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Week in focus: Older free agents OK?


INDIANAPOLIS – Senior writer John Oehser takes a quick, close look at the week that was around the Jaguars at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine …

A little older may be OK

Free agency as expected was a huge topic for David Caldwell this week.

The Jaguars' general manager's main focus this week is scouting players for the April 28-30 2016 NFL Draft, but a priority, too, is the free agent market that will open March 9 – and Caldwell again didn't rule out the possibility that the Jaguars' parameters there could change a bit.

Whereas he largely eschewed older free agents in his first three offseasons in the position, he said this week older players were possible this offseason as a stop-gap to fill holes on the roster.

"Obviously, there is risk," Caldwell said. "Older players tend to get hurt and they don't play as long. But the risk comes into the type of contract you give those guys. The contract structure is important to minimize risk and you don't mind paying them as long as they're playing.

"You can minimize the risk to a degree by the contract, but realize it's not a long-term fix – but a fix until you can draft guys and develop your own."

The ideal target age for free agents is around 26-to-27; fifth-year veterans entering their second NFL contract. Those players figure to be in their primes for the duration of the deal they sign, and figure to have a chance to continue to develop during that contract.

The guess here is you still won't see Caldwell sign a slew of older players this offseason. He's a draft-and-develop guy to his core, and he won't want a lot of older players slowing the development of young, draft players. But could you see one or two 30-to-32-year-old free agents? Absolutely.


Progressing nicely …

Running back T.J. Yeldon was a major topic when discussing the Jaguars this week, too.

The 2015 second-round selection from Alabama showed flashes as a rookie this past season. NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks praised Yeldon on LIVE Wednesday, saying Yeldon had ability to be elite. Caldwell agreed.

"We feel really good about where he's at," Caldwell said. "The sky's the limit for him coming up."

Bradley, speaking Thursday, reiterated what he said throughout last season – particularly that Yeldon had impressed last season with how quickly he become an every-down back.

"We put a lot on him and I thought he handled it really well," Bradley said. "We anticipated him being a first- and second-down back. We didn't know about him as far as a third-down back, but he really picked up our protection scheme. There were some errors that were made but for the most part he was very clean in all the protections.

"I think you can continue to see him grow. We'd like to spread it out a little bit more just to keep the guys fresh, but very pleased with his progress."

Bradley said the Jaguars overall must improve the running game – not just for the run offense, but for quarterback Blake Bortles in play-action, too.

 "That's very beneficial for us as a team as far as how we want to continue to go forward," Bradley said. "I do think it takes some off [Bortles'] plate. It'll only make him better. … after looking at the cutups, his play [action] passes … that's where he had some effectiveness for us as a team.

"If you can get the run game going hopefully it'll even benefit him more."


Around the Jaguars …

*ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan early in the week spoke highly of the faith shown by Owner Shad Khan in the Jaguars' current build process. In that same conversation, he spoke highly of Caldwell's approach. "What I like is he had conviction by drafting Blake Bortles," Caplan said. "He really put his job on the line by saying, 'This is our franchise quarterback.' If you don't get the quarterback right, most likely you're not going to keep your job for five or six years. If you get it right – and by the way, it looks like he's gotten it right – you have to feel really good about that. Then, you just build around him. Now, just trust the defense, In Year Four, they kind of know where to go. … The offense is loaded. They obviously need to continue to improve the offensive line, it's just that defense to me is next up. That's obvious."

*Marqise Lee was a major topic for both Bradley and Caldwell this week, with Bradley saying of the young receiver, "Last year he had a period of time where we saw some really good growth out of him. It started to trigger some of the things we were looking for. This year, coming into OTAs, the big part is staying healthy, allowing us to get our hands on him and coach him. The best place to get better is to be on the field. That's really his challenge, is just to consistently be on the field." Caldwell said he expects big things from Lee this season, adding that getting Lee on the field perhaps won't be as difficult as many believe. While Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson were both 1,000-yard receivers while playing mostly on the outside, Caldwell said Hurns is capable of playing the slot in three-receiver situations. That would enable all three to be on the field in the same package. "I expect good things out of him and our coaching staff does, too," Caldwell said of Lee. "He has an element in terms of speed and explosion that he brings to our team that is hard to find and that we don't have on our team right now."

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