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Eric Weddle a Target for the Jaguars in Free Agency?

Mac’s Football Blog reports that the Jags, once free agency kicks off, could take a long look at free safety Eric Weddle of the Chargers.

After trading former first-round pick Reggie Nelson to the Cincinnati Bengals, and releasing veteran Gerald Alexander before training camp, the Jacksonville Jaguars started Sean Considine at free safety to open the season. Alexander was re-signed three weeks later and waived after another three weeks, replaced for the remainder of the season by Don Carey, a 2009 sixth-round pick out of Norfolk State by the Cleveland Browns who had spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.

Few teams gave up more than the 72 plays of 20+ yards, including 58 through the air, the Jaguars defense allowed last season. The constantly shuffling of personnel made safety one of the team’s top needs headed into the 2011 NFL Draft, which produced fourth-round pick Chris Prosinski.

NFL draft analyst Rob Rang thought was a questionable fit in Jacksonville, and either way, the prolonged lockout make it less likely that a mid-round pick will step in and start as a rookie. That leaves free agency, and Arthur Arkush of Pro Football Weekly is hearing that the Jaguars may target free safety Eric Weddle in free agency.

“With San Diego signing Bob Sanders before the lockout, the door might have opened for Weddle’s departure,” Arkush writes. “He has the range and coverage skills to be a great asset for the Jaguars, who allowed the most yards per pass play in the NFL last season.”

Chosen out of the University of Utah by the San Diego Chargers with the 37th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, Weddle has 358 tackles, 4 quarterback sacks, and 6 interceptions, two of which he’s returned for touchdowns, in his 60-game career. Though he did not receive the Pro Bowl consideration he arguably should have, Weddle was the best, most consistent player on the Chargers’ #1-ranked defense last season. After the season, the Chargers have showed signs that they may not be willing to break the bank to lock Weddle up for the long-term, which could make him an appealing option for teams in need of a safety (Jacksonville, Dallas, and Minnesota immediately come to mind) if a new collective bargaining agreement grants four-year players unrestricted free agency.

Prior to the lockout, the Chargers placed the “First Round” restricted free agent tender on Weddle, which under the old collective bargaining agreement, would carry a $3.442 million base salary. That’s nearly the base value of his rookie contract ($3.475M), but premier safeties like Weddle can expect to receive contracts worth over $7 million per year, with $15M-$20M in guaranteed money. By not placing the “First- and Third-Round” tender on Weddle, the Chargers may be telling other teams that they’d be willing to make a trade.

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