But what exactly should our expectations be for Cleveland? Is he a one-year rental for depth purposes, a long-term starter, or somewhere in between?
Let’s start with Doug Pederson’s immediate reaction on The Pat McAfee Show.
“Obviously, getting a good player to come in here and help us, and we’ve already got a good offensive line, and Ezra can come in and give us some really good depth, and it’s just a matter of getting him caught up and getting him in the room with a really good offensive line- guys like Brandon Scherff, he’s the leader in there, and Luke Fortner, and you look at these guys- Cam Robinson, Walker Little, these guys are just busting their tail every week. So getting a guy like Ezra, his caliber, we got a starting-type guard, really solidifies our offensive line and makes us better.”
To me, the first sentence is the most telling: “...we’ve already got a good offensive line, and Ezra can come in and give us some really good depth...”
Pederson gave a more direct quote during Monday’s media availability.
“I want to be as clear as I can: Walker Little is the left guard.”
That means that we can expect a starting offensive line (from left to right) of Cam Robinson, Walker Little, Luke Fortner, Brandon Scherff, and Anton Harrison for the remainder of the 2023 season, assuming good health.
Cleveland is an upgrade over Tyler Shatley and Ben Bartch (now on the practice squad) as the Jaguars’ top backup interior lineman. Little is the swing tackle in addition to starting at left guard as soon as he’s able (missed Weeks 7-8 due to a knee injury).
As for 2024 and beyond, Pederson remarked,
“I do think it can definitely turn into a long-term situation for [Cleveland].”
Shatley is the team’s longest-tenured player, and Scherff is the only one with multiple Pro Bowl appearances. However, Shatley (32 years old) will be a free agent next offseason, and the Jaguars can save $9.1 million by releasing Scherff (turns 32 next month) before June 1. They could also cut him after June 1 and save $16.5 million, pushing $7.4 million in dead cap to 2025.
Jacksonville will also have an interesting decision to make on who will protect Trevor Lawrence’s blindside. Though Robinson’s value has been apparent since returning from a four-game suspension, the Jaguars can save $16.6 million by cutting ties with him. Little is on pace to enter the final year of his rookie contract with just 12 career starts (including playoffs) at left tackle.
Luke Fortner and Anton Harrison are Jacksonville’s long-term starters at center and right tackle, respectively. We’ll have to wait until the 2024 offseason to know whether Robinson or Little will play left tackle and if Cleveland can lock up a guard spot.