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How the Marcell Dareus trade impacts Jaguars salary cap

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The Marcell Dareus trade has led many to worry about the Jaguars salary cap going forward.

Buffalo Bills v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars made a blockbuster trade over the weekend, giving up a sixth-round pick for Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Dareus, a former two-time Pro Bowler and one time NFL All Pro (2014), was recently signed to a massive contract extension by the Bills, but a tenuous relationship with the staff and his play dipping, the team decided to move on from that salary and send Dareus to another team.

We will talk about Dareus’ fit in the Jaguars defense in another piece, as in where he will play and who should be worried about their spot, but another area of discussion Dareus has sparked is with the Jaguars salary cap and how he impacts it going forward.

The feeling many have is that the Jaguars are now strapped for the 2018 season, with the absorption of the Dareus contract and the fact that linebacker Telvin Smith was handed a new big contract. While the Jaguars probably won’t be as big of spenders as they have been the past few seasons, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be or can’t be active in free agency if they want to be.

Right now the Jaguars are only projected to have about $3 million in salary cap space, including the Dareus deal and a projection of Telvin Smith’s 2018 cap hit, which I expect will end up a lot lower than people expect. First it’s worth noting the Jaguars can release Dareus in the offseason and save about $10 million if they want. That Jaguars 2018 salary cap figure though also includes a few things that will change.

First, it includes quarterback Blake Bortles with a cap hit of $19 million, which is what the fifth year option is worth if he’s on the roster at the start of the league year. I think we can all agree, outside of Bortles finishing out the season with every game like the Colts game, he’s not going to be on the roster for that much money. There’s $19 million in savings right there, which the team can use towards a free agent quarterback if they want.

That 2018 figure also includes a lot of older players it’s likely the team will cut, such as Chris Ivory and Marcedes Lewis, who will save the team about $8 million combined if released. Not only that, but looking at the 2018 cap projections, most websites have the cap at only $168 million, which is an extremely low estimate. Since 2012 the overall unadjusted salary cap has risen at least $10 million, rising at least $12 million the past two seasons. So, there is another $10-12 million you can add to the projected cap.

Then you have the issue of salary cap roll over that the Jaguars can take advantage of if they wish. As I’m writing this, according to the NFLPA the Jaguars currently have $33 million in cap space, which means it’s likely the Telvin Smith deal hasn’t quit hit yet, but I would expect a sizeable cap hit to count in 2017. More to the point, that gives the Jaguars plenty of room to roll over if they determine it necessary.

And the thing is, they may not find it necessary to roll over a massive amount like they have in the past, because they team doesn’t need to go hard in free agency like they have in the past.

Excluding quarterback, what do the Jaguars really need to aggressively pursue in free agency in 2018?

Assuming the Jaguars keep Dareus, I would say the needs are probably offensive guard, future right tackle, tight end, wide receiver depth, corner depth and maybe a strong-side linebacker. Are you really going to spend a lot of money on those positions in free agency in 2018 or will you use draft picks to fill in those positions at low cost?

The Jaguars are at the point now where they should be stocking their roster with cheap draft picks versus handing out big deals in free agency. So the Jaguars likely won’t be big spenders in 2018 in free agency, unless they want to chase a quarterback, but that’s a good thing. That is where they wanted to be.