Yesterday, the NFL kicked off its annual two-day negotiation window in which teams from all around the league are permitted to negotiate and agree to terms with any impending unrestricted free agent they please. Big splashes were abound as team’s signed and traded-for various high profile free agents, sending the NFL universe into a frenzy.
While the Jaguars opted to remain quiet during the league’s two-day free agency negotiation period, there are still plenty of top-tier free agents that are worthy of taking a good look at.
Typically, the Jaguars have opted to fill immediate needs in free agency in order to have a clearer picture during the NFL Draft — able to select the best available player. In the past, the team has been successful in doing so, specifically during last year’s draft. The Jaguars were able to secure the pieces necessary to select a player that wasn’t clearly a position of need in defensive end Josh Allen.
This year, the Jaguars will have a lot more holes to fill as they’ve seen various veterans off either via trade or simply, in defensive tackle Marcell Dareus’ case, not being retained through a team-option.
With that said, we take a look at the top five most important players to keep an eye on as the Jaguars, and the rest of the league, gets set to participate in the next round of negotiations. While the team will almost assuredly not be able to sign all of their targets, it is clear by the Jaguars’ actions they will not hesitate to pull the trigger on a player of high value.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Jaguars have an estimated $24,563,736 in cap space entering the new league year on March 18th. This space also indicates it takes into account defensive end Yannick Ngakoue’s franchise tender which is officially worth $17,788,000, according to the NFL.
Here are five players the Jaguars could target today:
1. D.J. Reader, DT, Houston Texans
At 6-foot-3, 347 pounds, Reader would be an ideal nose tackle along the Jaguars’ defensive line. After opting not to pick up Dareus’ team-option for the 2020 season, the Jaguars are in desperate need of a force at the position. In 2019, the Jaguars surrendered games of 200 or more rushing yards on four separate occasions, including the entire slate of games in the month of November.
Originally selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Reader quickly became a force of nature along the Texans’ defensive front four. In four season in Houston, Reader has tallied 154 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks in 54 starts. The Jaguars would be smart to grab a guy like Reader to shore up the interior of the defense with a man able to take on blockers with ease.
2. Joe Schobert, LB, Cleveland Browns
If the Jaguars want to make a valiant effort to shore up their front-seven, they’ll need to address the linebacker position. Although the team invested a third-round selection in linebacker Quincy Williams just a season ago, Williams did not show enough during his rookie season to give the team ease heading into this year’s offseason.
Schobert, 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, has spent the last four seasons in Cleveland as the team’s middle linebacker, starting 49 games while accumulating 408 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and six interceptions. In today’s NFL, while defending the run is very important — especially in the AFC South —, defending the pass is even more of a concern. The Jaguars have shown weaknesses in both areas, and Schobert’s excellent coverage skills in man or zone would allow the team to be at ease.
In the past, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell seldom entertained the idea of veteran linebacker Myles Jack moving from his current position at middle linebacker, however over the past few months, that tune has changed and the team is much more open. Schobert would allow the Jaguars to do just that.
3. Cory Littleton, LB, Los Angeles Rams
Similar to Schobert, Littleton is a plus-coverage linebacker and an excellent run-defender thanks to his athleticism. With only one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, Littleton has shown he has the discipline needed to help one of the worst tackling team’s in the NFL just a season ago.
Littleton has become a rock in the middle of the Rams’ defense over the past two seasons. After only starting five games in his first two seasons after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Littleton has started all 16 games in each of the past two seasons while tallying 315 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, and six interceptions.
Spotrac estimates Littleton’s value at four years and $48.9 million ($12.225 million per year), which could be too rich for the Jaguars to be heavily invested, however if the team misses out on a couple of other high-priced targets, don’t be surprised if they appear interested.
4. Desmond Trufant, CB, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons released Trufant yesterday, allowing him to become a free agency as soon as his release is officially processed — expected today. The Jaguars have a major need at cornerback heading into this year’s offseason after agreeing to a trade with the Denver Broncos, sending veteran cornerback A.J. Bouye away for a fourth-round selection in this year’s upcoming draft.
Along with the above position groups, acquiring a cornerback should be the highest priority on the team’s board this offseason — maybe acquiring two. The eight-year veteran is a skilled veteran who already has a ton of experience in Todd Wash’s defensive scheme after playing under Falcons head coach Dan Quinn for the past five seasons.
In his career, Trufant has accumulated 329 tackles and 13 interceptions — including four in nine games last season. Trufant only played nine games last season due to injuries, which could play a role in his free agency escapade, especially after the league sent a memo to all clubs indicating they will no longer be able to host players due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), yesterday.
5. Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis Colts
While the team lost out on Falcons free agent tight end Austin Hooper, likely due to his price tag, the Jaguars should still be squarely in the tight end market after the collective unit struggled to produce anything of substance last season. The lack of production in 2019 was in part thanks to injuries and some lack of skill as the team was forced to sign street free agents to fill the roster by seasons end.
Ebron, 6-foot-4, 253 pounds has spent the last two seasons with the Colts, including a 2018 season which saw the former Detroit Lions top-10 selection have his most productive season in the NFL. Over the past two seasons, Ebron has accumulated 97 receptions for 1,125 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Ebron fell out of the Colts’ favor last season over disputes regarding his injury which ultimately sent him to the team’s reserve/injured list.
The 26-year-old shouldn’t be too pricey on the open market considering last season and injury concerns, which should allow the Jaguars to sign him if the team feels comfortable with the league’s new protocols along with Ebron’s overall health.