With free agency only a week and change away, the Jaguars will be making their intentions known to agents around the NFL as they focus in on key targets during the three-day legal tampering period beginning on March 16th, and ending when free agency officially opens on the first day of the new league year, March 18th.
For the Jaguars, they’re going to need to work relentlessly this offseason to retool their roster. After — tentatively — dealing cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick, the Jaguars have an ~$32M in cap space to work with, according to OverTheCap.com.
However, the team is very likely to franchise tag defensive end Yannick Ngakoue which will cost ~$19M, leaving them with a total of $13M to work with prior to any other moves.
While the team will address many needs via the NFL Draft, Jacksonville will look to patch several holes via free agency.
Six Potential Free Agent Targets:
Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons
The Jaguars have been perpetually in pursuit of a tight end since general manager Dave Caldwell was hired in 2013. Adding Hooper would give the Jaguars a big-time, reliable target in the middle of the field — which was an issue last season due to multiple injuries and poor play at the position.
In four years with the Falcons, Hooper accumulated 214 receptions for 2,444 yards, and 16 touchdowns with a 77% catch-percentage.
However, Hooper, 25, reportedly is expected to command a contract around $11M per year. The Jaguars have multiple pressing needs surrounding their roster, and in it’s current composition, the team may want to expend the resources elsewhere — however, do not be surprised if the team does go in this direction during the opening days of free agency.
Brian Poole, CB, New York Jets
In it’s currently state, the Jaguars only have two players with extensive starting experience in cornerbacks D.J. Hayden and Tre Herndon.
Herndon has started only 14 games in his career, all of which came in 2019 after the Jaguars traded Ramsey. Hayden has played at a high level, and was one of the team’s best players last season, however the Jaguars need players outside for competition, and for a starting role.
Poole, 27, has had an up-and-down career thus far in the NFL. After being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, Poole has started 31 games. After signing a one-year contract with the New York Jets last season, the former Gators cornerback had a breakout year notching his best coverage rating, according to Pro Football Focus at 80.0.
In 2019, Poole allowed only 214 yards and one touchdown, and allowed the second-least yards per coverage snap at .53 yards — second to only San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets
While the Jaguars’ most pressing need does not come from the receiver position, getting someone to take pressure off of DJ Chark Jr. has been something addressed by Jaguars staff, specifically offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
The Jaguars were rumored to be interested in Anderson near the trade deadline last season, however they may not have wanted to spend a high draft pick for the deep threat. Now, Anderson, 26, is set to hit free agency. Over the past four season with the Jets, Anderson has accumulated 207 receptions, 3059 yards, and 20 touchdowns with an average yards per reception of 14.8.
While pairing Anderson with Chark Jr. could be intriguing, the Jaguars may want to hold off on paying a receiver due to the upcoming draft being one of the most talented receiver classes in recent memory.
Byron Jones, CB, Dallas Cowboys
While Caldwell has cautioned that the team may not be the biggest spenders in free agency as they have been wont to do in the past, with the potential departure of Ngakoue, the Jaguars may elect to change that philosophy.
Jones, 27, drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cowboys, is one of the hottest names on the free agency market, and will reportedly be allowed to walk by the Cowboys due to other pressing needs the team currently has.
The former Connecticut standout would immediately become the team’s number one cornerback. After switching to cornerback full time in 2018, Jones has accumulated 93 tackles and 20 pass breakups. Jones has only had two interceptions in his career, which has become a warranted criticism of the 2018 second-team All Pro.
However, at 6-foot-0, 205 pounds, Jones has asserted himself as a shut-down cornerback over the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones is rated as the fourth-best cornerback in the NFL by snaps per receptions allowed with 17.9. He is also fourth in yards allowed per snap with .62.
Jones is expected to command a contract worth around $16-17M per year, and wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive to the Jaguars depending on how they structure it.
D.J. Reader, DT, Houston Texans
After declining defensive tackle Marcel Dareus’ 2020-option, the Jaguars have a pressing need at defensive tackle. More pressing than before, when the team allowed multiple 200+ yards in multiple games last season. Stopping the run will become the point of emphasis for the Jaguars’ defense in 2020, and they may venture into free agency to find the player best suited for the job.
Reader, 25, was one of the most dominant run-stopping defensive tackles in the league last season with a run-stop percentage of 10.9% according to Pro Football Focus, the third-highest in the NFL in 2019.
The Jaguars would immediately shore up the interior of their defensive line, with the added benefit of not having to reach for a defensive tackle if the top two — Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw — are not there.
Blake Martinez, LB, Green Bay Packers
Due to the high-price of linebackers in free agency, the Jaguars may opt to hold out on signing a linebacker — especially after signing Myles Jack to one of the largest contracts for a linebacker in the NFL just last season.
The Jaguars will have to address the position in some way, shape, or form as their weakness at weakside linebacker was thoroughly exposed last season. Last season, rookie third-round pick Quincy Williams struggled to catch up to the speed at the pro level, and at linebacker specifically after playing safety primarily at Murray State in college. While the Jaguars are still high on Williams, they shouldn’t be shy to address the position in either the draft or free agency.
Martinez, 26, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 2016 as a replacement for long-time Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. The 6-foot-2, 237 pound linebacker has not struggled in the NFL since earning the starting role in training camp of his rookie season. Over the past four years, Martinez has accumulated 331 solo tackles, 29 tackles for loss, and three interceptions.
The Jaguars could use a veteran within their linebacker corp, but will Martinez’s price be too high?