The Jaguars’ release of right guard Uche Nwaneri on Tuesday gives a clear indication of their plan of attack in free agency.
Center and guard will sit atop general manager David Caldwell’s list when the signing period begins on March 11. Nwaneri’s release and Brad Meester’s retirement mean the Jaguars have to find a new starter at each spot, and Caldwell would like to add at least another guard to make a significant upgrade to the interior of the line.
The Jaguars weren’t exactly hurting for salary-cap space, but releasing Nwaneri saves the team about $3.7 million in cap space for 2014. That gives them approximately $60 million to spend, and a good chunk of it will be devoted to the interior of the offensive line. That is the team's biggest need after quarterback and pass-rusher. The group struggled early last season with the transition to a zone-blocking scheme, and the Jaguars eventually mixed back in some man-blocking schemes.
The strength of a team’s running game comes from the center and two guards, and those spots for Jacksonville weren’t very productive in 2013. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in rushing (78.8 yards per game), and running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s 3.4 yards per carry average was the worst of his career. Meester was in his 14th season and didn't play at the same level he had the past several seasons. Nwaneri played through torn cartilage in his knee in 2012 and dealt with the lingering effects from the injury in 2013. Starting right guard Will Rackley battled a knee injury throughout the 2013 season.
The Jaguars were thought to be going to make a run at Cleveland center Alex Mack, but the Browns placed the transition tag on him earlier this week. The Jaguars could still offer him a contract, but the Browns have five days to match the offer.
Other possibilities at center include New England’s Ryan Wendell and New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente. Possible targets at guard include Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz and San Diego’s Rich Ohrnberger.
The Jaguars drafted Nwaneri in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and he played in 104 games with 92 starts. He started and played every snap in 2013.