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Henne expected to be starter


JACKSONVILLE – Gus Bradley left no room for doubt.

The Jaguars' starting quarterback is Chad Henne, who late Friday afternoon agreed to terms on a two-year contract to remain with the team. And that's likely to be the case for the 2014 regular-season opener even if the Jaguars select a quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft.

And yes, it's likely to be the case even if they select one with the No. 3 overall pick.

"I would say going into it he (Henne) would be (the starter)," Bradley, the Jaguars' Head Coach, said on a conference call late Friday afternoon. "That's our plan, (Jaguars General Manager) Dave (Caldwell) and I … If we did go that route, where we did bring in a quarterback at No. 3, we'd like to create an environment where that quarterback could come in and put all of his focus on preparation and learning without the distractions that come with it.

"That would be the ideal environment."

Bradley did clarify that a rookie could win the job.

"We're obviously going to play the best guy," he said.

Henne, who started the final 11 games last season for the Jaguars, agreed to terms a day before agents of free agents are permitted to begin speaking with other teams.

"This is definitely what I wanted," Henne said. "My agent knew this. We started working to venture out and see what else was out there. There were some talks at the (NFL Scouting) Combine and the Senior Bowl with other teams with interest.

"We always said in the beginning, 'If we can get a deal done with Jacksonville, and we're happy with it, and they're happy with it, and just to have the opportunity to come in and compete, we'll be happy being in Jacksonville.' We're just excited to be there and get back to work."

Bradley also said signing Henne isn't an indication of the Jaguars' plans with the No. 3 overall selection in the May 8-10 2014 NFL Draft. The team has been linked by analysts to Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 3.

"Just because we signed Chad doesn't mean we won't draft a quarterback," Bradley said. "It gives us the flexibility to look in other areas."

Bradley on Friday said Henne definitely will be the starter heading into organized team activities in May, and while Bradley said he expects that also to be the case come the regular season, Henne said he understands he will have to compete for the position.

"They're obviously going to bring some people in," Henne said. "My job is to stay focused and not really compete like I did last year against the other guys around me, but compete within myself and try to become the best player that I can become."

Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said at the Super Bowl in early February the team could draft one or two quarterbacks, but Caldwell also has said he wants to ensure a young quarterback wouldn't have to start. Henne gives the Jaguars flexibility at the position.

"This will be my seventh year; there are no surprises," Henne said. "If they bring in a quarterback at number three, that's just another guy in there that's going to compete and make me better and hopefully I can make him better. What it really all comes down to is helping the team win."

Henne, who joined the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins in the 2012 offseason, had been scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, the first day of the NFL's 2014 free-agency signing period.

Bradley said he and Caldwell targeted Henne as a top priority shortly after last season, and that it was important to re-sign Henne before free-agency began.

"When you have a quarterback in place, especially when it was a priority of ours, it helps," Bradley said. "It gives some guys some clarification in the direction we're going. And it gives us flexibility with free agency and the draft."

Henne, who started each of the last two seasons as a backup to Blaine Gabbert, replaced Gabbert late in last year's regular-season opener. He then replaced an injured Gabbert in a Week 5 loss at St. Louis and remained the starter when Gabbert returned to health three weeks later.

Henne went 4-9 as a starter last season, but the Jaguars went 4-4 after a Week 9 bye.

"I was impressed with Chad's leadership throughout the season," Bradley said. "I think it got even stronger as the season went on."

Henne threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions in the second half of last season despite the absence of suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon in all eight games and the absence of injured wide receiver Cecil Shorts III for the last three games. The Jaguars allowed 50 sacks, the second-most in the NFL.

Henne finished the season competing 305 of 503 passes for 3,241 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions, and his 76.5 passer rating was a career-high for a season in which he played 10 or more games.

"I've talked to Dave, Gus, (Offensive Coordinator) Jedd (Fisch) and all those guys before making my decision," Henne said. "I have full confidence in them and what they're going to do in free agency and the draft. I feel that they're going to fill those spots and make sure I'm protected back there and be able to get some targets out there to get the ball to. That's their job; my job is just to get back to the books and keep working out and try to get with some of these guys and try to create a (higher) comfort level and get better this offseason."

Also Friday:

*Bradley said Henne's return has no effect on the status of Gabbert, who has a year remaining on the rookie contract he signed in 2011. "It's completely independent," Bradley said. "Regardless of whether we signed Chad or not, that didn't have anything to do with Blaine's future." Bradley said he and Caldwell haven't yet discussed specific scenarios regarding how the draft could affect Gabbert's future, and that the idea remained to give Gabbert a chance to compete in OTAs and training camp. "We'll wait and see what happens with the draft and where we end up," Bradley said….

*Bradley said the team is still negotiating with cornerback Will Blackmon, who is scheduled to become a free agent Tuesday. "I think it's headed in the right direction," Bradley said.

*Bradley said he, Caldwell and other team officials will be at EverBank Field Saturday making phone calls to agents of free agents. The NFL's period for negotiating with potential free agents begins Saturday, with the signing period scheduled to begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. "We feel good about the direction we're going," Bradley said…

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