Posluszny may be old man of Jaguars’ defense, but he’s a keeper

Jan 06, 2018 | by Gene Frenette, jacksonville.com

The old man on the Jaguars’ defense, who wondered during last offseason whether he’d even stay employed in Jacksonville, might be the most heartwarming story of this breakthrough playoff year.

Paul Posluszny was genuinely afraid he might be a goner once the 2016 season ended, possibly another casualty of either the salary cap or the cold reality that the NFL is a young man’s game.

But the 33-year-old middle linebacker, more so than a lot of aging players given a reduced role, has built up cachet in the locker room that the Jaguars are clearly reluctant to part with. Posluszny’s reputation as the consummate pro — manifesting itself in the way he handled no longer being an every-down linebacker and remaining a constant mentor for Myles Jack and Telvin Smith — carries a lot of weight with teammates and coaches.

“I understand it’s a business and the front office is going to do what they’re going to do,” said defensive tackle Calais Campbell. “But a guy like Poz is definitely going to make this locker room better. I hope we continue to play football with him a few more years.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles went over the top in his assessment about Posluszny’s impact, saying: “If you could create or sculpt a football player out of a piece of marble, it would be Paul Posluszny. The way that dude is built, and I think his personality and his character is incredible.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s been a guy that when he’s playing, you know he’s going to go out there and get double-digit tackles, give absolutely [everything] he can… . I don’t think there’s a whole lot of times that you’ve seen guys that have played in the league for as long as he has, playing on special teams and all that stuff. He truly is a team-first guy. It’s impressive to watch and it rubs off on everyone around him.”

Smith and Jack were especially concerned about losing Posluszny because they had formed a tight bond. The 11-year veteran is their go-to teammate whenever they have questions on game plan details and other issues.

Defensive coordinator Todd Wash recognizes Posluszny’s value beyond game day. That’s why once the Jaguars hired Tom Coughlin as front-office czar and Doug Marrone as head coach last January, he lobbied hard to keep Posluszny through the last year of his contract, which paid $6,166,668 in 2017.

“That is a very tight-knit group, those three [linebackers],” Wash said. “You constantly see them together studying tape. Poz is the granddaddy of all of them. It’s important you have good camaraderie and just the type of leadership and work ethic that Poz brings to the table every day. It’s unmatched. We’ve been around some very good players in our time, but what he does every day is amazing. He’s like a machine.”

The respect Posluszny commands in the organization explains why teammates are ecstatic for him getting to play in his first playoff game Sunday against his old team, the Buffalo Bills, in an AFC wild-card matchup at EverBank Field. After 10 consecutive losing seasons in the NFL, including 100 games in a Jaguars’ uniform, Posluszny finally gets to reap the benefits of being on a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

He’s received a ton of congratulatory messages from Bills’ fans, including a couple friends who were weekly offseason partners with him at a shooting range in Buffalo. Despite Posluszny’s even-keeled disposition, it’s hard for him to contain his excitement over this playoff opportunity.

“It’s going to be exciting for all of us, the fans, the players,” Posluszny said. “It’s great to be part of a team that’s won an AFC South championship. I feel very fortunate to be here when this happened.”

Though he’s primarily a two-down linebacker, Posluszny remains an important cog on the NFL’s most disruptive defense. With the Bills being a run-heavy offense, the two-time Bednarik Award winner (best defensive player in the nation) from Penn State could see more playing time than the 46 percent of snaps (479 of 1,040) he received in base defense packages this season, a significant drop from 1,057 snaps played in 2016.

Jack, the Jaguars’ youngest defensive player at 22, appreciates Posluszny’s work ethic as much as anyone because he sees it up close every day.

“Just knowing Poz the last two years, he treats every day like it’s the last,” Jack said. “For it to be the playoffs and finally make it, I know he’s going to put in that much more effort into it, that much more detail and time. It’s kind of cool because it forces me to match his intensity.”

While Posluszny is focused solely on his game-day assignments and helping the Jaguars advance in the playoffs, he’s well aware there’s no guarantee of his return next season. With his contract expiring and uncertain if the Jaguars will re-sign him, Posluszny, a married father of two young daughters, cringes at the thought of continuing his NFL career elsewhere.

“I don’t want to play football for anybody else,” Posluszny said. “I want to be a Jaguar forever. That would be a hard decision if Jacksonville says, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ I love the game so much and I want to keep playing.

“Do I go to, say, San Francisco for a year? That’d be a difficult decision. I like it here. It changes things [to play for another team]. Do I really want to pick my family up and move? Or commute [while his family stays behind]? I don’t want it to come to that.”

It could well come down to Posluszny’s willingness to take a pay cut, down to the veteran minimum of $1.015 million, to remain in black and teal. Or the Jaguars could draft a linebacker and move on, but you can bet Poz will have his share of lobbyists wanting him to stick around.

“Obviously, that’s up to Tom [Coughlin] and Dave [Caldwell, the GM] and that kind of stuff,” Wash said. “It’s very important that he’s part of our team. You can’t ask for a better fit.”

The Jaguars are a young, ascending team built for future success. At the right price, why wouldn’t they want Posluszny along for the ride?

Gene.frenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540