JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars’ already-struggling pass rush took another hit Monday when leo Jason Babin, the team’s sack leader in 2013, voided the final two years of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent.
That leaves the Jaguars with just two leos on the roster: third-year player Andre Branch and Gerald Rivers, an undrafted rookie the team claimed in December. Red Bryant, whom the team signed on Saturday, plays on the opposite side and that end’s primary responsibility is stopping the run.
The Jaguars were already expected to be active in free agency in trying to find another pass rusher but Babin’s decision adds a little more urgency. The team may address the area in the draft -- with Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack in the first round, for example -- but it still would be beneficial to have a veteran presence at that spot the locker room.
There’s a solid chance Babin, who turns 34 in May, will re-sign with the Jaguars, albeit at a much more reasonable salary than the $6 million he was scheduled to make in each of the next two seasons. He’s not a double-digit sack guy any longer, but he did lead the team with 7.5 sacks last season and coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich both said he has played better than his stats indicate.
Right now the Jaguars’ best pass rusher is Branch, the team’s under-achieving second-round draft pick in 2012. Gus Bradley, defensive line coach Todd Wash and Babich got Branch to be more consistent last season and he ended up finishing second with six sacks and nine quarterback pressures. Rivers played in two games with St. Louis before being cut and did not appear in a game for the Jaguars.
The market for pass rushers wasn’t that deep anyway and most of the remaining available players that fit as a leo -- a hybrid end/linebacker whose main responsibility is rushing the passer -- in the Jaguars’ scheme are second- and third-tier free agents.
Babin was able to void his contract because of a rule in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows a vested veteran claimed after the trading deadline -- which the Jaguars did in 2012 -- to declare themselves a free agent after the season following the season in which he was claimed.