I was planning on writing this closer to the end of February and not immediately after the Super Bowl, but the sheer prominence of salary cap fear and misinformation that is starting to run rampant has sparked me to write it much sooner. I don’t know if the Jaguars will pursue pending free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, but the biggest question that seems to be looming in; Can the Jaguars actually afford to sign Kirk Cousins without wrecking their future?
Short answer: Absolutely.
Jaguars Current Salary Cap Projection
The Jaguars are currently projected to have roughly between $5 to 10 million in cap room depending on the actual cap number, if they do absolutely nothing. If you’re just looking at that, of course you’re going to wonder how in the world they could afford to sign a free agent quarterback, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. You have to consider the annual cap increase, which has been at least $12 million the past two seasons and the current projection of about $178 million is a conservative projection, so the projected cap room is going to end up higher.
There’s also rollover
When people are looking at future cap figures, a lot of the time they’re failing to consider cap rollover, which is a thing now. Currently the NFLPA daily cap report shows the Jaguars with $27.7 million in cap room, which is a lower end number because it includes unrealized bonuses and such. But for this exercise we’ll just use that low number. So there you have nearly $30 million in cap space you’re rolling into 2018, which alone could eat Cousins cap hit in the first season if you wanted to, without doing any other moves.
You can cut players to shed cap easily
The Jaguars can also clear quite a bit of cap room without cutting major core players, too. If the team does pursue Cousins in free agency it would mean they’ll shed Blake Bortles $19 million salary, which frees up $19 million. People are concerned the recent wrist surgery will execute the injury clause, but I have a hard time believing he would not pass a physical. If you wanted to further clear up cap room, you can cut Chris Ivory who looks out the door anyway and save just over $3 million. You can re-structure Allen Hurns contract to drop his salary from $7 million to say... $4 million guaranteed and save another $3 million. Those moves, plus roll over, push you to around $50 million in cap space. That’s more than enough to sign Cousins, who’s cap hits you can manipulate on a year to year basis based on projections and even heavily front load if you want, and bring back Allen Robinson.
Team is setup to shed cap after 2019 anyway
The Jaguars have continuously setup their big free agent and re-signing deals with “out” after two years. If you’re viewing the current state of the Jaguars in a two-year Super Bowl window, they’re setup to shed mountains of cash after the 2019 season. In 2020 you can cut a soon-to-be 34-year old Calais Campbell to save $17.5 million or a near 31-year old Malik Jackson to save $15.5 million. Going further you can cut over 30’s Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson to save a combined $15.35 million. By that time, ideally you’d have drafted their replacements and they’re ready to step in and take over. Heck, after the 2018 season you can cut Marcell Dareus and save $11.58 million in cap room.
When you’re re-signing picks is when the FA should fall off
A big reason the Jaguars signed free agents the way they did with the outs they did is it lines up with when they can re-sign their young players. For instance, the team cannot even negotiate a contract extension with Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack or Yannick Ngakoue until after the 2018 season. Even with that, you have tools like the fifth-year option for Ramsey or even the franchise tag. Regardless, they’re all signed on rookie deals through 2019 and the 2018 and beyond draft picks should be filling their spots as the cheapish players on the roster while they take over the spots currently filled by the high priced free agents.
Long story short; the fear of wrecking the future salary cap by signing Cousins is based on a lack of information, more than anything else. It can be done, without much cap or roster manipulation, and the Jaguars set themselves up in the future to be able to do that in case Blake Bortles ended up being the guy and needed to be paid. That’s one funny thing about looking at the future cap figures and projections is, the Jaguars set themselves up to be able to pay a QB this year or next, because they had to prepare for it.