JACKSONVILLE – What We Learned from the early part of this week as the Jacksonville Jaguars wrapped up the 2013 regular season…
1. Maurice Jones-Drew likely will be a free agent.This was the headline-grabber, with General Manager David Caldwell saying in a season-ending press conference Tuesday morning Jones-Drew likely will be allowed to test unrestricted free agency. Caldwell said he's not pessimistic that the three-time Pro Bowl selection could return, but as Jones-Drew said Monday, "It's a monetary issue." If Jones-Drew gets more elsewhere, he'll go elsewhere. If he doesn't, he probably will come back. It's pretty straightforward.
2. Ideally, Jones-Drew would like to be back.This doesn't mean it will work out financially. Jones-Drew, as always, was up front Monday that that will be the major factor in his decision. But would he like to play here? Does he like what Head Coach Gus Bradley and Caldwell are building? Without question. He has been consistent on that front throughout the second half of the season and remained so Monday when speaking to the media. "You have to go through some tough times to respect winning and respect victories," he said. "To do that, you have to lose and we did that this year. We understand what it takes to win now and we just have to keep going from there."
3. Paul Posluszny will be back …Caldwell said so Tuesday. The veteran middle linebacker is scheduled to make about $7.5 million next season and count $9.5 million against the cap. Those are big numbers, but Posluszny is a reliable force who means a lot to the defense. His value is worth the expense.
4…. And so will Marcedes Lewis.Caldwell said this was likely as well. There was speculation throughout the season that the veteran tight end wouldn't return next season – mostly because, like Posluszny, he carries a high salary ($8.25 million) and cap number ($6.7). But Lewis' skill set is difficult to replace, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Lewis can be critical to the passing game as well as the running game next season. Look for him to be a focal point.
5. The secondary is seen as a strength …The Jaguars started three rookies in the secondary much of the season, including safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz, with the latter missing six games with ankle injuries. Rookie Josh Evans started and shared reps with Winston Guy, and the team likes veteran Alan Ball. All of those players joined the organization in the last year, and if there is a position group the team feels best about, this one is it.
6….and tackle could be, too.Caldwell said he liked how rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel was progressing early before a Week Five fractured ankle, and Austin Pasztor played well enough at right tackle that drafting that position may not be necessary. This may be an area that stays the same in the offseason.
7. Joeckel expects to be ready for the offseason.The rookie No. 2 overall selection got out of the walking book this week.He will continue rehabilitating, but said his hope is to participate when the offseason begins in April.
8. The coaching staff will remain intact.Bradley confirmed this Tuesday. He said he feels continuity is valuable. That doesn't mean no coaches will leave on their own, but it's not expected.
9. The Jaguars might not draft a quarterback.OK, this really isn't all that likely, but when Caldwell said Tuesday he couldn't guarantee the Jaguars would draft a quarterback, he did so with a reason. The Jaguars still must evaluate the quarterback class and decide if there's one worth the No. 3 selection. If you take one there, he has to be The Guy – not a guy. Caldwell said he would pass on the position if there's not one there worth taking, and there's no reason to think he was being dishonest. If Caldwell doesn't think a quarterback is worth No. 3, he owes it to the franchise not to select one.
10. Chad Henne is an offseason priority.Caldwell said there's a possibility Henne will be re-signed before free agency begins. The veteran improved in the second half of the season and would be a quality backup if – as is still likely – the Jaguars select a quarterback early in the draft. Henne has said he believes the fit in Jacksonville is a good one, so a Henne return seems pretty possible.
11. The Jaguars want Blaine Gabbert back.Caldwell and Bradley each said so during the Tuesday press conference. It seems unlikely Henne, Gabbert and a rookie quarterback would be around come training camp, but for now, it seems Gabbert has a very real chance to be with the Jaguars when the offseason program begins – and perhaps longer.
12. Jason Babin wants to be back.The 10-year veteran defensive end said Monday he wants to return and that he has told Caldwell and Bradley as much. He can exercise a clause in his contract to become a free agent, but said he would be open to reaching a deal to return. "It's hard to express sometimes to people on the outside looking in is how great it is here, and what's being built – and what a privilege it is to be a part of the foundation, setting those early bricks," he said.
13. Cecil Shorts III expects to be healthy for the offseason.The third-year veteran wide receiver underwent sports hernia surgery two weeks ago. He said on Monday he feels better now than before the surgery. He is expected to be able to begin workout in six weeks and he said it's his goal to participate in the offseason program.
14. Interior offensive line likely will be an offseason focus.Caldwell said he believes the running game can be improved in the offseason, and he said the interior of the offensive line is an area that can be addressed in the middle rounds of the draft and in free agency. Look for this to be a priority.