The Jacksonville Jaguars will have an inward focus when the sure-to-be furious free-agency period begins in the NFL.
Their top priority will be tight end Marcedes Lewis. The team placed the franchise tag on its leading receiver prior to the lockout, but the Jags are looking to lock up the All-Pro to a long-term deal. General manager Gene Smith told the Florida Times-Union in Sunday's edition that re-signing the playmaker is at "at the top" of his checklist.
"Our own players will always be our first priority," Smith said. "I've said this before that it is our objective to get a long-term deal done with Marcedes."
Lewis made the leap in a 2010 season in which he caught more touchdown passes (10) than he had in the prior four years combined (seven). He finished with 58 catches for 700 yards, serving as a security blanket for quarterback David Garrard.
"(The franchise tag is) a catch-22, man," he said. "I want a long-term contract, and I know Jacksonville wants me there. I love playing in Jacksonville and who I work with there. But at the same time, who wants to play under a one-year contract? That's not cool."
The Times-Union reported that the tight end franchise tag was worth almost $7.3 million under the previous collective bargaining agreement. It's believed the franchise designation will remain in effect under a new deal.
When reached by telephone this week, Lewis said it's not his style to hold out, but he wouldn't rule it out. He remains hopeful a deal will get done.
"All I can do is be optimistic about it," Lewis said. "I think both sides have an idea of where we want to go. I'm just going to continue to handle my side and let them take care of that. I'm hoping we can get it done and get me in camp."
One player who won't return to Jacksonville is Justin Durant. The linebacker has been an effective player for the Jags, but injuries to his ankle and groin led to missed time.
"Durability is important with all players, as availability supersedes ability," Smith said.
The Times-Union reported that Durant sold his house in Jacksonville and has been training in Atlanta.
"I felt like when I was in there that I was important to the defense, and I was contributing a lot," Durant said. "I had a couple injuries, a couple setbacks. They were nagging all year."