Pending the draft, the Jaguars have already improved their team greatly on paper, even if they were somewhat quiet with their signings in the month of March. Thus far, I'm told that the big winners in free agency, and most improved teams have been the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and the Seattle Seahawks.
The Patriots certainly made a bunch of noise in March. They signed the consensus best linebacker available in Adalius Thomas, upgraded the receiving corps by signing Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and Kelley Washington, and even upgrading their blocking up front by signing former Jaguars tight end, Kyle Brady. They also helped out their special teams unit by re-signing Larry Izzo. These moves certainly appear on paper to upgrade a team that lost in the AFC Championship game partially thanks to a few very questionable calls. I like the signing of Thomas and Welker especially, as they represent immediate upgrades to positions of need for the Pats. Stallworth has played a full 16-game season just twice in his five year career and Washington has been a career #4 wide receiver. The Patriots look like a Super Bowl lock right now, but a lot can and will change over the next few months.
The 49ers appeared to have an open checkbook policy in March, as they spent a king's ransom on cornerback Nate Clements, signed former Eagles safety Michael Lewis, former Patriot linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, and wide receiver Ashley Lelie. Clements is a front-line starter that should help out a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in 2006 (412). As for the rest of the signings, I'm not too sure. Lewis was an average safety at best in Philly, Banta-Cain came from a New England team that had a major need at linebacker, and they chose to let him go, and Lelie has been a bust in his first two stops. The 49ers had a lot of activity this off-season, but the actual progress will be determined.
The Seattle Seahawks look to be primed for another Super Bowl run, as they signed defensive end Patrick Kerney as well as former Jaguars free safety Deon Grant. Kerney is certainly an upgrade over the end he replaced, Grant Wistrom, so long as Kerney can stay on the field, as he missed nearly half of the 2006 season with a pectoral injury. Deon Grant is probably an upgrade in their secondary over the departed Ken Hamlin, but Grant isn't a true play-maker either. On paper, the Seahawks appear to be improved over the team that lost an overtime playoff game against the NFC champion Chicago Bears, and I'm sure they will be a contender in the NFC, but really, who isn't?
So taking into account all of the money that these three teams threw around last month, how can I make a case for Jacksonville of all teams being more improved than the Pats, 'Niners, and 'Hawks signing guys by the names of Pashos, Northcutt, and Wiggins? It's pretty easy when you think about the needs that these guys are expected to fill, and more importantly, the guys that the Jaguars are getting back from injury. Tony Pashos was a legitimate starting right tackle for Baltimore. Not only does he represent an upgrade over Maurice Williams, but his signing also hurts the AFC North champion Ravens. Dennis Northcutt may just be what the doctor ordered in Jacksonville, as he gives the semi-underachieving wide receiving corps a deep threat that they've been missing. Jermaine Wiggins may have the body of a Krispy Kreme manager, but the guy has great hands and knows how to play football.
I'll be the first to admit that Pashos, Northcutt, and Wiggins are probably not bigger upgrades than the Patriots group of Thomas, Stallworth, Welker, and Washington, or the 'Niners group of Clements, Lewis, Banta-Cain, and Lelie, or even the 'Hawks pair, Kerney and Grant. Now I'll give you some names that represent bigger upgrades to the Jaguars than any of these teams. Byron Leftwich, Reggie Hayward, Mike Peterson, and Donovin Darius. These players missed a combined 65% of the Jaguars games, and none of them were active after week 10. Only one (Darius), was active after week six. The team that finished the '06 football season at .500 is now adding a starting quarterback, a top pass rusher, one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, and one of the best strong safeties. In addition to those players mentioned, take into account that perennial Pro Bowler Marcus Stroud missed a lot of time, as well as wide receiver Matt Jones. The Jaguars will break camp this season with almost every position upgraded, and upgraded significantly over the team than they finished the season with.
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