Week in focus: Busy days ahead

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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines the week that was for the Jaguars at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine while looking ahead to Thursday's start of free agency

A LOOK AHEAD

We'll wrap up the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine later in this post, but first we look ahead.

An NFL look ahead in early March means previewing free agency, which officially starts Thursday at 4 p.m. – the official start of the 2017 NFL league year.

And yes, that could be a busy time for the Jaguars.

The busy-ness likely could begin with the trade for Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert becoming official, which can happen when the new league year begins. And while that move may feel like old news because it reportedly has been agreed upon for a while, it's a huge part of the Jaguars' ongoing roster reshaping.

What's next?

Hints and rumors likely will begin Tuesday afternoon because noon Tuesday is when teams can begin negotiating with agents for players from other teams. Before then, teams had exclusive negotiating rights with their own players scheduled to become free in 2017.

As for the hints and rumors …

You'll hear them on Twitter and elsewhere, but not on this website. League rules regarding the pre-free-agency negotiating period preclude teams from officially signing deals or announcing that deals have been reached. That means news won't be here until it's official, which means sometime after Thursday at 3:59.59.

What will happen then? That remains to be seen.

"We have to be disciplined," Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell said at the combine in Indianapolis last week. "We're going to set a limit for our guys that we're going to target. We're going to be aggressive for the guys we want. We can't be careless with the money."

Monday's release of Davon House and the team's decision to allow Prince Amukamara to test free agency makes cornerback a possible target in the first-wave of free agency. The top free-agent corner is widely believed to be A.J. Bouye of Houston, with Stephon Gilmore of Buffalo, Logan Ryan of New England, Morris Claiborne of Dallas and Dre Kirkpatrick of Cincinnati also expected to hit the market.

The Jaguars also appear to have a need on the interior offensive line. The team likes center Brandon Linder and right guard A.J. Cann, though Caldwell said last week moving Cann to the other guard remains a possibility, as is moving Linder back to the guard position he played in 2014 and 2015. The guess here is Linder stays at center, with the team possibly – but not definitely – being active in what will be a pricey free-agent guard market that includes Kevin Zeitler of Cincinnati, T.J. Lang of Green Bay and Larry Warford of Detroit.

Caldwell said early last week that 2017 free agency looked like a market with a quality player or two at each position, then a drop-off after that. Two other positions where the top player could make sense: safety and defensive end.

Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, like Amukamara, is testing the market – and free agents who test the market sign elsewhere more often than not. Arizona safety Tony Washington is considered the top strong safety on the market, but the market could – as could be the case with Cyprien – get prohibitively pricey in a hurry.

Another position to watch: defensive end/tackle, where Jared Odrick was released by the Jaguars last week and where veteran Tyson Alualu also appears likely to test free agency. Arizona defensive end/tackle Calais Campbell is considered by some the top free agent regardless of position. He likely will command a contract on a similarly staggering scale to the one Malik Jackson signed with the Jaguars last offseason, but his impact on a new team could be similar to the one Jackson had in 2016 as well.

Stay tuned.

A LOOK BACK …

Thoughts from the NFL 2017 Scouting Combine …

*A major combine takeaway is Blake Bortles seems a clear favorite to start at quarterback for the Jaguars next season. None of the decision-makers – Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, Head Coach Doug Marrone or Caldwell – has indicated anything to the contrary, and the theme when the trio has spoken in recent weeks has been about improving around Bortles. Could something happen in the coming weeks? Yes, and the team undoubtedly will explore improving every position, but the plan for now seems to be Bortles being the likely starter. …

*Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik, now an NFL insider for ESPN, provided insight into one reason Bortles as the starter makes sense during a Friday appearance on Jaguars.com LIVE last week. While observers have suggested bringing in competition for Bortles, Dominik said finding legitimate competition for an incumbent quarterback often is tough because of the perception that the incumbent has a major advantage. The other option at quarterback would be to sign a player with the idea that he will be the starter. Players such as Tony Romo of the Cowboys, Jay Cutler of the Bears or Mike Glennon of the Buccaneers have been mentioned as possibilities. Would such players be the right fit at the right price? Would Cutler or Romo – both of whom are under contract with their teams – even be available? Such are a few of the questions that make acquiring competition at quarterback difficult.

QUOTABLE

*Marrone at the combine: "We're looking to better our team. We didn't win a lot of football games, so whichever way we can better our team, and there's a lot of different ways, there's so much improvement in what we need." …

*Marrone on secondary coach Perry Fewell and offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, each of whom were part of Super Bowl-winning staffs with the New York Giants: "When you've hired coaches that have had a lot of experience that have won games, that have been to the Super Bowl and things of that nature, I think that helps the cause. They know what it should look like and the direction we need to go." …

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