Jaguars have pending free agents eyeing futures

Call them Jacksonville’s unsettled seven.

The Jaguars (2-9) have seven pending free agents – key guys who

opened the season as starters – who have five games remaining to do

enough to land new contracts.

It’s a tough spot for all of them, especially considering they

have seemingly cost themselves millions on the open market.

Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Eben Britton and

running back Rashad Jennings were benched during the season.

Linebacker Daryl Smith, fullback Greg Jones and cornerbacks Rashean

Mathis and Derek Cox have missed a combined 22 games because of

injuries.

And given Jacksonville’s record and the possibility that general

manager Gene Smith and maybe even coach Mike Mularkey could be

fired, the future is uncertain for any Jaguars, especially these

seven.

”Things start getting crazy when you aren’t winning,” Britton

said Wednesday. ”All kinds of (stuff) happens. Winning and losing

changes life. It changes the way things go.”

Mularkey, in his first season in Jacksonville, has shown little

favoritism toward longtime starters. He benched Britton after a

miserable performance against Cincinnati in September, turning the

position over to undrafted rookie Mike Brewster.

He did the same to Knighton, giving C.J. Mosley the starting

spot. It was the latest setback for Knighton, who fought to stay in

shape in 2011 and had a scary eye injury in April.

Jennings, meanwhile, opened the season as the starter following

Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout and found himself back in the

spotlight when Jones-Drew went down with a foot injury. But

Jennings has looked little like a capable replacement, averaging

2.8 yards a carry this season.

Mularkey benched Jennings two weeks ago, giving journeyman Jalen

Parmele the job. But Parmele sustained a season-ending groin injury

in Sunday’s win against Tennessee, essentially giving Jennings a

third chance Sunday at Buffalo (4-7).

”I’ve been criticizing myself in the film room and critiquing

my own game,” Jennings said. ”I’m going to finish strong down the

stretch.”

Smith, Jones and Mathis have been mainstays in Jacksonville for

years.

Smith, a second-round pick in 2004, owns the franchise record

for tackles. Before this season, he had missed just six starts in

eight years. But at age 30 and coming off a groin injury that

landed him on injured reserve, it’s doubtful the Jaguars would

offer him much more than a short-term deal.

Same goes for Jones and Mathis.

Like Smith, Jones has been one of the franchise’s most

consistent players. He has been a staple of the team’s running game

since 2004, clearing the way for Fred Taylor and Jones-Drew. But

the 31-year-old lead blocker has missed the last four games with a

thigh injury.

”It’s football. Everybody gets injured,” Jones said. ”If you

don’t get injured playing football, then you might not be playing

good football. You’re going to have nicks and bruises. It comes

with the territory. But you never know what’s going to happen.

”They might want to go a whole new route. We’ll see what

happens. Each situation and each organization is different. Only

time will tell.”

Mathis signed a one-year, incentive-laden contract in March that

could have been worth up to $5 million. But he’s missed four games

and started only four, making this likely his final year in

Jacksonville.

Cox, meanwhile, is the most likely to still get a lucrative deal

in free agency. When he has played, he has played fairly well. But

Cox has missed 16 games over the last three seasons, the kind of

history that would seemingly make it difficult to give the

third-round draft pick in 2009 a huge deal.

”Worrying doesn’t do anything, so I don’t give too much thought

to it at all,” Cox said. ”It is what it is. I can only control

what I can control. After that, let it fall where it may.”

The unsettled seven won’t know about their futures anytime soon,

adding to their worries over the next five weeks and into the

offseason.

”You can’t really think about it too much and you can’t bring

that type of thought process into the building because it’s just

not conducive to what we’re doing,” Britton said. ”You hope for

the best, you plan accordingly and you keep working your (butt)

off.

”It’s the beauty and ugliness of the NFL, where sport meets

business.”

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