Exactly eleven months ago today, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson was named to the 2017 Pro Bowl, along with teammates Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, and Yannick Ngakoue.
On Sunday in a rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers to keep the season’s hopes on life support, Jackson watched those five teammates take the field to start the game while he stayed on the sideline in his first non-start since 2014.
Malik Jackson told reporters that they should go talk to the starters. He didn’t start today. Obviously not a fan of the move.— Cole Pepper (@ColePepper) November 18, 2018
“I want 90 of it. I want all 90.”
That’s what Malik Jackson said during his memorable introductory press conference as a high-prized free agent signing on March 11, 2016. With the writing being on the wall with his Week 11 benching, it is certainly looking like he will fall about $36 million short of that goal.
It’s no secret that the Jaguars were going to have to make at least one difficult cut along their defensive line after the 2018 season, but few had Malik Jackson pegged as the preseason favorite to be that guy. Per Spotrac, releasing nose tackle Marcell Dareus (no dead cap, $10.5 million cap savings) and/or Calais Campbell ($3 million dead cap, $11.5 million cap savings) were always the more likely candidates from a purely financial perspective, especially with replacements Abry Jones and Taven Bryan already on the roster.
Plans change, and in a season marred by losing and brewing frustration, change is accelerated. The understanding is that Malik Jackson has been underwhelming against the run this year, and his production as a pass rusher has also tapered off in comparison to his 2017 Pro Bowl season. The analytics corroborate this sentiment, as Jackson is currently graded as the 105th defensive interior player in the NFL with a 54.6 run defense grade and 66.7 pass rush grade in 448 total snaps this year. After registering eight sacks in 2017, Jackson has only one sack with nine quarterback hits and four tackles for loss in 2018.
Quite simply, the quality of Jackson’s play has not correlated with his compensation at a point where he should be entering the prime of his career at 28 years old. When you factor in Marcell Dareus’ versatility to play both nose tackle and three-technique and Calais Campbell’s versatility to play both defensive end and defensive tackle, Jackson’s contribution as a one-dimensional three-technique goes even further under the microscope.
As much of an indictment as Jackson’s benching is, the fact that Taven Bryan (finally) started getting meaningful snaps inside at three-technique further compounds Jackson’s standing with the team. Is Jackson much better than Taven Bryan? No doubt. Is he playing ~$13 million better than a potentially year-improved Taven Bryan with a whole offseason to get stronger? Probably not. When you factor in the outstanding defensive line depth in the upcoming draft and an extra third round selection acquired for trading Dante Fowler Jr., it further spells bad news for Jackson.
And Jackson may not be the only one
As a matter of fact, the deep defensive line class in 2019 may be a catalyst to cut either Calais Campbell or Marcell Dareus in addition to Jackson.
My initial feeling is the team will approach both Calais Campbell and Marcell Dareus to re-structure and move some money around this offseason. Whichever player refuses to do it can also be in danger of being released depending on how things shake out in free agency and what they do in the draft.
If an edge rusher like Demarcus Lawrence or Jadeveon Clowney hits the market, the Jaguars may opt to cut the aging Campbell and throw that money at a younger, more traditional edge rusher that is hitting their prime and effectively move away from the “big end” philosophy. A potential new defensive coordinator will also impact these decisions from a scheme perspective, and if a new general manager gets hired this offseason, they are often quick to replace high-price players with “their guys.”
Long story short, there’s still a long way to go and there are a lot of factors that could impact how the musical chairs of the highly-paid Jaguars defensive linemen goes.
How do you see it all shaking out? Let us know in the comments below.