One of my favorite things about the NFL and sports in general is the rush to be right and pull out the “I told you so!” just like when I told you all relying on rookies for a good pass rush was fool hardy… I kid, I kid. But, it is the time of the year where we make judgments on offseason moves and draft picks, as we have a good sample size of games to look over and draw an opinion to. The most notable move the Jacksonville Jaguars made this offseason was signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson to a massive $90 million deal, which naturally came with a lot of scrutiny, even locally.
Now that we’re firing up the hindsight machine to judge deals, Kevin Clark of The Ringer took a look at the Jackson deal as one of the 10 most misguided moves of the 2016 offseason… curiously. Here’s his take on the Jackson move:
The Hindsight Machine says: He’s been decent for Jacksonville, collecting 4.5 sacks in 12 games, but he certainly hasn’t performed like a $90 million man. More concerningly, he’s ripped Jaguars fans and wistfully discussed his time with a better team.
And the Jaguars might not have even needed him. When they decided to bolster their defensive line, they probably weren’t counting on being able to find a rookie in the third round who would wind up being a force. But Yannick Ngakoue has six sacks and has emerged as the game changer the Jaguars needed on the line, and with a $664,044 cap number, he’s a hell of a lot cheaper than Jackson. Jackson’s contract is spread out so that $15.5 million of his salary will count against the cap next season, with a similar hit in the three seasons after that. Plus, no one else on the Jaguars will count more than $8.5 million against the cap in 2017. There are similar cap discrepancies elsewhere in the league — but those involve franchise quarterbacks, not decent pass rushers. At least Blake Bortles is still cheap?
The 2–10 Jaguars need a lot of help, and cap space will get tighter as some of their talented young players sign extensions in the next few years. The money they’re spending on Jackson could have gone to three solid veterans capable of helping the young players mature instead of one big-ticket item.
There is a lot to unpack here, the majority of it just… wrong.
If you polled the people who cover the Jaguars, I’d be stunned if you found one who thinks in a do-over signing Jackson would be a mistake, because it certainly wasn’t. We’re not going to get into the fan booing stuff again, but his on-field play has been excellent.
While Jackson’s box score isn’t anything eye popping, with only four games remaining he’s likely to either tie or surpass his career high in sacks. And as a defensive tackle, if you’re pushing 6+ sacks that’s really good. He’s never going to perform “like a $90 million man,” but he’s doing his damnedest on the field to prove that wrong. Jackson has been an excellent free agent signings for the Jaguars, arguably one of their most successful, at least in his first season, in quite a long time. He only has 4.5 sacks on his own, but he’s been very disruptive in the backfield in both the run game and the pass rush. He’s fed sacks to a lot of other players, like the rookie the writer references, Yannick Ngakoue.
Now as far as Ngakoue is concerned, he’s been fantastic as a third round pick and looks to be a productive pass rusher going forward. I’m not sure what his cap number has to do with Jackson’s, though. Of course he’s cheaper. Ngakoue is a third-round pick on a rookie deal. Jackson was a Tier 1 free agent signing, yes the sky is blue and the sun sets in the west. What point is this trying to make other than shock value? The two players don’t even play the same position and their skill sets are extremely complimentary of each other and offer fantastic synergy across the defensive line. In fact, the kind of success Ngakoue is literally one of the big reasons that Jackson was signed by the Jaguars in the first place.
It feels like the writer was just trying to make the point that Jackson got a huge deal and isn’t a 10+ sack guy, which… duh? Jackson’s deal has him as a $10 million cap hit this season and on the books for $15.5 million next season, but as Clark mentions in the same paragraph, the Jaguars don’t have anyone else with a high cap figure going forward… which is a good thing. It means the team has set up their future salary cap to accommodate signings like Jackson. After the 2017 season Jackson’s cap hit is $15.5 million, but he’s a massive cap savings if he ends up getting cut. Like I’ve explained with virtually every contract setup under general manager Dave Caldwell, they’re a two-year deal with a series of one-year deals after that. Jackson’s contract isn’t going to hold them up from signing anyone, even if Bortles was worth giving a franchise quarterback type deal to next season.
The Jaguars will have to make decisions on players like Telvin Smith, Brandon Linder, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Blake Bortles going forward… but as I’ve explained many times over, their cap situation going forward is disgustingly healthy and Jackson’s deal in no way hampers any of those players (all of them, if they want) from signing market deals. The team is projected to have $70 million in cap room for 2017, prior to potentially cutting any older/disappointing players like Jared Odrick (+$8.5 million), Julius Thomas (+$4.7 million) and Davon House (+$6 million).
Malik Jackson was a fantastic signing for the Jaguars and anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot, to be frank.