JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars are going to spend the next 7 1/2 months trying to do something they haven't had to do in 14 years: Find a center.
Brad Meester was an ironman throughout his 14-year career with the Jaguars, starting and playing in a franchise-record 209 games. He was a sure a thing as you can have in football, which is why the Jaguars never invested much effort throughout his career to find another center.
Since Meester was drafted in 2000, the Jaguars drafted only one other player with the intention of giving him a look at center: Will Rackley, who played guard and tackle at Lehigh. They signed nine other free agents, including undrafted free agent Mike Brewster, who was a center at Ohio State but has been a guard with the Jaguars.
There are 19 centers who are scheduled to be free agents this offseason, with the top of the class being Cleveland's Alex Mack. New England's Ryan Wendell and Denver's Dan Koppen are also big names that could be available. It'd be a bit surprising if the Jaguars went the pricey route and signed Mack, who made $3.832 million this season and will likely be asking for $4-plus million a year.
A cheaper alternative -- and one that seems the most likely right now -- would be to look on the roster to see if there's a replacement. The Jaguars have options. They could move Brewster, Rackley or guard Jacques McClendon to center. They also recently signed Matt Stankiewitch, a former Penn State standout who signed as an undrafted free agent with New England last summer, was waived in the final cuts of training camp, and spent the 2013 season out of football.
McClendon played in three games and started two others at guard this season, but he also played one snap at center when Meester moved outside and caught a pass in his final home game.
"Gus and I kind of talked about a little bit of a quick wish list," GM David Caldwell said. "I said obviously we can't fill all of our needs through free agency and through the draft but we can we fill our needs with with people that are here right now and who will anticipate filling that center role, right guard, role, or left guard role, or whatever it might be.
"I think we need to really sit down with our coaches and say, ‘Who can we fill this need with this year?' Let's use our resources, whether it's a draft pick or free agency, to go fill another need that's more of a pressing issue."
The more pressing issues are quarterback, pass-rusher, outside linebacker, and receiver. The Jaguars are unlikely to address the quarterback situation in free agency other than to re-sign Chad Henne.
Finding a center may be something the Jaguars haven't done in a while, but the solution may already be on the roster.