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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