Last offseason, the Jaguars signed linebacker Dan Skuta to a five year, $20.5 million contract to be the starting OTTO linebacker...
... and just over a year later, Skuta might just be on the roster bubble. What?
Well, if you remember, when Skuta signed with the team last year to be the starting OTTO, fans were puzzled. Skuta was praised for his play as a rotational linebacker in his time with Cincinnati and San Francisco before signing with Jacksonville, but never stood out as a starter in his prior six seasons. While Skuta had an average season when he was on the field, he didn't shine. He put together 40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 13 games -- and he only started eight of them.
While those stats are nice, they could be better, and I'm not sure if Skuta can provide improvement to those numbers considering his injury history and age. I know, he's only 30, but he isn't getting any younger.
The consensus is that newly-drafted Jaguar Myles Jack is competing at middle linebacker with Paul Posluszny. Do I believe that's the case? Sure, and I'm all for it. But honestly, I believe Jack will be replacing Skuta at OTTO linebacker, with sub-package reps at middle linebacker, for his rookie season before eventually making the move to full time MLB in 2017. Jack can rush the passer, set the edge in run defense, and cover the field in pass defense -- fitting the OTTO role perfectly.
Ryan Davis has also been taking reps at OTTO linebacker, which makes a ton of sense as he specializes in pass rushing and is solid in pass coverage.
So, what does that mean for Dan Skuta?
The team has continuously said that Skuta will receive reps at LEO pass rusher, and while at first it seemed like Skuta would bounce around between LEO and OTTO, defensive coordinator Todd Wash's comments at the fifth OTA earlier this week made Skuta's transition sound like a permanent move.
Oh, and while it seems like Skuta has Wash's confidence, the move doesn't sound like it's going that smoothly:
[Wash on Skuta's transition]: "He got a little frustrated today. He got a little displaced in number two. He was a little frustrated with that. He’s doing really well. I like the transition where he’s going down and playing LEO. You’ll see him play some defensive end in nickel situations on first and second down, and third down."
Wash sounds optimistic here, but if you gut the comment, it sounds like the transition has had some rough patches. Half of the comment says that Skuta has struggled in his transition, and the other half sounds like a morale booster. No matter, while we can interpret Wash's comments in different ways, the point seems to have been made -- Skuta is making the move to LEO.
Could Skuta be a good LEO once he settles at the position? Maybe, but he's never proven himself as a strong pass rusher, and his seven career sacks only back that statement up.
The LEO position has five players competing for, presumably, three roster spots -- two of which are guaranteed for 2015 1st round pick Dante Fowler Jr. and 2016 3rd round pick Yannick Ngakoue. That leaves one spot open for Skuta, 5th round pick Tyrone Holmes, and newly signed LEO Bjoern Werner to compete for.
My opinion, although it is unpopular, is that Werner will snag that final spot, sending Holmes to the practice squad for his huge potential, and leaving Skuta as the odd man out.
As unpopular as it may be, this scenario makes sense. Werner was a 4-3 pass rushing defensive end at Florida State where he collected 23.5 sacks in three seasons -- two of which he was a starter -- but has played out of position as a 3-4 outside linebacker in his three seasons in Indianapolis.
Even though he played out of position as a Colt, Werner still collected 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons (he spent 2015 as a rotational LB and had his season shortened by a hamstring injury) -- one half of a sack less than Skuta has in his entire seven year career.
I know that a half of a sack doesn't sound like anything, but pass rushers are counted on to sack the QB. Werner has sacked the QB just about as many times as Skuta has -- in four less seasons, and has the potential to produce even more in the Jaguars defensive scheme.
The most realistic option for Dan Skuta to be kept around would be for linebacker depth, and even that would be questionable. Skuta, like I said earlier, is here on a $20.5 million contract -- average starter money. I don't care if the Jaguars have $50 million in cap space, depth players shouldn't be making that much money.
If Skuta is to be kept for depth, his contract would need to be restructured, and even that would be hard to do as he is guaranteed $8.1 million. The entire situation is sticky, as well as unlikely, as the team is most likely to cut Skuta rather than restructure his contract.
I like Dan Skuta, I really do, and so do the fans. He's a good football player and a good guy to have in the locker room for a young maturing team. But, to draw comparisons, I view his situation to be very similar to former Jaguars cornerback Alan Ball: football journeyman, solid rotational player, injury riddled, and ultimately -- the odd man out, as the Jaguars have added enough talent to the positions Skuta plays to the point in which he isn't needed anymore.
Back in February, fellow BCC writer Cole Hartley touched on the possibilty of Skuta being a cap cut this offseason. After months of defensive acquisitions and a shaky position change for Skuta, although it most likely wouldn't be a cap cut, Cole very well may have been right about Skuta's future with the Jaguars.
Come the regular season, I wouldn't be surprised whatsoever if Dan Skuta doesn't make the Jaguars 53 man roster. We may not like the idea, but we can't deny the rationality of him being cut -- it's just the nature of the game.