with the Jaguars or elsewhere. Shorts would obviously like to get a deal done sometime before the 2014 season begins, but the Jaguars would be better off waiting until late in the season the way they did with defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.

Before GM David Caldwell signs Shorts to a contract extension, he needs to be sure he’s going to get a decent return on that investment. That means Shorts has to prove he can stay healthy and be on the field for 16 games.

The 6-foot, 202-pound Shorts has missed 11 games in his first three seasons because of various injuries. In 2013 he played through a painful shoulder injury and missed the final three games with a sports hernia. He missed two games with a concussion in 2012, and six with hamstring injuries as a rookie in 2011.

Shorts has been productive when he has been on the field, catching 66 passes for 777 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, and 55 passes for 979 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.

But those aren’t No. 1 receiver numbers. Shorts is a solid No. 2, and as a result will get No. 2 receiver money. What is that ballpark? Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson signed a three-year, $13.35 million contract with $5 million in guarantees four games into the 2011 season. He caught 100 passes for 1,268 yards and six touchdowns in his first three seasons.

Shorts has 123 catches for 1,786 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first three seasons, and that includes two catches for 30 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.

Of course, by waiting until late in the season the Jaguars risk losing Shorts if he becomes unhappy with the Jaguars’ decision. There is also the possibility Shorts has a big season and is able to command more money than the Jaguars would have had to pay had they done a deal sooner, although that’s probably a tradeoff the Jaguars would take, because it would mean Shorts has joined the upper echelon of NFL receivers.

The Jaguars haven’t had much luck with receivers outside of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, and neither were drafted by the franchise. They have had three first-round busts in R. Jay Soward, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and might have another on the roster now in Justin Blackmon.

Their free-agent signings haven’t been good, either. Laurent Robinson and Jerry Porter were huge failures, and each lasted only one season.

Shorts, 26, whom the Jaguars drafted in the fourth round in 2011 out of Mount Union College, has a chance to be better than them all, provided he proves he can stay healthy. That is not something we’ll know until late in 2014, which is why the Jaguars should take a wait-and-see approach before thinking about a contract extension.