Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis is in what you could call a kind of a contract year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. While his current contract doesn't expire until after the 2015 season, the Jaguars could save just over $6 million in cap space by releasing him next season and if he doesn't up his production in the pass game this season, that could become a reality.
Lewis has been a player who fans seem to tab as a potential "surprise cut" heading into the season for the past two years. There's been some talk of it for the 2014 season, but looking at the Jaguars tight end depth chart, that would be hard to see. Most of that outcry has stemmed from Lewis' salary, as he hasn't really matched his 2010 season that spring boarded him to a five-year, $34 million extension.
Part of Lewis recapturing what got him paid after the 2010 season is stability at the quarterback position and staying healthy, you also have to enjoy what you're doing. Prior to the hiring of Gus Bradley, it appears as though the fun of his job, playing professional football, was sucked out from under him by Mike Mularkey.
"That coach really took it out of me," Lewis told John Oehser of Jaguars.com, in reference to Mike Mularkey. It's not the first time a player has spoken out against Mularkey and it probably won't be the last, but a lot of those former Jaguars who played under Mularkey are long gone.
"He took my joy away."
Thankfully, under new head coach Gus Bradley, this doesn't seem to be an issue what-so-ever. He's certainly a players coach, which is a step up from the militant style Mularkey tried to employ during his one-year tenure as Jaguars head coach.
It's made a big difference for Lewis, as well as it has I'm sure for other players.
"It was like, ‘Oh, this is how it's supposed to be,'" Lewis told Oehser. "You are supposed to be able to have fun playing football."
How does Marcedes Lewis factor going forward?
Lewis was disappointing in the 2013 season, based on pure production on the stat sheet, but he also missed five of the first six games and dealt with an offense that was completely out of sorts until the bye week.
In his eight starts after the bye week however, he started to show some of that ability that got the former front office and Jaguars fans excited about his skill-set. Lewis had 23 receptions for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 14 yards per catch and had multiple receptions over 20 yards, including a highlight catch against the Houston Texans deep down the field on Thursday Night Football.
It appears that once Lewis was healthy again and got his football legs under him, Jedd Fisch began to incorporate him in the offensive game plan. Lewis 6'7" frame was once again finally used in the redzone, something that had curiously gone missing since 2010, and he was allowed to make plays down the field rather than a standard 5-yard curl route with a ball thrown at his feet.
Lewis should be a virtual lock for the Jaguars final 53 for the 2014 season, simply because the team doesn't have another viable tight end who can do what Lewis does on the line of scrimmage. While Lewis' receiving production has gone down, he's still one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL. While most will scoff at saying he's the fastest snail, it's going to be a big factor on a team who's likely going to rely on the running game, at least early on.
What else is there at the tight end position?
After Lewis, the tight end position for the Jaguars is a big question mark. The team re-signed Clay Harbor, who flashed some pass catching ability last season after being claimed on waivers, but he's more in the mold of the "joker" or flex tight end. He's not going to be lining up and driving back defensive lineman from the in-line position very often, but is a good compliment in formations that want to feature a tight end in the slot or in motion.
I would think Lewis and Harbor make up the two-deep of the Jaguars tight end position, so the big question will be who they keep as their third tight end. Do they want more of a pass catching tight end, more of a pure blocking tight end, or a blend of both worlds?
The team will have their pick from undrafted rookies Marcel Jensen, Reggie Jordan, D.J. Tialavea and second year tight end Brandon Barden. I won't pretend to know much about any of those rookies, because I haven't really watched them play much out of Jensen a handful of times. If I had to make a guess however, I'd think Jensen has the inside track at making the final roster because he can do a little of both and he's huge.