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Fabulous Four: Jaguars look forward

Posted Jan 2, 2014

Senior writer John Oehser examines four Jacksonville Jaguars-related topics as the team prepares to move into the 2014 offseason

4. The wait and watching begin. We begin this Welcome to 2014 Fabulous Four with the Jaguars storyline that will dominate most others in the first two months of the offseason – that is, the status of Maurice Jones-Drew. General Manager David Caldwell made headlines Tuesday when he said the Jaguars likely would allow Jones-Drew to test free agency, and that he doubted Jones-Drew would be re-signed before the free agency period begins March 11. Jones-Drew had said the previous day he would like to return to the Jaguars, but said, too, “it’s a monetary issue.” As for where that leaves the situation, there isn’t much more to it than meets the eye. It’s not acrimonious. As Caldwell said, Jones-Drew has earned the right to find his market value and will be allowed to do so. Caldwell also said he’s not pessimistic about Jones-Drew returning. This almost certainly will be a matter of Jones-Drew testing the market and seeing what it might bring. If it’s not significantly more than what the Jaguars are willing to offer, then he probably returns. If it is, then he almost certainly doesn’t. Jones-Drew on Monday was asked if he had given much thought to the fact that Sunday may have been his last game with the Jaguars. “If it was, I gave everything I had,” Jones-Drew said. “Every game I played, I left it all on the field. That’s all you can do. I don’t have that sentimental thing. That’s just not me. I understand how this game is, and that’s why you go out there and play that way. You play as hard as you can for as long as you can and hopefully you played the right way so people understand.”

3. Analytically speaking … With the Jaguars’ losing in one-sided fashion to the Colts, it was unsurprising that just one offensive player graded positively by Pro Football Focus in the 2013 regular-season finale. Notably, that player was left tackle Cameron Bradfield, who played through a high-ankle sprain to start despite being questionable throughout the week. Defensively, LEO defensive end Jason Babin graded positively, as did cornerback Alan Ball, safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Will Blackmon. Reserve defensive tackle Drake Nevis and reserve linebacker LaRoy Reynolds also graded positively. For the season, Jones-Drew finished as PFF’s most highly-rated Jaguars offensive player with wide receiver Cecil Shorts III also grading out positively. Defensively, Ball was the highest-rated Jaguars player, with tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, end Ryan Davis, Reynolds, Blackmon, cornerback Dwayne Gratz and cornerback Mike Harris grading positively.

2. And finally, a word on the quarterback … What? Isn’t this supposed to be No. 4? Well, it is, but there’s enough on the quarterbacks this week to break it up into two parts. First, we’ll cover the Jaguars’ approach to Blaine Gabbert in the offseason. Caldwell nearly broke Twitter this week when he said the Jaguars would like to have Gabbert return next season, but while that might at first seem like a smokescreen, there’s some sound reasoning behind the thought. First, Gabbert is under contract and his salary is guaranteed, so wherever he is in 2014 the Jaguars are paying him. Secondly, Gabbert approached being the backup through the final eight games of the season in mature enough fashion that it wouldn’t be ridiculous to see him playing that role. Caldwell said he told Gabbert the team would like to have him back next season and Gabbert said he plans to be back to compete for “my job.” That’s the mindset you would expect Gabbert to have, and while it seems very possible – even likely – that Gabbert will be traded or released sometime before next season, the idea that he could be around at least through training camp isn’t unreasonable as we start the 2014 offseason. If Chad Henne returns and the Jaguars draft a quarterback, then Gabbert unlikely would be here in 2014, but if Henne opts to sign elsewhere, then could Gabbert return next season? We shall see.

1. And finally, finally, a word on the quarterback … When discussing quarterbacks Tuesday, Caldwell said it was a very real possibility that the team would re-sign Henne before the beginning of the free agency period March 11. That was in pretty sharp contrast to him saying minutes earlier that Jones-Drew likely would not be re-signed before hitting free agency. A reason for that is that the Jaguars need an option entering the offseason not only for the backup quarterback position, but to give them at least a measure of flexibility entering free agency at the draft. As much as the fan base and other observers expect the Jaguars to draft a quarterback in the first round – and as likely as it remains that that will happen – there is still a long, long way to go in the draft process. If, as was the case last season, the Jaguars determine that there is no quarterback early worth designating as “The Guy” moving forward, it remains at least a tiny sniff of a possibility Henne could remain the quarterback. This would be a strategy in line with how Seattle built under Pete Carroll, strengthening the roster before adding Russell Wilson to the mix in 2012. That wouldn’t be popular with the fan base initially, but if Caldwell and Bradley believe it’s best to go that route, the duo would have the support of ownership. That’s not at all the likely scenario, but if it occurs, Henne – who improved in the second half of the season and helped stabilize the offense and the team – could be a viable option for a year.

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