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UFA's will test the market


Speculation is the Jaguars might be interested in acquiring a wide receiver in free agency. Sorry, but the crop doesn't look real good.

That's not to say, however, the overall crop of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at midnight the night of March 1 isn't strong. In fact, given all of the extra salary cap room the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is providing, this year's crop of unrestricted free agents has a chance to be surprisingly strong.

"It's always a good market," Jaguars Pro Personnel Director Charles Bailey said. "It's an opportunity to get better. It's a real good market, especially on the defensive side of the ball."

Want a difference-making player at a premium position? Well, cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Nate Clements are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Oh, they won't be cheap, but if you got the cash, they'll listen.

Here's the problem. The Patriots are likely to use the "franchise" designation on Samuel, effectively taking him off the market, unless you don't mind giving the Patriots two first-round draft picks. The Patriots love to collect first-round picks.

Clements was "franchised" last year and it's thought the Bills put a we-won't-do-it-again clause in his "franchise" tender, so, Clements is expected to become unrestricted if he doesn't sign a new deal with Buffalo by midnight on March 1.

Would the Jaguars have any interest in Clements? Probably not. The Jags spent $10 million in signing bonus on cornerback Brian Williams last March and the Jags would seem to have a stockpile of young cornerbacks.

"The main thing in free agency today is to make sure you have your core players signed; guys like Daryl Smith and George Wrighster. You want to avoid those guys getting into free agency," Bailey said.

Fans love the glitzy nature of signing free agents. It provides instant gratification that their favorite team is going to be better this season than it was last season. The truth of the matter, however, is that who you don't sign is often more important than who you sign.

The Jaguars allowed Fernando Bryant to escape in free agency in 2004. Bryant signed a huge deal with Detroit. It was money well-saved by the Jaguars, and the same can be said of allowing Akin Ayodele to escape in free agency last year. Ayodele signed a big deal with the Cowboys. The Jaguars then replaced Ayodele with affordable third-round draft choice Clint Ingram, who some think has a chance of becoming the best strong side linebacker in Jaguars history.

During the Jack Del Rio/James Harris era, the Jaguars have spent their money wisely. As a result, the team has an impressive roster and one of the healthiest salary caps in the league. The Jaguars might take over $20 million in salary cap room into this year's free-agent signing period.

The most critical decisions the team faces are in tendering its restricted free agents: Bobby McCray, Quinn Gray, Ernest Wilford, Jorge Cordova, Ahmad Carroll and Josh Scobee.

McCray had a break-out season in 2006. He established himself as a defensive end with big-time pass-rush ability and that's probably going to require the Jaguars to use the first-round tender on McCray (See Part I for an explanation of the RFA tenders).

Quinn Gray is an attractive quarterback prospect and the high-profile nature of that position is likely to require the Jaguars to hit Gray with a first-round or second-round tender. The same can be said of Scobee.

Of course, the higher the tender, the higher each player's salary and the less room the Jaguars will have on their salary cap. High tenders, however, are probably going to be required to protect the Jaguars' rights to those players.

The Jaguars have six players – Kyle Brady, Tony Gilbert, Deon Grant, Cortez Hankton, LaBrandon Toefield and Marcellus Wiley – scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, and it would seem they are going to be allowed to test the market.

"We have guys who feel they can get more money on the market. We're going to give them the opportunity to test the market. We've been in conversation with their agents and they feel like they will test the market," Bailey said.

Let's go back to what the rest of the league has to offer.

Donte Stallworth might be the best of the wide receivers. Stallworth has speed and everybody needs speed. Alvis Whitted can still run. He's a UFA. So is Kevin Curtis, who jumped up for the Rams this season.

Jeff Garcia is the best of the UFA quarterback crop. Damon Huard is also available.

Toefield might be the best value among the running backs.

New England tight end Daniel Graham is available.

Arizona's Leonard Davis, the Giants' Shaun O'Hara and Dallas' Andrew Gurode are attractive offensive linemen.

The real plums of the unrestricted free-agent crop, however, are pass-rushers Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis and Patrick Kerney of Atlanta, and linebacker Adalius Thomas of Baltimore.

Freeney is expected to be "franchised" by the Colts, however, and Thomas is likely to get hit with the "franchise" tag, too. Kerney is coming off a major injury – torn pectoral muscle in November – and that might cause the Falcons to consider Kerney too much of a risk to "franchise."

All right, there are some names for you. In the final installment, we'll target some guys. We'll get specific with the Jaguars' needs and what the team should do to address them.

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