The process is by nature an uncertain one, and it’s still a month off.
That’s one reason Gene Smith, in his fourth off-season as the Jaguars’ General Manager, said it’s important to remember as pro free agency approaches that the best-laid plans are just that – and that much will change before it begins next month.
Still, Smith said he is sure of a couple of things:
That the Jaguars will be prepared for the process, and that they will improve in the coming weeks and months.
“I’m confident we can do some things in the out of season to upgrade this roster,” Smith said earlier this week.
Smith, who spoke in his office at EverBank Field, has had a busy 2012 off-season, one that figures to remain that way.
He spent the days immediately following the 2011 regular-season finale finding a head coach, and after Mike Mularkey was hired for the position, he and Mularkey spent the next two weeks filling out the coaching staff.
Smith, who also attended the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., in late January, also has been preparing for not only the NFL Draft in late April, but for free agency. The latter process entails not only identifying potential free agents from other teams, but choosing which players on the Jaguars’ roster to re-sign.
“The priority is always our own players first – we’re working through that right now,” said Smith, adding that free agency opening two weeks later than normal under the new collective bargaining agreement is a positive considering the hectic nature of the Jaguars’ off-season.
While Smith and much of the Jaguars’ staff will attend the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week, the preparation for free agency continues before and after, with the next key date on the NFL calendar being February 20.
That’s when teams can begin applying the franchise tag to potential free agents. The last date teams can protect a potential free agent by franchising him is March 5, with free agency scheduled to begin March 13 – the first day of the new league year.
The Jaguars have 11 unrestricted free agents – defensive end
If those players are not re-signed, they are free to sign with any NFL team as of March 13.
The Jaguars also have five restricted free agents – defensive end
Smith said the coaches will be “thoroughly involved in the scouting process.”
“I accumulate opinions,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re doing that from our coaching staff, because I already have the scouts’ opinions on these particular players. We take their opinion in consideration with ours and come up with a Jaguars grade.
“In the end, it’s something Mike and I will talk through in depth. Certainly, we do take the coaches’ opinion into consideration here. That’s something I’ve done from Day One, working with (former Jaguars Head Coach) Tom (Coughlin), then with (former Head Coach) Jack (Del Rio) and certainly with Mike. I think it’s important to know how they feel, so I’m going to continue to do that.”
Smith declined to specify the status of discussions with current players, and did not specify players from other rosters the Jaguars might target. But with wide receiver widely considered an off-season priority, he said, “There will be some receivers on the open market who can help our situation.”
“We don’t know at this point which ones will be out there, but we feel like it’s a position we can upgrade through pro free agency, and the college draft,” he said.
Smith said while the Jaguars made improvements defensively last season by aggressively pursuing free agents, that approach “was atypical.”
“We’re trying to add weapons on offense and it will be a combination of pro free agency and the draft,” he said.
The franchise tag is just one of the moving parts Smith and the Jaguars’ staff face in preparing for free agency. As of mid-February, the top free agents at wide receiver are widely considered to be players such as DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia, Vincent Jackson of San Diego, Marques Colston of New Orleans and Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City. Defensive ends such Mario Williams of Houston, Robert Mathis of Indianapolis and Cliff Avril of Detroit are also scheduled to become free agents.
If all are available, the 2012 class could be one of the best in recent memory, particularly at the positions most consider the Jaguars’ biggest needs. But with nearly a month remaining, and with players potentially being franchised and re-signed, Smith said the only thing to do now is evaluate, plan and wait.“You evaluate all of the players, then as players re-sign or if they do get tagged, they’re no longer in play and you adjust accordingly,” Smith said. “You can only concern yourself with what you have control over. You have a strategy going in, but as things change, you have to be prepared to adjus