In his season-ending press conference on Monday, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said the team's future is "promising" and the goal for 2008 is to win the AFC South title.
"We've got a good, solid core of players. We've got a lot of salary cap room. We had a quarterback emerge. There are so many positives right now. We're excited with where we are and what the future might hold," Del Rio told reporters.
The Jaguars could head into the free-agent signing period with as much as $30-$35 million in cap room, which would likely give the Jaguars an aggressive posture in pursuing free-agent talent. A major hunk of cap room, however, is likely to be reserved for signing quarterback David Garrard to a long-term contract. Garrard has one year remaining on his current deal.
"He's established himself as our franchise quarterback," Del Rio said when asked if the Jaguars will attempt to sign Garrard to a new contract. "You hope both sides are able to come to an agreement. He established himself as our quarterback."
The prospective free-agent crop includes pass-rushers Jared Allen and Terrell Suggs, but the cap is expected to increase by $7 million per team in 2008 and teams have done a much better job of retaining their players in recent years.
"You always have a pool of players to choose from, (but) you can't manufacture a player. We have to evaluate properly and find guys who fit," Del Rio said when asked to give a preview of free agency.
A snapshot of the 2007 Jaguars would seem to indicate the team's needs are mostly on the defensive side of the ball. The Jaguars finished 12th in the league in overall defense and Del Rio wants to improve that number in '08. The most pressing need would seem to be in pass-defense: The Jaguars need to find a premier pass-rusher and improve a secondary that spent much of the season in the bottom third of the league in pass-defense, before it was ravaged for 599 yards passing by Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady combined in the postseason.
"To sum it up, proud but not satisfied," Del Rio said in volunteering his feeling on the Jaguars' performance in '07, which produced an 11-5 regular-season record and the team's first playoff win in eight years. "I'm proud we won 12 games; two of the last three years we've made the playoffs; we got a road playoff win in Pittsburgh. We want to win a world championship."
Del Rio referred to his team as "most consistent" in '07. "I feel good in having developed that and we need to build on that.
"Our offense emerged. We showed explosiveness. We broke several team records. I said for several years, I want to have an explosive offense," Del Rio said.
The performance of the Jaguars offense was the bright spot of the season, as new coordinator Dirk Koetter coached his unit to a number seven overall finish, which included a number-two ranking in rush-offense and number 17 in pass-offense.
It was Del Rio's bold decision at quarterback nine days before the season began, however, that was the catalyst to everything. Del Rio installed Garrard as the team's starting quarterback and it wasn't until the playoff game in Pittsburgh that Garrard played a bad game. His final game, in the playoff loss in New England on Saturday, may have been his best performance of the season.
"Finding a quarterback, leading us the way he led us; that was huge. Anybody who watched that game would have to draw hope as a Jaguars fan. We were toe to toe with them," Del Rio said, referring to the loss in New England.
The attention now turns to fortifying the defense. What will the Jaguars do?
"We've established a pretty good standard for defensive play. We want to revisit all of the things we believe in. You want to make sure you're doing the right things schematically and then, personnel-wise, making sure we're creating a very competitive situation," Del Rio said.
Might safety Reggie Nelson move to cornerback?
"He's got the athletic ability to do it. He had a really solid rookie year. I think he's going to be a great football player. I think, on the year, he tackled pretty well," Del Rio said.
This will be a very different winter than it was last year, when Del Rio reconstructed his offensive coaching staff. He hired six assistant coaches, fired four and saw another assistant leave for another team.
"I don't anticipate making any changes," Del Rio said when asked about plans for his current staff. Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, however, interviewed for the Falcons head coaching position last Thursday.