JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville’s offensive makeover is just getting starting.
The Jaguars signed former Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart and former Denver Broncos guard Zane Beadles to contracts Wednesday, bringing the free agents in to replace longtime starters Maurice Jones-Drew and Uche Nwaneri.
And former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders visited the facility Wednesday. Signing Sanders would give Jacksonville a potential replacement for wideout Justin Blackmon, who is suspended for repeated violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
"They know the pieces they want to put together," Beadles said. "They want to build this thing for the long haul and plug in some guys in certain areas that can really help bring this team along. Hopefully I can be one of those guys for this organization."
The moves might not be the one Jacksonville really needs — finding a franchise quarterback — but they could help improve one of the league’s worst offenses in recent years. The Jaguars ranked 31st in total offense last season, 29th in 2012 and 32nd in 2011.
General manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley did little to tweak the offense in their first season, outside of drafting left tackle Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick.
But it’s clear they’re focused on revamping the offense this year. They let Jones-Drew walk, cut Nwaneri and traded quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, to San Francisco in exchange for a sixth-round selection. Throw in longtime center Brad Meester’s retirement, and the Jaguars had plenty of holes.
The already filled two in free agency.
Gerhart signed a three-year deal worth $10.5 million that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. Beadles’ signed a five-year, $30 million contract that includes $12.5 million guaranteed.
The team also re-signed quarterback Chad Henne and cornerback Will Blackmon, and signed free-agent defensive end Red Bryant and free-agent linebacker Dekoda Watson.
The Jaguars aren’t done, either.
Sanders and former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Ziggy Hood could be next. Hood also visited Jacksonville on Wednesday.
Clearly, the Jaguars are intent on spending some of the roughly $60 million of salary-cap space they opened free agency with. And the wisest investments could come on offense.
Gerhart, a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2010, played in 61 games with six starts for the Vikings over four seasons. He has a modest 276 carries for 1,305 yards (4.7 yards a carry) and five touchdowns. He also had 77 receptions for 600 yards and three scores.
His arrival likely shuts the door on Jones-Drew returning to Jacksonville.
Bradley essentially named Gerhart the starter Wednesday, saying he would like to get him about 15 carriers a game. Gerhart welcomed the workload, especially after sitting behind All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson his entire career.
"I don’t have that mileage on me," Gerhart said. "I’m a semi-proven veteran without the mileage on me."
And Gerhart will have a revamped line to run behind, with Joeckel returning from a broken right ankle and the addition of Beadles.
The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Beadles was a second-round pick in 2010 who gave up just 2 sacks the last two years. His 62 starts are the second-most among offensive linemen who entered the NFL that season, just two behind San Francisco’s Anthony Davis.
Beadles missed just three snaps last season — all at the end of a game — and played every down in 2011 and 2012.
"I take a huge amount of pride in my durability," he said. "It’s something I hang my hat on. I try to take care of my body and eat healthy. I always want to be on the field."
And maybe helping get Jacksonville’s offense turned around.
"I heard great things about the direction of the organization," Beadles said. "In Denver, I went from a 4-12 team my rookie year to playing in the Super Bowl my fourth year. I want to be a part of that, helping bring this team along and hopefully we can get to that point eventually."