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Jaguars letting key vets test free-agent market

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 8, 2013 at 2:25 pm •  Published: March 8, 2013
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are letting some of their most tenured starters test free agency.

The Jaguars still might re-sign veterans Derek Cox, Greg Jones, Terrance Knighton, Brad Meester and Daryl Smith. But general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley are allowing them to look elsewhere before possibly staying in Jacksonville.

"We're really trying to build the whole thing through the draft," Bradley said this week. "You need that veteran leadership, there's no doubt, and they're critical. You try to get a blend, but you want to err on the side of being young."

Caldwell and Bradley are reluctant to call this a rebuilding project. But after missing the playoffs five consecutive years and firing general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey, it's clear the Jaguars are headed in a new direction.

And some familiar faces might not be around for the journey.

Jacksonville already told veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis he would not be re-signed when free agency begins Tuesday. Mathis, who grew up in Jacksonville, started 129 games over nine seasons and has a franchise-record 30 interceptions. But the 32-year-old cornerback struggled last season and doesn't fit Bradley's press-coverage scheme.

The Jaguars also released veteran right tackle Guy Whimper, who started 21 games the last two seasons.

There were even bigger moves Friday, when the Jaguars released safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Aaron Ross. Landry started 32 games the last two seasons after signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract in 2011. The deal included $10.5 million guaranteed. Ross played in 14 games for the Jaguars in 2012 after signing a three-year contract worth up to $15.3 million last March.

Cox, Jones, Knighton, Meester and Smith also could end up looking for jobs elsewhere. Teams can start negotiating with pending free agents Saturday at midnight.

To be clear, the Jaguars would love to have Jones, Meester and Smith back for another year — maybe even longer.

Although the 31-year-old Jones missed four games last season because of a thigh injury, the fullback has emerged as one of the league's best blockers in recent years.

The 35-year-old Meester holds the club record for career starts (193), including 74 in a row. The team's longtime center has been one of the few bright spots on an average offensive line.

The 30-year-old Smith missed the first 14 games last season because of a groin injury, but played well enough in the final two games that he should garner significant interest in free agency. He has started 124 games over nine seasons and hold the team record for tackles with 1,096.

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