The Jaguars could be prepared to make a change in the center of their defense, as middle linebacker Mike Peterson could be nearing the end of his time with the team. Peterson has been an ultra-productive player for the Jags since arriving as a free agent back in 2003, and has also been a great team leader. Peterson has anchored one of the best defenses in the league, and brought a physical style of play to the middle linebacker position.. Peterson had possibly his best season, a Pro-Bowl caliber season, in 2005, as he finished with 132 tackles, six sacks, and three interceptions.
So if Peterson is such a great player and so valuable to the team, why might they look in a different direction, and why would Peterson be possibly fighting for his job? The answer is simple, age and health concerns. Father time is not on Mike Peterson's side, as he will be 31 years old by the time training camp begins this year, and he missed the final 11 games of the 2006 season with a torn pectoral muscle. Although Peterson claims to be on schedule with his rehabilitation, there's a certain amount of uncertainty whether or not he will be able to continue playing at the high level that the Jaguars expect from him.
Another reason that this may be his last season in Jacksonville is his salary. Although the Jaguars are in great cap shape this season with Peterson's salary of $3.8 million, they may be a little more snug next season if they decide to re-sign future free agents Byron Leftwich, Bobby McCray, and Reggie Williams. Peterson is due a salary of $3 million, and a roster bonus of $1.6 million in 2008, which happens to be the final year of his contract. A $4.6 million cap hit may be a little much for a aging linebacker with a few injury concerns.
Perhaps the major reason that the Jaguars may make a change after 2007 is that they are uncertain of Peterson's true value to the team. When Peterson played his final game of the 2006 season, the Jaguars had the 15th ranked defense in the NFL overall. Although Peterson is a tackling machine and play-maker, his job is made much easier by having a healthy Marcus Stroud and John Henderson up front. When Peterson went down, the Jaguars simply slid outside linebacker Daryl Smith over to the middle (the position he played in college), and inserted rookie (2005) draft pick Clint Ingram to fill Smith's vacated spot. The result was the second ranked defense overall when the Jaguars finished the season.
It has been reported by many sources that the Jaguars have been interviewing many linebackers since the draft combine. Some mock drafts have the Jaguars selecting a linebacker in round one, possibly Lawrence Timmons (Florida State), Paul Posluszny (Penn State), or even Jon Beason (Miami).
Although we here at Jagnation don't believe that the Jaguars will draft a linebacker quite that high, it seems more and more evident that the team is likely to select a linebacker on the first day of the draft, and almost assuredly, they will select a possible Mike Peterson replacement in the middle rounds. If they do choose to go that route, the rookie linebacker can be a special teams contributor and get some great on the job training, learning behind Peterson and the rest of the Jaguars line-backing corps, and could possibly be ready to take over the reigns in '08.
Needless to say, this is a big year for Mike Peterson to prove his value to the team. In a league with no guaranteed contracts, you can argue that each player, each year, has to prove themselves, and subsequently win their job. Peterson was on the sidelines for much of the season last year, and he had visual evidence of how good the linebacker position played. He is also well aware the football is a game of replacement, not maintenance. With younger, cheaper players in camp that have performed well, the onus is clearly on Peterson to perform at the highest level of his career, not only this year, but each year thereafter.
For Pete's Sake: Jags Hole In the Middle?
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