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Big-time guys available


The Jaguars head into this year's free-agent signing period knowing a player here and there could launch the team back into the playoffs and, possibly, into the Super Bowl. The problem is the Jaguars' most unsettled position is the game's most important position, quarterback, and this year's crop of free-agent quarterbacks, as usual, wouldn't seem to offer a fix.

Jeff Garcia is considered to be the best of the quarterbacks in unrestricted free agency. Garcia had nice seasons with the 49ers some years ago and he resurrected his career in the second half of last season, leading the Eagles into the divisional round of the playoffs. Was that, however, an indication of what's ahead for Garcia, or was it just a phenomenon? Most personnel people continue to view Garcia as a quarterback of limited skills.

So who else is out there in free agency at quarterback? Well, Damon Huard is coming off a nice season. He replaced Trent Green handsomely for much of the year. Huard, however, is a 34-year-old, weak-armed passer who's clearly more of a backup than a fix.

The others? Todd Bauman, Kerry Collins, Koy Detmer, Shane Matthews, Tim Rattay, Vinny Testaverde, Marques Tuiasosopo and Anthony Wright.

As you can see, unrestricted free agency is not a place to look for a fix at quarterback. At other positions, however, there are players of considerable value.

Star pass-rusher Dwight Freeney is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. So is cornerback Asante Samuel. It's expected, however, that both of those players will get hit with "franchise" tags this Thursday, which is the deadline for tagging players.

Let's start with where the Jaguars might perceive themselves as having need, or the positions at which there are players of interest.

Defensive end—Reggie Hayward is coming off Achilles surgery and could require time to get back to full speed. Paul Spicer will be 32 when the season begins and Bobby McCray is coming off a big season, but it's only one season. Insurance at the position would be favorable.

Patrick Kerney is a tough, veteran pass-rusher who could turn out to be a steal in free agency. Kerney is coming off a torn pectoral muscle, an injury that could make him available at a respectable price. The injury could also make him a gamble, but Kerney's talent at a premium position could make him worth the risk.

New Orleans is likely to hit Charles Grant with a "franchise" tag. After Grant, what's left at end are second-tier types, led by Corey Redding of Detroit. Redding is more of a left end run-stuffer than a premier right end pass-rusher.

Offensive tackle—Every team is looking for tackles; that's how scarce quality big guys are. The Jaguars tried to fortify the position last winter by signing Mike Williams. That didn't work. They think Richard Collier can develop into a big-time player, but how long will that development take? The Jaguars might be in the market for a veteran tackle in this year's free-agent crop.

Arizona's Leonard Davis is the best of the bunch. He can be a road-grading right tackle in a power running game. He'll also be very expensive.

Baltimore's Tony Pashos is a big, strong right tackle who's coming off an impressive season. That's the only knock on Pashos; he's only done it for one year.

Linebacker—It's not a position of need but it's a position of intrigue because it may offer the most talent of any position in free agency.

Adalius Thomas (pictured) will be one of the big-money winners of this year's free-agent signing period. Jack Del Rio coached Thomas in Baltimore and could have interest in him. Would the Jaguars be willing to dig deep enough to sign Thomas? That's the question. Thomas is a bit of a "tweener."

New England's Tully Banta-Cain rose to prominence in the playoffs. He'll sign a sizeable contract as a strong side linebacker who can rush the passer.

Chicago's Lance Briggs may be the best of the weak side linebackers. Some, in fact, think he may be the best of all the linebackers. Briggs has run-and-hit, big-play skills, but the price tag could be too high for the Jags.

Buffalo's London Fletcher, 31, is the best of the middle linebackers. It's not likely the Jaguars would be interested because Mike Peterson's rehab is on schedule.

Wide receiver—The Jaguars have distinct need at this position, but the crop of pass-catchers available in free agency is weak.

Philadelphia's Donte Stallworth is the best of the wide receivers. Stallworth isn't a high-production guy, but he offers speed, field-stretching and big-play ability the Jaguars' passing game desperately needs. Injuries are a concern.

Tennessee's Drew Bennett is scheduled to be available, but the Jaguars already have a lot of tall receivers.

St. Louis' Kevin Curtis raised his stock last season. He could be a player of interest. He has legit deep speed.

Dennis Northcutt is another wide receiver who could interest the Jaguars. Northcutt also has big-play punt-return skills. He's a slot receiver with deep speed.

Most of everything else available at wide receiver is of the "street free agent" variety.

Other names of interest?

Dallas' Andre Gurode and the Giants' Shaun O'Hara are quality centers. New England's Daniel Graham and Seattle's Jerramy Stevens are accomplished tight ends. Buffalo's Nate Clements will likely be the top cornerback. Ken Hamlin, Tony Parrish and Shaun Williams would be the top safety prospects. There are no punters that are likely to interest the Jaguars.

What should we expect from the Jaguars?

The Jaguars will take more than $20 million in salary cap room into this year's free-agency period. That means the team is likely to spend and it could go for a premium-type player. Roster depth is something the Jaguars already have, except at safety.

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