Guard market too high for Jaguars, who will address position in draft

JACKSONVILLE, Fla -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed six free agents, and all but one plays defense.

The lone offensive player is fourth-year tackle/guard Earl Watford, who has started 13 games in three seasons with Arizona. He started 11 of those last season because of injuries to Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati, so he’s essentially a depth signing.

That leaves left tackle Branden Albert, whom the Jaguars acquired in a trade with Miami, as the only upgrade the Jaguars made on the offensive line -- which some believed was one of the team’s biggest areas of need heading into the offseason.

General manager Dave Caldwell, however, didn’t have it that high. He said the Jaguars are keeping an eye on the available free agents, but felt good with the current group of linemen.

"I think we are always looking to upgrade," Caldwell said. "We added a two-time Pro Bowler at left tackle [Albert], Brandon Linder at center, a young A.J. Cann who is still ascending, [and] Jermey Parnell played well towards the end of the season when he was healthy. We have great competition at left guard right now and guys that have played.

"We went from Year 1 giving up 70-plus sacks [73 in 2014] and last year we gave up 34 sacks. We are always looking to upgrade, but we can line up tomorrow."

The left guard spot, however, is a big question. The Jaguars re-signed Patrick Omameh, who started six games there after Luke Joeckel went down with a serious knee injury, but Omameh missed the final six games with a foot injury. The Jaguars started five players at left guard in 2016.

There were options available in free agency, but it would have cost the Jaguars at least $8.5 million annually. Kevin Zeitler, regarded as the top guard available, signed a deal with Cleveland for $12 million annually and $31.5 million guaranteed. Zeitler is now the highest-paid guard in the NFL in terms of annual salary -- a lot of money for a player who has never made a Pro Bowl.

Ron Leary ($9 million annually/$18.5 million guaranteed), Larry Warford ($8.5 million/$17 million), and T.J. Lang ($9.5 million/$19 million) also received big deals. All three rank in the top eight in annual salary among guards.

The Jaguars just weren’t willing to pay that much.

They might still sign a lower-tier free agent, but it’s now a near certainty that they will address guard in the draft. There are seven to eight guards projected to be drafted in the first three rounds, including Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, Indiana’s Dan Feeney, and Temple’s Dion Dawkins. The Jaguars won’t take a guard with the fourth overall pick, but they could with the 35th and 68th overall picks.