The Jaguars secondary was picked apart by opposing quarterbacks time and time again in 2007, mostly due to a weak pass rush and poor coverage. Sammy Knight, a 32 year old strong safety was exposed by opposing tight ends, Rashean Mathis had a down year from his All-Pro season of 2006, and Reggie Nelson was a rookie who was learning the ropes of playing free safety in the NFL. One of key factors why the Jaguars finished with the 15th overall pass defense, and 12th overall defense may have been the absence of opening day starter Gerald Sensabaugh, who went down with a shoulder injury that required surgery after week two.
Although Gerald Sensabaugh has only started 11 games in the NFL, he was being counted on greatly by the Jaguars in 2007 to gel with Reggie Nelson and form the most athletic safety tandem ever to put on the Jacksonville teal uniforms. Sensabaugh was finally going to get his shot to become the week in, week out starting strong safety, as he backed up both Deon Grant and Donovin Darius in his first two seasons. Sensabaugh had finally secured the starting job from the first day of training camp on, and the former fifth-round pick from North Carolina had appeared to be achieving his goal of having a solid NFL career, something that many fifth-rounders don't ever get.
Unfortunately for Sensabaugh and the Jaguars, 2007 was not going to be the year he put it all together as he went down with a separated shoulder. Less than six months after the injury, the Jaguars picture at the safety position isn't so clear. There has been talk of the team drafting a safety early on for a long term fix. There has also been chatter about the team drafting a corner and potentially moving Brian Williams to safety. Sammy Knight could return. They could go after another free agent to take Sensabaugh's spot.
Whatever direction the team decides to go, Gerald Sensabaugh will likely get a shot to reassume his starting position in Jacksonville. Even if the team gets a younger guy in the draft, or spends a few dollars on the safety or corner position in free agency, it is likely that they'll have to compete with a motivated Sensabaugh for the starting job. That is, assuming Sensabaugh returns to the Jaguars. Gerald is a restricted free agent, and coming off his shoulder surgery it isn't extremely likely that there will be numerous suitors willing to pay him big money based upon his rather thin body of work.
So what tender should the Jaguars place on their young safety? That's potentially the million (or two) dollar question. Let's look at the options that are available to the team. The first tender is the original round drafted tender which pays the player $927,000 in 2008. Since Sensabaugh was a fifth-round pick, if another team were to sign him, the Jaguars would have a chance to match the offer, and if they didn't, they would receive a fifth-round pick as compensation. Another tender is the second-round tender, which pays the player $1.47 million in 2008. It works the same as the original round tender, with the original team receiving a second-round pick as compensation if they don't match the new offer. The next tender up is the first-round tender, which pays the player $2.017 million. Jacksonville would receive a first-round pick if an offer isn't matched. The final tender is the high tender, which pays the player $2.562 million in 2008. The original team would receive a first and third-round pick if they weren't to match the new team's offer.
Now that we know the options, what makes sense for the Jaguars regarding their restricted free agent safety? It's not likely that any team would give up a first-round pick, much less a first and a third, so the high tender and the first round tender are probably out the window. There's probably no need to pay Sensabaugh $2 million or better, even though the team has the cap room. I believe a team could bite on the original round tender, being that the compensation is just a fifth-round pick, and Sensabaugh is currently worth more than that to the Jaguars. A team usually never wants to match a deal, being that they would be letting another club negotiate with their money. The level that appears to make the most sense would be the second-round tender. The Jaguars would "only" have to pay Sensabaugh $1.47 million in 2008, and if another team bit on him, the Jaguars would easily let him go for a second-round pick.
Given the available scenarios to the Jaguars, it is likely that Gerald Sensabaugh will be wearing teal in 2008. The Jaguars will most likely second-round tender him, and $1.47 million would be a great price for his potential, assuming he can stay on the field.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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