The Jacksonville Jaguars were once expected to hold onto standout defensive end Jeremy Mincey by trying to hammer out a deal before free agency begins.
That hasn’t happened, though.
With 24 hours remaining before the official launch of the signing period, the likelihood of that happening seems extremely slim now.
The Jaguars have roughly $36.2 million in salary-cap room to spend.
That raises the question: What direction are the Jaguars going in on defense if they don’t hold onto Mincey?
Other than the development of Mincey, a former New England Patriots sixth-round draft pick who recorded a career-high 57 tackles and eight sacks last season with 45 quarterback pressures, four forced fumbles, one interception and a pass deflection, the Jaguars have had little luck in their attempts to upgrade their pass rush.
Under former coach Jack Del Rio, the Jaguars selected Derrick Harvey eighth overall in the first round after trading their first-round draft pick, two third-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to acquire him and signed him to a five-year, $33.4 million contract that included $17.1 million in guaranteed money.
And the Jaguars signed Aaron Kampman to a four-year, $36 million maximum value contract two years ago that included a $10 million signing bonus despite him coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament and having played in a 3-4 scheme.
Neither Harvey or Kampman produced for the Jaguars.
Since joining the Jaguars, Kampman has only played in 11 games with four sacks over the past two seasons due to injuries. The 32-year-old played in three games last year before hurting his knee again and registered no statistics.
Kampman is due a $4.975 million base salary next season and carries a $7.5 million salary-cap figure. He has yet to pass his physical and could be released at some point due to his cap figure.
It wasn’t until two years ago that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker demanded that Harvey be benched in favor of Mincey. Mincey started for the first time ever in the second half of the 2010 season and flourished with 31 tackles, five sacks and three pass deflections in just eight games.
After Harvey posted only eight sacks in three seasons, the Jaguars finally cut one of Del Rio’s hand-picked players last July and he now plays for the Denver Broncos.
Mincey was even more productive last season as he continued to grow in his first full season as a full-time starter for the sixth-ranked defense in the NFL. His 973 defensive snaps ranked fourth among all defensive linemen in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 12th among 4-3 defensive ends.
Mincey excelled despite the Jaguars placing 13 defensive backs on injured reserve and losing reserve defensive ends Matt Roth (concussions), Austen Lane (shoulder) and John Chick (torn patella tendon) to injured reserve.
Including Harvey and Kampman’s contracts, the Jaguars have more than $11 million in potential dead money at defensive end. They can save almost $5 million of that figure by cutting Kampman.
Given this situation, the Jaguars need to re-sign their defensive leader as well as adding a veteran defensive end or drafting one.
This makes one wonder what the focus of the new regime is if their top free agents are allowed to leave and they continue to try to move forward with their past mistakes.
Mincey has registered 88 tackles and 13 sacks.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pounder is regarded as one of the fastest-rising defensive ends in the league.
Among the teams that are natural fits for Mincey: the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills and the New Orleans Saints.
The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty of salary-cap room, but coach Marvin Lewis has said that he doesn’t plan to be an active player in free agency.
Meanwhile, Roth is expected to leave via free agency and Chick could begin next season on the physically unable to perform list.
The Jaguars have been retaining some of their own players: designating kicker Josh Scobee as their franchise player with a $2.88 million one-year tender, signing offensive tackle Guy Whimper to a two-year, $5 million contract, signing cornerback Rashean Mathis to a one-year, incentive-laden $5 million contract and signing restricted free agent offensive lineman Will Robinson to a two-year deal. Mathis’ deal included a $1 million signing bonus and a $950,000 base salary.
Besides Mincey, their other top free agent is safety Dwight Lowery. He's also expected to explore free agency.
And the Jaguars have yet to lock up Mincey as free agency rapidly approaches.
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