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The Jacksonville Jaguars are on the clock. Man, does it feel good to say that!
Don’t overthink it, Jaguars.
Re-sign DJ Chark.
The Jaguars have been in this position before—one of their best players is coming off of a down season that was preceded by a Pro Bowl year, and now that player is entering his contract season with the team.
Several years ago, Jacksonville was in a position to re-sign one of its own in Allen Robinson. Prior to his ACL tear just one week into what would be his final season with the team, Robinson had a mediocre season, catching passes from one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league.
In 2016, Robinson accounted for just 73 receptions, 883 yards, and six touchdowns. His previous season, he hauled in 80 receptions for a staggering 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. That production earned him his first and only Pro Bowl bid, along with being ranked No. 31 on the NFL Top 100 list.
The Jaguars, however, didn’t end up re-signing Robinson. He would go on to sign a three-year deal with the Chicago Bears instead.
With Chark, Jacksonville finds itself in nearly the exact same predicament, only this time they shouldn’t overthink it. At 24 years old, Chark is coming off of a mediocre season marred by injuries and inconsistent quarterback play from Gardner Minshew, rookie Jake Luton, and veteran Mike Glennon—not exactly the most impressive quarterback trio in the NFL. He hauled in just 53 receptions for 706 yards and five touchdowns.
His previous season in 2019, Chark took the league by storm, accounting for 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He would make the Pro Bowl that year.
Now, entering his contract year, the Jaguars have a golden opportunity to get his contract done at perhaps the lowest number it will be. The market for Chark would certainly be vast, but there are still a couple of questions regarding consistency that he will need to answer for moving forward. With a new quarterback and a revamped offensive system, this could be the receiver’s best year yet.
Chark certainly fits the mold of what head coach Urban Meyer is looking for. When the new head coach talks about speed, he mentions players who play fast whistle-to-whistle, play-to-play.
“My vision, my dream has always been to be the fastest team on the field,” Meyer said at his introductory press conference in January. ”When I say fastest, not necessarily 40 time fast, but fast.”
“One of the great compliments I can remember we ever had was the legendary coach John Robinson, he’s coaching at UNLV and I’m coaching at Utah, and we walk out to the 50-yard line and he looks at me and says, ‘That’s the fastest team I’ve ever coached against.’ And I’m thinking we only had maybe one guy that runs sub 4.5, but then you watch the film and they played fast.”
While Meyer was not preaching about the team’s straight-line speed exactly, Chark has a perfect blend of both metrics. He not only is fast (Chark ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) he also plays fast on each and every down. During his rookie season, Chark, a former second-round pick, was the team’s best gunner on special teams. His heart is certainly in it.
“One that’s going to be exciting to watch, and one that’s going to have a lot of speed,” new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “Those are the things we’re looking for.”
Due to the volatility of the cash and salary cap NFL teams are facing this year during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear just how much money a free agent could demand this offseason. But it’s estimated Chark may demand a contract in the $14M-$16.5M per year range. That would put him squarely among the top 15 receivers, as far as average yearly value of contract.
If the team waits, they’ll likely be forced to sign him to a larger deal next year, and there are no guarantees he will want to re-sign to begin with. Certainly, the team could use the franchise tag, but considering their past history of not paying players who are worthy of pay, it could leave a bad taste in players mouths.
This is a critical moment for the Jaguars, and it could be Meyer’s first real test as a head coach.
They ought not to mess it up... at least not yet.