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NFL 2016: The AFC South Has Grown and Gotten A Lot Better

It seems the “close but no cigar” theme has been quite prevalent for the Jacksonville Jaguars in their pursuit of a pass rusher in free agency.

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A story on Tuesday about the team being in the mix to acquire defensive end Chandler Jones until he was dealt to the Arizona Cardinals is just one of the few missteps the team may have made in the first week of signing other team’s players to contracts. Jacksonville spent over $170 million in contracts in the first week of activity, but did not come away with an elite edge rusher to compliment Malik Jackson, Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller on the inside of the team’s defensive front.

There is some belief Jackson will be used all over the line, causing matchup issues for opposing offensive lines, which will help Marks, Jared Odrick, Ryan Davis and Dante Fowler get in someone’s backfield. Olivier Vernon was overpaid at $85 million by the New York Giants and the former Dolphins pass rusher did not want to come to north Florida. Jason Pierre-Paul re-signed with the Giants. The Jaguars have an impressive defensive haul and free agency haul – with four players in the top 40, but fans here in Jacksonville are hoping this group will make everyone forget the past three years under Gus Bradley.

The Jaguars are not the only team in the AFC South that has made a significant improvement to its roster in the course of free agency. The state of the division, where a 9-7 Texans team won the division and the playoff berth last season, is surprisingly healthy.

“At this time last offseason, I thought the AFC South was poised to take a major step forward in the coming campaign,” Adam Schein of NFL.com,” said. “The division was fresh off an uninspiring season — with a 25-39 overall record in 2014, including a lackluster 13-27 mark against non-divisional foes — but every AFC South squad appeared to be significantly upgrading its talent.”

He is certainly right. The Texans have Brock Osweiler to throw the football and Lamar Miller to run with it. Add the already solid defense and Houston could be a deep playoff contender. We already spoke of the Jaguars’ improvements – which also include Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamara in the secondary, Chris Ivory at running back and Kelvin Beachum at left tackle – and there is still room to gloat about the changes on offense for the Tennessee Titans.

“I gushed over the Titans’ trade for running back DeMarco Murray last week. I think he will be similar to the guy who won Offensive Player of the Year for the Cowboys in 2014, which wasn’t so long ago,” added Schein. “And I can’t wait to see the domino effect Murray’s presence has on Marcus Mariota in the quarterback’s sophomore campaign. I’ve always been a Mariota fan. I thought he had a really solid rookie year before getting hurt.”

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The Titans hold the first pick in the Draft and figure to either take Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil or defensive end Joey Bosa. It keeps getting better for head coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson.

The team everyone has a “wait and see attitude” about is Indianapolis. The season was lost for the Colts when multiple injuries took Andrew Luck out of the season and Matt Hasselbeck could not rally the troops. Now, given Luck is healthy, does this team again claim a spot atop the division?

All three teams mentioned before will have something to say about it.

This is a team that can win nine or 10 games based on No. 12’s arm alone. Any help on defense could mean another playoff berth in 2016.



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