Needless to say, the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars season has not gone as we had expected. Currently tied with the Indianapolis Colts in the cellar of the AFC South heading into the bye week, the team is at a crucial crossroads regarding how they want to attack this roster moving forward.
The front office under the thumb of football czar Tom Coughlin won’t make any major moves before tomorrow’s 4pm EST trade deadline, mainly due to the fact that doing so will admit that they were wrong and dropped the ball heading into the season. Too obstinate and prideful to make any admissions of roster malfeasance, the simple fact of the matter is the Jaguars and their fans are stuck with Blake Bortles and the current players for the remainder of the year.
But how should the players on this roster be perceived moving forward?
I’ve categorized four different buckets to drop the players into for 2019 and beyond. Here’s how the team should realistically perceive the players in regards to future construction of the roster:
CB Jalen Ramsey
DE Yannick Ngakoue
LB Myles Jack
DT Malik Jackson
C Brandon Linder
RB Leonard Fournette
WR Dede Westbrook
K Josh Lambo
Core players are the ones you want to build the pillars of your roster around. In the scouting world, these guys are categorized as “players you win because they are on your roster”. These are the players that you give elite money to and don’t look back.
Jalen Ramsey is a superstar and whether you revere his bravado or see him as an ultimate heel, Jacksonville hasn’t had a player of his ilk to put this market on the national map in a long, long time. Yannick Ngakoue is the type of intrinsically-motivated player that is fueled to be the best to ever do it for the franchise at his position, and those are the types of personalities you have no qualms about paying.
Myles Jack hasn’t had the type of Pro Bowl season many had predicted prior to this season, but in my opinion after watching him extensively, he’s not being put in positions to play fast, and that’s saying something giving his gifted physical traits. Some can debate that Malik Jackson isn’t getting the sack amounts this year to warrant his exorbitant contract, but he is a talented three-technique in the prime of his career and is a much-needed leader in the locker room with Super Bowl experience.
Linder is the leader of the offensive line and is a top-five center in the league, per PFF. Fournette is on this list for no other reason than they spent a 2017 top five pick on him. Sidelined for most of the season, he’s done nothing on the football field to warrant his selection, but he’s essential to the blueprint of this team whether you like it or not. Some may be doing a double take seeing Dede Westbrook included in this group, but to be honest, he’s the best receiver on the roster and his speed and ability to play in the Z or Slot at a modest salary makes him an attractive asset on the roster. Lambo is here because if you’ve paid attention to the NFL this year, it’s hard to find a reliable, let alone automatic, kicker in this league.
DT Marcell Dareus
LT Cam Robinson
LG Andrew Norwell
LB Telvin Smith
CB A.J. Bouye
FS Tashaun Gipson
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
CB D.J. Hayden
WR Marqise Lee
RB Carlos Hyde
Complementary players are the guys on the roster who fill in key roles across the board. While they have high expectations, they aren’t exactly the players who you personify as crucial to the cause. In the scouting world, these guys are categorized as “players you can win with”. These are players who make a pretty penny, but can be on a short hook if their performance doesn’t match their compensation moving forward.
There isn’t much more to add here. Norwell, Smith, Bouye, Hayden, Lee (injured) and Gipson are all getting paid and there would be too many cap ramifications where they currently are in their deals to be considered for release. A few of these guys have underwhelmed this year, but overall, they’re playing fine and are far from the crux of this team’s problems. Cam Robinson is still a young, ascending player but he had his share of struggles early in the season, so the jury is still out on him. Seferian-Jenkins has played hurt this season and was proving to be a much better blocker than I had anticipated before being placed on injured reserve. Dareus is a guy that some have in the crosshairs as being that requisite defensive lineman cut this offseason, but he’s playing some inspired football right now and is a player they should strive to keep. They just spent draft capital on Carlos Hyde, so he isn’t going anywhere.
DE Calais Campbell
DE Dante Fowler Jr.
RB T.J. Yeldon
WR Donte Moncrief
SS Barry Church
DT Abry Jones
DE Dawuane Smoot
OG A.J. Cann*
OT Jermey Parnell*
If the Jaguars can look themselves in the mirror and come to grips with reality, they will understand that the season has pretty much passed them by and they should be trying to rack up some draft picks to clear cap space and get some ammunition for the draft to move up and get their quarterback of the future. In an era where teams are moving more and more towards feaux college football spread offenses (even Tom Brady has recently stated how different the game is now and moving forward), the Jaguars decided to go into the total opposite direction and gamble on being a smash mouth running offense in an era of prolific passing and playing in space.
Until the front office realizes that sustainable winning will never manifest until they can acquire a top-15 quarterback, they will constantly be playing catch up. Of the players on this list, Fowler, Yeldon, Moncrief, and Cann are scheduled to be free agents this offseason, and for that reason alone, teams may call them to see if they can get them at a discount. Sure, the Jaguars could qualify for a future complimentary draft pick when these players move on in free agency, but any signing the Jags may make would neutralize the compensation in the formula.
Church and Parnell are extremely likely candidates to be released after the season to save cash and cap space in 2019, so it might be worth taking something now (especially Church) before losing them for nothing. The writing on the wall is there for Smoot (not active once this year), and Abry Jones is a rotational player that can help another team’s run defense that would be worth considering the team to move.
A name that may be jarring for fans to see on this list is Campbell. In fact, I would move Campbell prior to tomorrow before I would Fowler, and here’s why.
Campbell’s contract has always been a glorified two-year deal with a ton of window dressing. Because of the way it was structured with an easy out after this season, it seems the plan was to have him as a two-year band aid before his age caught up with him. He’s still playing at a Pro Bowl level, and at his age (will be 33 when the 2019 season kicks off), a team in a short championship window (Baltimore, New England) could give up anything as high as a day two draft pick right now for that 2019 push. Fowler is a young edge rusher with a ton of upside and would get much more reps the remainder of the year in Campbell’s absence, allowing him to rack up more numbers before he hits the market. The bigger his next deal is, the better the potential comp pick would be.
*Parnell and Cann have asterisks because they are likely to stay for the rest of the year simply due to the injuries on the offensive line.
SS Ronnie Harrison
WR D.J. Chark
DL Taven Bryan
WR Keelan Cole
LB Leon Jacobs
CB Quenton Meeks
Developmental players are the young guys on the roster who look to be promising future starters or simply too high of an investment to abandon this early in their career. This is basically the entire 2017 draft class with Quenton Meeks (I liked what I’ve seen there in his limited opportunities before his MCL sprain this week) and Keelan Cole, who has shown flashes of brilliance but needs to develop some reliability and consistency.
QB Blake Bortles
A terrible contract extension given to a player that has not shown the ability to elevate his teammates throughout his NFL career, the Jaguars financial commitment to Bortles ties their hands behind their back for cap purposes moving forward.
Sure, cap strategist John Idzik can get creative with restructurings to get the guys on the roster under the 2019 number as the cap is easily manipulated, but this strategy often involves converting salary to signing/workout bonuses that simply pro-rates across multiple years and is essentially just kicking the can down the road. Perhaps a player like Marcell Dareus or A.J. Bouye can do something like this to free up immediate space with how their deals were structured, but doing it too often can put your team in trouble long-term. Looks like they are stuck with Blake, barring a very surprising move.
Anyone else on the roster right now who is not on any list above is simply “just a guy” and can be replaced via the draft with a comparable or better player.
So what do you think? Should the Jaguars be “sellers” ahead of tomorrow’s deadline? What do you think would be some fair compensation for the players on the “moveable pieces” list? Let us know in the comments below!