At a time when a large number of teams in the league are looking to balance the books with a reduced salary cap, the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the rare position of actually sitting at the top of the NFL. In cap space.
Whilst other franchises look at their rosters for contracts they can extend, renegotiate or cut, the Jags are about to embark on a full on rebuild with the number one overall pick (as well as the 25th pick of the first round) and over $73 million in cap space.
With the new general manager-head coach pairing of Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer likely to pull the trigger on selecting Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the number one pick on the draft, how else could Jacksonville use all of that ‘spare cash’?
Adding weapons on offense
The Jaguars ranked 5th worst in the league in total offense last season.
Undrafted rookie running back James Robinson burst onto the scene with over 1,000 yards rushing and was one of the few bright spots for the franchise. At the wideout position, the team has pass catchers who have shown the promise to help the team put together a potent passing attack.
D.J. Chark put up 1,008 yards and 8 TDs in 2019 and still managed over 700 yards receiving last year with a rotating cast of quarterbacks on a team that went 1-15. Rookie receiver Laviska Shenault Jr even racked up 600 receiving yards and 5 TDs. Those two players could see those numbers significantly increase playing with a signal caller of Lawrence’s calibre.
But adding veteran talent to the offense could be a crucial ingredient to Meyer and Lawrence hitting the ground running.
Initially, I had Kenny Golladay pegged as the team’s primary target, though I’m not sure he diversifies the passing attack and offers much of a different flavour to Chark. The former Lion would be a nice addition for any team but could be an expensive luxury signing.
#Jaguars GM Trent Baalke says the team will always look to push the envelope when it comes to spending and spending to the cap. He says ownership shares that vision. "We are going to use the dollars. We have to get the value right."
Jaguars have the most cap space in the league.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) March 10, 2021
Instead, starting tight end Tyler Eifert hasn’t been retained and Baalke should definitely be targeting one of the top two options on the market in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. A dependable safety blanket could be a must for Lawrence. Both Henry and Smith can be a weapon in the passing game, though Henry’s injury history may tilt the balance in favour of Smith.
Whilst Robinson was a revelation last year, the team should be looking to add a running back who can spell him for periods in games and also step in as a third down pass catching back.
The more expensive option here could be Kenyan Drake, though his relative failure to become a dominant offensive piece in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense may suppress his cost. Alternatively, signing Duke Johnson after his release from the Texans may be more cost effective though he would be more of a RB2 than RB1b behind Robinson.
Adding talent to an O line which gave up 44 sacks last year, but which makes up a significant chunk of the team’s salary cap, should also be something Baalke would be wise to explore. Jacksonville franchise tagged starting left tackle Cam Robinson but could still look to upgrade. Could the Jags swap Robinson for Baltimore left tackle Orlando Brown Jr who wants the opportunity to protect a quarterback’s blindside? Trent Williams might not be looking to come in at the start of a rebuild at his age and does Eric Fisher significantly improve the position over Robinson?
It could be interesting to see whether Meyer urges Baalke to try and sign ex-Ohio State Corey Linsley who played under the head coach during his time in charges of the Buckeyes.
Whilst the Jags handed incumbent Brandon Linder a lucrative deal back in 2017, he hit injured reserve in 2018 and 2020. The addition of Linsley might be seen as a way of upgrading the whole line under a new captain of the unit.
A return for Sacksonville?
If Meyer and co are going to overturn the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans on the AFC South, they need to rebuild the defensive line to the level of dominance it showed when Calais Campbell and others helped lead the team to the AFC Championship game in the 2017-18 season.
Jacksonville has invested in the draft at edge rusher with both Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson.
Between them they only put up 3.5 sacks, though Allen only played in 8 games. Adding a big body in the middle to clog opposing running lanes and penetrate in the passing game could free up Allen and Chaisson and perhaps help Taven Bryan live up to his first round pedigree.
The #Seahawks won’t franchise tag standout CB Shaquill Griffin given their cap situation, though they’ll work to retain him in free agency, source said. He’ll be one of the top players at his position.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 9, 2021
Whilst new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has come from Baltimore where he was the Ravens defensive line coach, he’s also likely to have seen the benefit of talented secondary play with the likes of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters donning purple and black. Adding a talented corner opposition second year pro C.J. Henderson could also be on the shopping list with Shaquill Griffin and William Jackson standing out as obvious candidates.
Rainy day fund
Whilst the Jaguars could be in the fortunate position of being flush with cap space in a free agency period where player value is lowered by the reduced cap limit, Baalke would do well to keep a significant chunk of space to one side for next offseason.
The temptation is always there to spend big in an attempt to return to playoff contention immediately.
However, the Jags only have to look within their division to see how the Colts have rebuilt without spending big on risky free agent additions.