As draft day becomes closer, speculation on what the Jaguars will do, and what they should do comes out more rapidly. In the past few days, with Telvin Smith absent from the team’s voluntary OTAs, many are wondering if the team should trade Smith. I’m perplexed by those whose answer is not automatically no.
There many layers to this, but let’s start off with this fundamental question. Does trading Smith making the Jaguars better in 2019? The answer to that question is no. Everything the Jaguars’ brass has said and done points to them wanting to contend for the playoffs in 2019. Trading one of your starting linebackers—when you don’t really have an adequate replacement and you lack depth at the position—does not help the team become better for this season.
And yes, I know that Jake Ryan could be a replacement for Smith. However, Ryan is still coming off a major injury and is a slow, plodding, run-stopping linebacker—not necessarily a guy you want as a coverage linebacker playing every down. Also, by trading Smith, your depth at linebacker becomes Leon Jacobs, Blair Brown, Nick DeLuca, and Donald Payne. None of those guys inspire confidence that they could step in to play at the high level needed for this defense to dominate opponents.
If the Jaguars considered making this move in earlier in free agency, when there were still players who could have reasonably replaced Smith, it would make some sense. Now, you’re stuck with adding “leftover” free agents, who probably wouldn't add much more than depth to the team, or reaching for a player in the draft and creating another hole on your roster.
While Smith struggled last season, the Jaguars are still at their best when he and Myles Jack are both on the field, using their speed and athleticism to make plays. Smith and Jack together form one of the better linebacking duos in the league.
One also has to look at the financial impact of trading Smith in this equation. According to Spotrac.com, Smith’s cap hit on the Jaguars books is about $12.5 million this season. If the Jaguars were to trade him before June 1, Smith would count for $13.4 million against the Jaguars’ cap. Basically, it would cost more to move Smith right now than to keep him. So there is no financial incentive to deal Smith right now if you are the Jaguars.
With Myles Jack eventually due to get paid, could someone convince me that paying two off-ball linebackers upwards of $10 million a year each is potentially a bad investment? Maybe, but that is a problem better dealt with in 2020, when getting out of Smith’s deal would be less of a pain, with a dead cap hit of $5.6 million dollars, resulting in about $7 million in savings.
There also is the question of how much value the Jaguars could get for Smith right now, which is lower than most people would think. I could see a team trading, at most, a 4th rounder for Smith. When you combine the fact that Smith is an undersized weak-side linebacker and makes premium money for one, I doubt many teams would be interested in taking him.
Add in the fact that Smith is coming off a down year and it is clear this is not the time to trade him. Just like selling stocks it’s usually a bad idea to try to make a deal when a player’s value is low. Trading Smith as he’s coming off of his worst season in the last four years is not the best way for the Jaguars to manage their assets.
Whether you believe in this stuff or not, Smith is a leader in the Jaguars locker room and one of the most respected players on the team. He has the voice of a star because of his pro bowl status, but can also reach out to the younger players because he was also a former 5th round pick. Suffice it to say, a lot of players in the Jaguars’ locker room would be pretty pissed off about moving on from Smith. With a locker room that already seems to have some bad vibes toward the front office, pissing them off even more doesn’t exactly sound like the best idea.
Just imagine how the best possible scenario plays out for the Jaguars. They trade away Smith for a 4th round pick. Eat his $13 million in dead money. Weaken their linebacking corps in 2019, and take away not only one of the leaders in the locker room, but a fan favorite who is one of the longest tenured players on the roster. To me, none of it would make sense.
Who knows? Maybe Smith will fall off even more this season. But I would rather bank on him improving his stock and seeing what my options are next off-season, than trading him at his lowest value and getting nothing back of significant value in the process.
The Jaguars are not a good enough team to consider trading off their good players. This team has enough holes, and creating another one is exactly the opposite of what the team needs.
The Jaguars will be a better team if Smith is on the field in 2019. For a team that went all in for a quarterback that can help them win now, trading away one of your key contributors would make absolutely no sense.
For what its worth, I don’t think the Jaguars will actually do this. But it blows my mind that people see this as a reasonable option, when at this very moment it should not be.