Free Agency Begins At Home for Jags

The Jaguars have several glaring holes on defense that will need to be addressed during the college draft or in free agency. But of equal importance is for the team to re-sign several key defenders who will test the market if not under contract by March 13.

There are 13 players who will become unrestricted free agents on that date, including four defensive starters - ends Jeremy Mincey and Matt Roth, cornerback Rashean Mathis and safety Dwight Lowery. They have four other restricted free agents on defense, but the team can match their offers if other teams give them offer sheets.

The quartet of unrestricted players are the top priority. They helped a defensive unit improve 22 spots from the 2010 season, jumping from the 28th spot to No. 6 this past season.

Already in need of another elite pass rusher, the Jaguars can ill afford to lose Mincey. He started all 16 games last year and with eight sacks, it's the most by a Jaguars player since 2006. He has a relentless motor and with 45 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles, it's an indication of his value. But Mincey, while stating he wants to stay in Jacksonville, has said he won't give the team a hometown discount when it comes to a contract settlement.

Mathis has been a nine-year starter since the team drafted him in the second round in 2003. The hometown product is a fan favorite who is often assigned to the opponent's top receiver. But he's coming off ACL surgery and at age 31, his value to the Jaguars and other NFL clubs will come into question.

Jacksonville took a chance in trading for him with the New York Jets during the offseason on the eve of his becoming an unrestricted free agent. But he proved to be worth the risk. The fourth-year player moved into the starting lineup in the third game and started 10 games in a row before a shoulder injury shelved him for all but one snap in the team's final four games.

Lowery was a steady influence in the secondary. His loss would be significant for a secondary that is already looking to bring in a top cornerback.

"(General manager) Gene (Smith) and I have talked about our free agents since I first got here," new Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey said. "It's important that we try to sign our guys back and we'll do whatever we can to do that.

"I'm involved with it, but when it comes down to it, before we move on to any other free agent around the league, we're certainly going to address our guys first."

The rest of the defense appears solid with standouts at the two tackle spots in Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, a trio of strong linebackers in Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Sessions and starters Derek Cox and Dwight Landry in the secondary.

If the Jaguars can retain at least three of the four priority unrestricted defensive starters and add another defensive end and corner via free agency, the defense could be even better in 2012 than its No. 6 ranking this past season.

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