For the first time in years, the Jaguars enter the season with the priority to extend a couple members of the roster and grant them long-term deals. All of the players worth consideration for a long term deal are entering their fourth seasons as Jaguars, and all of them face different situations in their potential contract talks.
If I were the Jaguars general manager, I would be considering an extension for wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee, interior offensive lineman Brandon Linder, and weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith. What does each of these players markets look like as of right now?
Current projected Jaguars cap space: ~$46 million
Linder is the only truly proven offensive lineman the Jaguars have on the roster. Although he has had a couple of injuries, he has started 32 games in his three seasons for the Jaguars (18 at right guard and 14 at center).
He switched to center last season and played very well, however Linder returned to playing right guard during the Jaguars 2017 OTA’s and doesn’t have a set position for the 2017 season. Wherever Linder ends up playing will have a huge impact on any potential contract extension, which the Jaguars should prioritize.
If Linder returns to his 2014-15 position of right guard, his market will be higher than that of his market as a center. The highest paid offensive guard on a year-to-year average basis is Kevin Zeitler, who signed a five year, $60 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency this year. Oakland Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele isn’t far behind Zeitler: He averages $11,700,000 a year after signing a five year, $58 million deal with Oakland in 2016.
The difference between the highest paid guard (Zeitler) and the highest paid center — Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick, who averages $9,400,010 a year and signed his six year, $56,400,060 extension last offseason — is $2,500,090 a year. Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack averages $9 million a year, after signing a five year, $45 million deal with Atlanta last offseason.
If Linder is to be extended as an offensive guard, expect him to sign something along the lines of a five year, ~$60 million extension, where Linder would average $12 million+ a year. And if Linder is to remain at center, I could see him receiving a five year, ~$50 million deal, making him the highest paid center in the game — averaging $10 million a year.
Although he is coming off of a down season where he only recorded 73 catches for 883 yards and six touchdowns, Robinson has flashed the ability to be a top receiver in this league. In 2015, he accounted for 80 receptions for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 17.5 yards per catch.
Robinson will likely get top dollar, whether it be from the Jaguars or during the 2018 free agency period. If Robinson displays the play-making ability and reliability that we saw in 2015 early on this season, the Jaguars need to get an extension together quickly.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown signed the largest contract for a wide receiver in February. He will be averaging $17 million a year over the next four seasons (four years, $68 million). He is followed by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green averages $15 million a year since signing a four year, $60 million extension in September of 2015.
Considering Robinson will likely view himself as worthy of top-receiver money, expect him to demand anything between $14 million to $18 million a year. Considering he will begin the 2017 season at a fresh 24 years old (which he turns on August 24th), I’d figure he will want a five year deal, as he’d begin negotiations for a third contract at no older than 30 years old. I’d project the Jaguars extend him on a five year, ~$80 million deal, where he’d average $16 million a year and be the second-highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.
While I believe Smith is one of the best players on the Jaguars and deserves an extension where he’s a top-paid weak-side linebacker in the NFL, it will be hard to pay out much more money in extensions after likely extending Linder and Robinson. If they meet their projected deals above, Linder and Robinson would average anywhere between $26 million-$29 million a year.
After drafting outside linebacker Blair Brown out of Ohio in the fifth round of this year’s draft, it can be expected that Smith may not be a priority for the Jaguars long-term plans. The highest paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL is Jamie Collins of the Cleveland Browns, who averages $12,500,000 a year on a recently signed a four year, $50 million deal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker LaVonte David is the second-highest paid 4-3 OLB in the NFL, averaging $10,050,000 a year on a five year, $50,250,000 contract. Smith will likely look for a deal where he’d average $9 million to $12,500,000 a year, so look for him to sign a four year, ~$50 million+ deal somewhere — although that place may not be Jacksonville.
Lee is likely facing 50/50 on being extended by the Jaguars, as both his and Allen Hurns’ 2017 play will factor into that situation.
Hurns signed a four year, $40 million extension last year with the Jaguars, but regressed during the 2016 season. He appeared to be bothered by injuries the entire year, and in 11 games he only recorded 35 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
While Hurns looked worse in 2016 than he did on 2014 and 2015, Lee took huge steps forward. After missing nine games in his first two seasons, Lee didn’t miss a game in 2016. He recorded 63 catches for 851 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, which is more than he recorded in 2014 and 2015 combined.
Hurns’ contract carries no dead cap space after the upcoming 2017 season, so if he can’t rebound from his down year in 2016, the team can release or trade Hurns without being hurt at all financially.
If Hurns under-performs in 2017 and Lee shows that 2016 wasn’t a one-year wonder of a season, the team can release or trade Hurns and clear enough cap to pad an extension for Lee by $6-7 million a year. Lee might believe he’s worth more than $6-7 million a year, as No. 2 WR’s across the year average around $8 million to $12 million a year — DeSean Jackson is the NFL’s highest-paid No. 2 WR, averaging $11,166,667 a year on a three year, $33,500,000 contract with the Tamps Bay Buccaneers.
If the Jaguars were to cut Hurns and extend Lee after the 2017 season, the Jaguars would really only be eating an additional ~$2 million to $6 million of yearly average cap space. I’d assume Lee’s deal would fall around four years, ~$42 million, rightnin the middle of the pack for the NFL’s top No. 2 WR’s. The Jaguars could definitely make it work, but that will depend on how both Hurns and Lee play in 2017.
The 2017 season and immediately following it should include at least one extension of a member of the Jaguars 2014 draft class, and we may be in for a couple of big-time contracts being handed out to maintain some of the current roster. Who do you think the Jaguars will extend on the current roster?