In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished with a 10-6 record before advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the first time in more than 20 years.
Pending Free Agents:
- Arrelious Benn, WR
- Aaron Colvin, CB
- Tyler Gaffney, RB (RFA)
- Corey Grant, RB (RFA)
- Chad Henne, QB
- Ben Koyack, TE (ERFA)
- Marqise Lee, WR
- Lerentee McCray, LB
- Patrick Omameh, G
- Matt Overton, LS
- William Poehls, T (ERFA)
- Paul Posluszny, LB
- Chris Reed, G (ERFA)
- Mychal Rivera, TE
- Allen Robinson, WR
- Peyton Thompson, S (RFA)
- Shane Wynn, WR (ERFA)
Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:
- Calais Campbell, DL: $17,500,000
- Malik Jackson, DT: $15,500,000
- A.J. Bouye, CB: $15,500,000
- Telvin Smith, LB: $11,810,235
- Marcell Dareus, DT: $10,175,000
- Blake Bortles, QB: $10,000,000
- Brandon Linder, C: $9,406,250
- Dante Fowler Jr.: $7,474,167
- Tashaun Gipson, S: $7,050,000
- Allen Hurns, WR: $7,000,000
- Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $29,848,410
- 29th pick in draft
- Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DE Dante Fowler Jr.
1) Add competition for Blake Bortles: The Jaguars will run it back in 2018 — instead of exploring a quarterback upgrade via the free agent market, where they could have gone after Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, the Jags will stick with Blake Bortles after agreeing to a new three-year, $54MM deal that contains $26.5MM in guarantees. Bortles was already under contract for more than $19MM in 2018 thanks to Jacksonville exercising his fifth-year option. That option is guaranteed for injury only, but given that Bortles is recovering from wrist surgery and likely wouldn’t have been able to pass a physical, the $19MM+ figure could be considered effectively fully guaranteed.
Under the terms of Bortles’ new contract, his cap charge will be reduced to just $10MM, giving the Jaguars about $9MM in additional cap space. The pact will add a partially guaranteed base salary in 2019 ($6.5MM of $16MM is fully guaranteed), which will make it difficult for Jacksonville to part ways with Bortles: a $16.5MM dead money charge would accelerate onto the club’s salary cap if it releases Bortles next offseason. That number might not be as scary given that Bortles’ contract now contains offset language (meaning the Jaguars will be off the hook for whatever salary Bortles theoretically earns with a new team), but there’s no doubt Jacksonville has committed to keeping some form of Bortles — either the flesh-and-blood player, or simply the remnants of his salary — on its 2019 books.
But the move to extend Bortles wasn’t about the 2019 campaign — no, it was about the upcoming season, when the Jaguars clearly feel they can once again compete for the AFC championship and a Super Bowl title. Once it became clear Bortles and his $19MM salary would stick due to injury, Jacksonville didn’t have a ton of other options. So decision makers Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell opted to double down on 2018, create cap space to solidify other parts of the Jaguars roster, keep Bortles in place as the team’s starting quarterback, and worry about 2019 when the time comes.
However, Bortles’ new contract shouldn’t preclude the Jaguars from adding long-term competition under center, and while that will likely need to occur in the draft, there is one free agent signal-caller who could make sense for Jacksonville. Teddy Bridgewater will officially hit the free agent market after five seasons with the Vikings, and while all the tea leaves point to him returning to Minnesota, the former first-round pick could be interested in moving on, especially if the Vikes bring in Kirk Cousins.
Bridgewater, of course, hasn’t played a full season since 2015 while recovering from a gruesome knee injury, but he’s still only 25 years old. Perhaps he’ll want to land with a team that will allow a clearer shot at a starting job, but I question whether NFL clubs will trust Bridgewater’s health. Jacksonville, though, could promise Bridgewater the chance to start later in the 2018 season if Bortles fails, and might be able to ink him to a contract that would keep him in town through 2019 or 2020.
In the draft, the Jaguars aren’t likely to get a shot at Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, or Josh Allen, but Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could be available at pick No. 29. Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, would be fascinating entrant as Bortles’ backup in 2018 and a future starter in 2019 and beyond. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com calls Jackson a “maestro of improv who is Second City worthy,” and Jackson would be deadly utilizing run-pass options in Jacksonville’s offense. He needs work — Zierlein says Jackson needs to improve his accuracy on the run and his pocket awareness — but the former Cardinal seems like a high-risk, high-reward option that would mesh with the rest of the Jaguars’ roster.
2) Bolster the offensive line: Jacksonville invested in its offensive line in 2017, using the 34th overall selection on Alabama tackle Cam Robinson. Although he started 15 games on the blindside during his rookie campaign, Robinson graded as a bottom-five tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, seemingly confirming pre-draft concerns that he was a right tackle or guard. Ideally, the Jaguars would add new left tackle, shift Robinson to the right side, and release incumbent right tackle Jermey Parnell, but the utter lack of left tackles in both free agency and the draft makes that strategy untenable.
Instead, the Jags will likely give Robinson another shot on the blindside and seek upgrades on the interior. Center Brandon Linder is an excellent pivot and under contract through 2022, so he’s not going anywhere, but Jacksonville should pursue improvement at guard. Patrick Omameh and A.J. Cann finished 36th and 37th, respectively, among 77 PFF qualifiers, so the Jags can certainly aim for more production. Additionally, neither Omameh or Cann is signed to a long-term deal: Omameh, in fact, is scheduled to hit free agency next month, while Cann has one year left on his rookie contract.Read more