Jacksonville Jaguars: Greg Hardy

Here is the seventh of a 10-part series breaking down the Jacksonville Jaguars' free-agency needs, position by position:

Defensive end

Who's on the roster: Tyson Alualu, Jason Babin, Andre Branch, Ryan Davis, Will Pericak, D'Aundre Reed and Gerald Rivers.

Analysis: Babin, Branch and Rivers play the leo position, which is essentially a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid whose main purpose is to rush the passer. Babin led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks in 2013 but his spot on the roster for 2014 is tenuous because of his high salary cap number ($6.175 million) and age (he turns 34 in May). He said he's willing to re-negotiate his contract so he can stay in Jacksonville but the team may choose instead to cut him as part of a youth movement. Branch looked like a bust but improved steadily throughout the 2013 season, thanks to better consistency, and finished with six sacks and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (10). He also had the second-most quarterback pressures (nine) behind Babin's team-high 19. The other defensive end spot is not really asked to rush the passer much and Alualu did a solid job there in the run game (44 tackles). Davis got more playing time after the team released Jeremy Mincey and the 25-year-old certainly has a much bigger upside than Mincey.

NFL free agents of interest: Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett.

Need meter: 10. The Jaguars have finished last in the NFL in sacks in each of the past two seasons and finding a pass-rusher is the team's top priority along with quarterback. The Jaguars will sign at least one pass-rusher in free agency and it may be a mid-level player like Johnson. It's going to cost a lot to sign Johnson and the Jaguars may not be willing to invest that much money in someone now, especially with the abundance of pass rushers available in the top part of the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
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.
Each day this week I’ll provide an answer to a key question facing the Jaguars in the offseason.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It’s clear that quarterback and pass rush are the Jaguars’ most pressing needs for the 2014 season.

After that, though, the Jaguars’ priority isn’t as clear. Interior offensive line, outside linebacker, running back, and receiver are all jockeying for the No. 3 spot in general manager David Caldwell’s needs list. Those positions can’t all be addressed in the draft, so the team will look to fill those needs via free agency.

But don’t expect the Jaguars to be involved in a bidding war for big-name free agents. Caldwell said the team still has to fix the foundation before he’s willing to target the upper-echelon free agents. He’s more interested in signing quality starters and depth guys from the middle-tier of free agents.

"Considering where we are right now as an organization, as a team, we’ve got a lot of building to do," Caldwell said. "We’re not just one piece away where we can go get a high-priced player and then feel like we’re just … You’re never going to be one player away, but a lot of teams are really close and feel like, ‘If we just get this one guy at this one position that’s a glaring weakness we can go get them.’

"We did that in Atlanta in our time. We signed Dunta Robinson and traded for Tony Gonzalez and each year we added a high-priced guy but we didn’t add a lot of depth because we had a lot of depth and a good core of starters. Here we’ve got to get a good core of starters before we start to target some difference makers in free agency."

That means players like Alex Mack, Greg Hardy, Brian Orakpo and Michael Johnson aren’t likely to be on the Jaguars’ radar. They are simply going to be too expensive and the Jaguars could add two, or even three, quality players for the same amount of money.

Taking that approach worked for Caldwell last season. He signed defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks to a one-year deal and Marks turned in a career season and was rewarded with a new deal in December. The Jaguars also waited a few days after free agency began to start signing players, which is something the team will likely do again next month.

By waiting, the hope is a player’s price tag goes down to a more reasonable number or that a player that is cut to make room for a higher-priced free agent is then available.

The Jaguars will add several free agents next month, especially along the interior of the offensive line, which in my opinion is the biggest need after QB and pass-rusher. The Jaguars need to beef up both guard spots and find another center now that Brad Meester has retired.

They’ll try to address running back and linebacker as well.

But it’ll be through the draft that the Jaguars will make their splashiest additions.

"I firmly believe that you build it through the draft," Caldwell said. "That was our vision, that was our plan coming into this, and we’re going to stick to it."

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
Got questions about the Jacksonville Jaguars? I’ll try to answer a representative selection of them every Thursday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.

The next big thing: Jaguars

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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.

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
Got questions about the Jaguars? I'll try to answer a representative selection of them every Thursday. Submit your questions via Twitter to @ESPNdirocco.