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2020 Jacksonville Jaguars free agency: Should they stay or should they go?

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Which pending free agent players will the Jaguars re-sign for the 2020 season?

NFL: DEC 29 Colts at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Free agency is quickly approaching and while the Jacksonville Jaguars may be involved in negotiations for free agents not already on the roster, there is still work to be done within the roster itself as they evaluate their own free agents.

Currently, the Jaguars are slated to have -$3.4M in cap space in 2020, according to OverTheCap.com. While this number appears daunting at first glance, the team will very likely release cap-heavy veterans in an effort to increase the cap room prior to the first day of the new league year. This will enable the Jaguars to not only sign free agents from outside of their own roster, but potentially bring back free agents currently on the roster.

As of right now, the Jaguars are expected to have 11 unrestricted free agents and seven restricted or exclusive-rights free agents.

Unrestricted free agents, or UFA, have, as the term alludes to, no restrictions on the player’s ability to sign with another team if they had not already been given the franchise tag or transition tag prior to the start of the new league year.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents are a bit more difficult, however. A restricted free agent, or an RFA, is a player with three accrued seasons an an expired contract. RFAs are permitted to negotiate with other team’s however the original team has the right to offer the player a qualifying offer also known as a “tender”. Tenders come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation, as explained by NFL.com’s Anthony Holzman-Escareno.

There are four levels to restricted free agency tenders. First-round ($4.407M or 110% of the player’s prior-year base salary), second-round ($3.095M or 110% of the player’s prior-year base salary), original-round ($2.025 or 110% of the player’s prior-year base salary), and right-of-first-refusal. If a team were to sign a RFA to an offer sheet, the original team will be compensated with the draft pick assigned. Each tender’s salary is the greater of the two options given.

As an exclusive-rights free agent — a player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expiring contract —, the original team can offer a player a league-minimum salary on a one-year contract the player cannot negotiate with any other teams.

When evaluating some of the team’s impending free agents which should stay and which will go?

Jaguars 2020 Unrestricted Free Agents

Name Position Age 2019 Salary
Name Position Age 2019 Salary
D.J. Alexander Linebacker 28 $805,000
Prestin Brown Linebacker 27 $805,000
Seth Devalve Tight end 27 $680,848
Najee Goode Linebacker 31 $805,000
Benjamin Ijalana Right tackle 31 $805,000
Ben Koyack Tight end 27 $720,000
Yannick Ngakoue Defensive end 25 $870,147
Nick O'Leary Tight end 28 $805,000
Cediric Obbuehi Offensive tackle 28 $895,000
Tyler Shatley Center/Guard 29 $1.005M
Akeem Spence Defensive tackle 28 $930,000

Yannick Ngakoue:

Originally a third-round pick in 2016, Ngakoue’s pending free agency has been covered heavily, and the Jaguars are already willing and currently negotiating with the former Pro Bowl defensive end. Jacksonville can opt to franchise-tag Ngakoue if a deal is not reached by the start of the new league year in March.

In 2019, Ngakoue accounted for eight sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss (team-high), one interception returned for a touchdown, and four forced fumbles.

Verdict: Re-sign to a long-term deal or franchise tag

Najee Goode:

Signed by the team shortly after veteran minicamp in 2019, Goode proved to be a capable depth player at linebacker after injuries on the team to veteran linebacker Myles Jack and rookie linebacker Quincy Williams. Goode started four games for Jacksonville, playing in 10 on the year before being placed on the team’s reserve/injured list with a knee injury.

The Jaguars could likely bring Goode back on a low-level one-year contract, however considering the team’s struggles at the position last season it would not be surprising if the team opts to completely rebuild the position allowing Goode to walk.

Verdict: Allow to walk

Seth Devalve:

Claimed by the team following final cuts in 2019, Devalve provided depth at a depleted and under performing tight end position. While he did not provide much in the receiving department — 12 receptions, 140 yards and zero touchdowns —, Devalve played a major role lead-blocking for running back Leonard Fournette in last year.

The Jaguars may bring Devalve back simply to compete at the position next season with little expectations of him remaining on the team following training camp.

Verdict: Re-sign with one-year contract

Cedric Ogbuehi:

Ogbuehi was signed during the team’s initial 2019 free agency period and played as the team’s swing-tackle during the season. While he only played 155 snaps of total offense, the fifth-year player graded out positively with a 67 overall offensive grade, according to Pro Football Focus. Allowing three pressure, Ogbuehi should be brought back on a low-level deal to continue his role at swing-tackle.

Verdict: re-sign with multi-year low-level deal

Other: The Jaguars could allow the remaining free agents, Tyler Shatley, Akeem Spence, D.J. Alexander, Benjamin Ijalana, tight end Nick O’Leary, and tight end Ben Koyack to walk in free agency. However, both O’Leary and Shatley could be brought back due to depth, and longevity with the team, respectively. Shatley has been with the team since 2014.

Restricted and Exclusive-Rights Free Agents

Name Position Age 2019 Salary
Name Position Age 2019 Salary
Donald Payne Linebacker 26 $645,000
James Onwualu Linebacker 25 $600,000
Keelan Cole Wide receiver 27 $556,333
Brandon Thomas Offensive linaman 29 $600,000
Devante Mays Running back 26 $570,000
Austin Calitro Linebacker 26 $570,000

Keelan Cole

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Cole has had an up-and-down career in Jacksonville. After posting 42 receptions for 748 yards and three touchdowns during his rookie season, the third-year wide receiver has accumulated just 62 receptions for 852 yards and four touchdowns in 2018 and 2019 combined.

Last season Cole was unable to crack the team’s starting lineup much and lost snaps to veteran wide receiver Chris Conley. While his production in 2019 would indicated a path for more snaps, the Jaguars did not seem to value Cole after a down year in 2018. It is unlikely Cole is back with the team next season barring a change of heart from the team’s front office.

Verdict: The Jaguars will likely tender Cole at the original-round tender. Since he was formally an undrafted free agent when signed by the club, Cole will be eligible to sign with any team unless Jacksonville matches the deal.

Donald Payne

Payne was originally re-signed by the Jaguars midway through the 2019 season starting five games at middle linebacker after Jack was sidelined due to a knee injury. In his five starts, Payne accounted for 58 combined tackles, one sack, and three tackles-for-loss. Payne was the team’s most productive linebacker in 2019.

Verdict: The Jaguars should bring back Payne on a brand-new deal, although a recent foot surgery may prevent them from wanting to go higher than an original-round (UDFA) tender for the RFA.

James Onwualu

Onwualu was slated to become the team’s starting strong-side linebacker before a torn ACL ended his 2019 campaign before it even began. The Jaguars will likely opt to not tender Onwualu, however it would not be surprising if he is brought back to compete at the position next season.

Verdict: Re-sign later in the offseason.

Austin Calitro

Calitro eventually became the team’s starting weak side linebacker after multiple injuries to the unit. With an iffy campaign, Calitro does not project to remain in that position in 2020, however he may be re-signed due to his ability on special teams.

Verdict: Re-sign following free agency.

Other: Carl Davis will not be tendered by the Jaguars and is set to become an unrestricted free agent after being suspended by the NFL for four games in 2020 due to a performance enhancing drug violation.

Brandon Thomas and Devante Mays will likely not be back with the team. Thomas has been with the Jaguars since 2018, however injuries have derailed his career.