Only a few weeks away from the regular season, the Jaguars find themselves in a tough predicament. Taking hits along the defensive line via opt outs, injuries, unexpected retirements and suspensions, the team is abnormally thin at the position group, specifically at defensive tackle.
Now, the team has made some moves to help that depth. They’ve brought in street free agents prior to came beginning and they’ve recently signed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who already appears to be a lock to make the team’s roster this season.
But, the overall depth at the position, needs some adjustments, and a trade doesn’t seem too far out of the ordinary.
In assessing the team’s depth at several position groups, one stands out as deep this season: wide receiver. Currently, the Jaguars have DJ Chark Jr., Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Chris Conley and rookies Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson who appear to be virtual locks to make the roster.
While there is still plenty of evaluation to take place, those six receivers have showed plenty of reason throughout camp as to why they deserve to make the roster. Whether or not the Jaguars elect to retain five or six receivers is the question.
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said via video conference call on Monday that the team will always look to make upgrades, when possible.
“I always want to make sure that everyone understands that if something does become available [and] we feel that it’s going to help our football team and we’re going to get better; we’re going to be able to do that,” said Marrone. “Because we, along with everyone else in this league, have a list of guys that potentially can help us in case someone gets injured or not.”
If the Jaguars are willing to retain just five receivers, a trade to help out the defensive line would make sense, however, which receiver should be on the trade block, and what defensive lineman makes sense?
Heading into 2020, the Jaguars have three receivers slated to play on one-year contracts: Cole, Conley and Westbrook.
Cole was an undrafted free agent in 2017 and is currently slated to play on a second-round restricted free agent tender worth $3,259,000. Westbrook, drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, is on the final year of his deal with a cap number of $2,302,041. Finally, Conley is on the final year of of his two-year deal and is slated to count $3,745,000 against the cap for 2020.
Out of the three, Westbrook might make the most sense to place on the block. With the addition of Shenault, and the resurgence of Cole during this year’s training camp, the team has two receivers capable of playing the slot role pegged for Westbrook this season. Chark also has the ability to play that role making Westbrook a bit redundant.
One of the defensive lineman that could be available is San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Thomas, a fourth-year player out of Stanford has not fulfilled his his draft positioning after being selected with the third-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. While he has flashed at times, the 49ers have placed a square peg in a round hole, using him as a defensive end, rather than a defensive tackle.
In three season, Thomas has accumulated 93 tackles (73 solos), 16 tackles-for-loss, 23 quarterback hits and six sacks while starting 28 games. He has been on the trade block before, too.
In 2020, Thomas is slated to count $9,048,213 against the 49ers salary cap. The team opted to not pick up his fifth-year option, so he will become a free agent after this season. If the Jaguars were to trade for the defensive lineman, they’ll take on only around half of that, $4,394,235 with the 49ers settling for $4,653,978 in dead money.
This is a similar situation that recently transpired with former New York Jets safety Jamal Adams. Adams, selected with the sixth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, was traded from the Jets to the Seattle Seahawks. The Jets incurred a dead money hit of $3,582,056, while the Seahawks took on only $3,590,292 for 2020.
The 49ers are heading into a season with absolute attrition at the receiver position, similar to what the Jaguars are currently dealing with along its defensive line.
Current 49ers WR injuries:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) August 23, 2020
▫️Deebo Samuel (Jones fracture - likely to miss games)
▫️Jalen Hurd (ACL, on IR)
▫️Richie James (wrist, will start year on NFI)
▫️First round pick Brandon Aiyuk left practice today with an apparent hamstring issue
If the Jaguars are to make the swap, they’d do so with little damage to this year’s salary cap, and would be taking a flier on a player who the team liked coming out in 2017. Playing in a more natural position inside, the Jaguars would add depth to a weak spot behind DT Taven Bryan. At receiver, the team will still maintain its talent, while having the flexibility to play younger players such as Shenault and Johnson more.
Will the Jaguars make a trade? Time will tell, however, it does appear they’re willing to make moves when needed, and it might be needed sooner rather than later.