Jaguars have cap space to make splash in free agency

Julius Thomas has scored 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons in Denver.

There have been hits (Sen’Derrick Marks, Zane Beadles). There have been misses (Mohamed Massoquoi, Dekoda Watson).

But in their two years under general manager Dave Caldwell, it never seemed as if the Jacksonville Jaguars were swinging for the fences when the NFL free agency signing period rolled around. Come Tuesday, that should change.

"Our plan for Year 3 was to bring some free agents in," Caldwell said in December, two days after the conclusion of a season in which the Jaguars finished with a 3-13 record. "And we’ll see where it’s at. We’ll see if we can find some good opportunities."

The Jaguars reportedly have $66.8 million in available salary cap space, giving them the flexibility to be in the running for almost any free agent. Per the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, each team is required to spend 95 percent of the salary cap over a four-year span (2013-16). The Jaguars are at 82.19 percent, making them one of 10 teams under the 89 percent cash threshold.

Spending like mad doesn’t lead to success, as the Washington Redskins have shown in the past and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demonstrated this past season. But with an offense and defense which both ranked toward the bottom of the league, the Jaguars have every reason to make a splash.

Here’s a look at five players the Jaguars could target in free agency:

WR JEREMY MACLIN

Jeremy Maclin.

The 19th player taken over in the 2009 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, Maclin bounced back after missing the entire 2013 season with a knee injury suffered in a non-contact drill during training camp to record 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. All of the Jaguars’ wide receivers — Cecil Shorts III, Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Ace Sanders — combined for the same number of scores in an offense which averaged a meager 187.6 net yards a game through the air, primarily with rookie Blake Bortles at quarterback.

Why he’s valuable: With the news Saturday night that Randall Cobb agreed to remain with the Green Bay Packers thanks to a four-year, $40 million deal ($17 million guaranteed), Maclin could now be the most talented wide receiver available. The Houston Texans are expected to make a run at him after apparently deciding not to keep Andre Johnson, and the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts should be in the market for him as well.

Why the Jaguars need him: Bortles needs a game-breaker. Hurns, an undrafted rookie, was the only receiver on the Jaguars to average as much as 13.3 yards a catch. They had no completions of more than 37 yards over the final six games. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson, most recently with the Oakland Raiders, must know the importance someone like Maclin or Torrey Smith of the Baltimore Ravens would make.

What he could cost: Eric Decker, the highest-paid wide receiver in unrestricted free agency last year, got $7.25 per year and $15 million guaranteed to leave the Denver Broncos for the New York Jets. Maclin will command more than that, though probably not as much as Cobb will get. The Eagles have already reportedly offered him a deal averaging $9 million per season. Whatever the price, he would be worth the investment.

TE JULIUS THOMAS

Julius Thomas.

He’s coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Broncos. Despite scoring 24 touchdowns over that stretch, they seem willing to part with the 26-year-old Thomas after slapping the franchise tag on wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Though not quite the caliber of tight end as Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, he’ll be of keen interest to a team forced to make do without Marcedes Lewis for significant portions of the past two years.

Why he’s valuable: Two seasons of playing with Peyton Manning could inflate nearly any receiver’s statistics. But it’s hard to deny Thomas has a nose for the end zone. Lewis hooked up with Bortles for a touchdown just once in six games, and he turns 31 in May.

Why the Jaguars need him: Backup Clay Harbor has more receptions than Lewis since Bradley took over as coach. Though Thomas is understandably the tight end most frequently mentioned, the Jaguars might be just as happy to add Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns if Thomas signs with the Atlanta Falcons.

What he could cost: Thomas and his representatives reportedly turned down a five-year, $40 million contract before the season. If the Dolphins are willing to pay more than $7 million a year to Charles Clay, Thomas should be worth well more than that.

DT NDAMUKONG SUH

Ndamukong Suh.

Given reports that he plans to sign with the Miami Dolphins, it’s a long shot for the Jaguars to land the four-time All-Pro. But given their salary-cap situation, it would be foolish for them not to make a run at Suh.

Why he’s valuable: Which team couldn’t use a dominating and intimidating force along its defensive line who routinely draws double-teams? The 305-pound Suh is coming off his best season since he was a rookie in terms of sacks. Though he has exhibited more than his share of bad on-the-field behavior, particularly at the expense of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, few teams are liable to hold that against him.

Why the Jaguars need him: Both Marks and Roy Miller are coming off injuries, with Marks unlikely to be recovered from a torn ACL before the start of training camp. But Suh’s impact would go well beyond the field for a franchise lacking any personality on a national scale.

What he could cost: J.J. Watt’s contract with the Houston Texans includes $51.8 million guaranteed. Suh’s contact would make the extensions the Jaguars gave Marks and Miller seem like a drop in the bucket.

T BRYAN BULAGA

Bryan Bulaga.

A first-round pick by the Packers in 2010 out of Iowa, Bulaga has started 55 games for them, including the playoffs. NFL.com has him rated as one of only three offensive linemen in the free-agent class who will be an impact starter.

Why he’s valuable: Take a look at how seldom Rodgers was sacked, and take a look at how often Bortles was. Right tackles are no longer regarded as something of an afterthought along the line. After tearing an ACL in 2013, Bulaga exceeded expectations on a team that reached the NFC Championship Game.

Why the Jaguars need him: Like Beadles last year, Bulaga would bring a winning background to a team accustomed to double-digit losing seasons. Austin Pasztor is a classic overachiever, but he’s not a longterm solution at this position. The Jaguars could also be interested in Orlando Franklin of the Broncos or Doug Free of the Dallas Cowboys.

What he could cost: With so few quality linemen available, he could command close to $6 million a season on average.

CB BYRON MAXWELL

Bryon Maxwell.

He started in 12 games last season in his fourth year with the Seahawks. Maxwell was a fifth-round pick by them when Bradley was their defensive coordinator.

Why he’s valuable: There’s a risk that his value could be inflated from playing in the same secondary with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. But Maxwell is widely regarded as the top available cornerback.

Why the Jaguars need him: At 27, he should more than make up for the expected departure of Alan Ball and bring experience to a secondary that consisted almost entirely of rookies and second-year players a year ago. His two interceptions were as many as all the Jaguars’ cornerbacks had.

What he could cost: Reports out of last month’s scouting combine suggested he wants $10 million annually. That’s Darrelle Revis money.

FINAL THOUGHT

Even if the Jaguars open some eyes around the country by landing more than one of the free agents listed above, they could also bring in some lower-profile help at running back, along the offensive line, and on special teams. They signed ex-Raven Tandon Doss last year as a punt returner more than a wide receiver, but he spent the entire season on injured reserve.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.