Before we head to the divisional round of the 2019 NFL playoffs, where we can watch two AFC South teams try to advance and three quarterbacks the Jaguars passed on... I thought we could talk about the plan for the 2020 offseason. There are a lot of ideas and thoughts of what the Jaguars could do going forward and these are mine.
I mentioned about a week ago after Shad Khan decided to retain both Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell that it would be an interesting thing to see how they juggle managing their roster, salary cap and draft capital with a win-now mentality.
So, in short, this is my offseason plan to fix the Jaguars.
Relieve Todd Wash, Hire Wade Phillips
While Marrone hasn’t said if he’s making any staff changes and would re-evaluate on Jan. 13 when they return to the facility, I think it would be in the team’s best interest to move on from defensive coordinator Todd Wash. I think Wash is probably better than a lot of fans give him credit for, but there is also a point where it’s just time to move on and bring in fresh eyes and I think we’re at this point, considering the defense is in a transition phase.
Phillips will be a hot commodity, so the Jaguars would really have to sell him, but he’s renowned for adjusting his one-gap 3-4 to fit his talent and the NFL meta-game so to speak.
So for the sake of moving forward, we’re going to pretend the Jaguars were indeed able to hire Wade Phillips.
Managing the Salary Cap
As mentioned, how the roster juggles the cap will be interesting to watch. While the salary cap has not been officially set, we have a rough idea of what it will be and right now the Jaguars project to have $1.511 million over the cap, according to Over The Cap.
The first move the team is going to make is releasing veteran defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who re-structured his deal last offseason. Doing so will free up $20 million in cap room. I also take a long hard look at releasing Calais Campbell, which will free up another $15.5 million. With changing to a 3-4 scheme under Phillips, I think the Jaguars could afford to move on and replace Campbell in the scheme. I also look to either re-structure A.J. Bouye’s deal or release him to save another $11.5 million in cap room. For this exercise, I am going to release both players. I’d also release tight end Geoff Swaim and try to find another veteran tight end who is actually a passing game threat.
After doing this, I try to re-sign Marcell Dareus to a friendly deal which he may be open to doing and then at bare-minimum franchise tag Yannick Ngakoue. For this exercise, he will get tagged.
Marcell Dareus released (+$20M)
Marcell Dareus re-signed
Calais Campbell released (+$15.5M)
A.J. Bouye released (+$11.5M)
Jake Ryan released (+$6M)
Marqise Lee released (+$5.5M)
Geoff Swaim released (+$4.05M)
Yannick Ngakoue tagged (-$19M)
New 2020 cap figure: $38.25M
What do we do with Nick Foles?
One of the biggest questions in the 2020 offseason will be what will the Jaguars do with the Nick Foles albatross? I don’t think he starts for the team in 2020 and I struggle with seeing an NFL team carry a $22 million backup quarterback to start the season, which I’m sure would shatter any NFL records for most expensive backup. I’m not so sure Foles would be content being a backup either, but it actually costs the Jaguars more to cut him than to keep him.
The best bet is to hope that someone is willing to trade for Foles and you take whatever you can get to get him off the books. You will save $3.1 million minimum trading Foles in 2020, but also get him off your books going forward, which opens up a ton of space in 2021 and beyond. That could be key in trying to re-sign players and signing free agents, allowing you to structure the money down the line. You spent a draft pick on Josh Dobbs to be a backup so you can ride with Minshew and Dobbs. I think if you end up turning to Foles in 2020 as the backup, you’re probably done for anyway.
For this exercise we will pretend the Jaguars gave up a fourth-round and seventh-round pick to someone to take Foles off their books.
New 2020 cap figure: $40.86M
Navigating Free Agency
We’re used to the Jaguars spending a ton of money in free agency and depending on the moves they make with the roster, we could see that again, but in a targeted fashion. The team will need to replace Campbell, Bouye and look to bolster their linebacker group and possibly the offensive line. With our scenario they will have room to maneuver this in combination with the 2020 NFL Draft.
Additions to make via free agency:
- Corey Littleton, 26, linebacker: With the Jaguars bringing on Phillips in this scenario, they can bring in someone who has experience playing inside backer in his scheme to pair with Myles Jack. This could free Jack up from playing the traditional MIKE role and also brings someone in the middle who knows the scheme. Littleton is unlikely to be cheap, but the Jaguars have to win now so they’ll need to take some swings.
- Robby Anderson, 27, wide receiver: One area that is a need for the Jaguars is more weapons on offense and a playmaker at receiver not named D.J. Chark. It was clear later in the year teams keyed to take away Chark and the passing game suffered. Anderson is someone the Jaguars had interest in trading for prior to the deadline in 2019 and while he’s unlikely to be cheap, he is someone who can take the top off a defense and make teams think twice about bracketing Chark and daring the rest of the receivers to win their one-on-one match ups.
- Eric Ebron, 26, tight end: Ebron went from a first-round bust for the Detroit Lions, to a playmaker to a disappointment for the Indianapolis Colts. This seems like the perfect gamble for a team like the Jaguars to make at the position. Ebron has shown he can be a playmaker at the position, but he also ended the 2019 season on a huge down year from 2018. He’s unlikely to cost significantly more than what you paid Swaim, who in our scenario I’m cutting.
Navigating the 2020 NFL Draft
With two first round picks, the Jaguars can grab two players who can have an impact right away and fill holes. In particular the holes I am looking for them to fill are on the defensive side of the ball. I will say that I think the Jaguars are probably hoping that Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas slips to the ninth overall, I don’t think that is going to happen given he’s really the only true left tackle projected in that high and I think you can get by with Cam Robinson another year.
- Pick No. 9: A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa - Ideally I would like the Jaguars to be able to get Auburn’s Derrick Brown, but I think he gets picked before they make their selection, but we will stick on the defensive line and take the big pass rusher from Iowa. Epenesa was the other star defensive end in the Big 10, overshadowed by Chase Young, but he was nearly just as impressive on a week-to-week basis and dominated games. Unlike Young, Epenesa is more suited as a strongside end and could be an ideal replacement for Campbell, serving a similar role in either a 4-3 or 3-4 front, especially in a one-gap 3-4 like Wade Phillips generally deploys.
- Pick No. 20: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford - The Jaguars will need to replace Bouye in our scenario and there should be a few corners worth taking at this spot (Kristian Fulton, CJ Henderson, Treyvon Diggs etc.) who can step in right away, but I went with Adebo because of his ball skills and play making ability. He has only started two years at corner after transitioning from wide receiver, but he would seem to be a perfect fit outside and allow the Jaguars to keep D.J. Hayden as the nickel corner, where he has really shined.
- Pick No. 42: Pick an offensive lineman - I’m not going to try to attempt to even list guys who could be here, because the Jaguars basically could use help on the offensive line at every position except right tackle. There’s a handful of guys on the interior they could pick here who could challenge for a starting job right away, or even a future left tackle who can be the swing and push Robinson.
With these moves I think the Jaguars could significantly improve their chances not only in 2020, but moving forward long term. It gives them a lot of flexibility for schemes and with their salary cap in the future. If it bombs, you have ammo to maneuver in 2020 to try to get a quarterback, too.