The quest to improve an NFL roster is never done.
Even the most stacked teams in the league do their due diligence when it comes to talent acquisition. And whilst the Jaguars have worked tirelessly to rebuild this roster in the last twelve months, there are always opportunities to do more. We saw that recently with the surprise addition of Brandon McManus that led to a rather ruthless trade of Riley Patterson. Make no mistake; Trent Baalke and Doug Pederson are leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of another AFC South title.
Trades are notoriously difficult to predict. There are just too many variables. They require a willing buyer and seller who can agree on fair compensation, a coaching staff to buy in to the move, and a player that will be happy in their new home. It’s a rare occurrence that these stars all align, as shown by the relatively few team-to-team transactions in the league each year. And yet, the opportunity to add that one difference maker can be all it takes to turn middling franchises to playoff teams, and playoff teams to Super Bowl candidates.
With that in mind, here are three potential trade candidates that the Jaguars could be convinced to lay down cold hard draft picks to acquire:
Bailey Zappe, QB, New England Patriots
OK. Controversial start, but hear me out …
Trevor Lawrence is the undisputed king of Duval County, and long may it continue. The franchise quarterback heads into year three with the Jaguars and looks set to join the ranks of the top signal-callers in the AFC. The back end of last season gave Jacksonville fans a glimpse of the prince that was promised when this franchise selected Lawrence first overall back in 2021. And, whilst a lot more ingredients go into the pie, the growth of Lawrence and his ascendence to elite status means the Jaguars will be playoff-relevant each year for at least a decade.
Unless he gets injured.
Nobody wants to think about such a scenario, but this front office better be. They’re paid to mitigate for all scenarios, and this is a very realistic one. We’ve seen former Jaguar Chad Henne carry the Chiefs to victory in the playoffs, not once but twice. Doug Pederson himself had a front-row seat as another ex-Jag, Nick Foles, stepped in for Carson Wentz and took the Eagles all the way. That same year, Case Keenum took the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. I’m not sure which of the 11 throws C.J. Beathard made last year convinces Trent Baalke he can do the same should he be called upon.
With the Patriots re-affirming their commitment to Mac Jones, they may very well be ready to move Bailey Zappe, whose mere presence challenges Jones’ status as the starter in Foxboro. Offering New England a fourth-round pick to refund them for their own outlay in the 2022 NFL Draft might be enough to give Lawrence a more worthy backup. In two starts as a rookie, Zappe recorded a 70.7% completion percentage, 781 yards, 5 touchdowns, and a QB rating of 100.9.
Jonah Williams, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
This suggestion seems positively bland compared to the first, but could prove to be no less important for the Jaguars in 2023.
It is undeniable that Cam Robinson’s suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy affected the franchise’s decision-making at the top of the draft this year. As a result, Baalke traded down before pulling the trigger on offensive tackle Anton Harrison. Based on rookie minicamp and the ensuing OTA’s it looks as if Harrison is set to start at right tackle, meaning Walker Little will deputize on the blind side in Robinson’s absence.
In fairness to Little, his performances last year certainly improved as he stood in at both tackle spots. That aside, the third-year veteran has only started six games in his NFL career as injuries from his time at Stanford have proved difficult to overcome. With Robinson a likely cut candidate next offseason at the latest, the offensive line is going to need further additions - especially if Lawrence is to avoid the scenario discussed earlier in this article.
Jonah Williams is very much available after the Bengals picked up Orlando Brown to be their left tackle. Williams has 42 NFL starts under his belt, all on the blindside, and would likely be an upgrade on Little even if he hasn’t quite lived up to his first-round status. More importantly, with Williams set to be a free agent in 2024, his price tag would be more than reasonable - and he would be very much expendable should he fail to impress in black and teal.
Dorance Armstrong, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys
Ah. The ever-elusive search for sack production continues. The Jaguars have put significant resources into the edge rusher position in the last decade, and still don’t quite have the stats they’re looking for.
With K’Lavon Chaisson slowly but surely edging towards the exit, and Arden Key defecting to Tennessee, the depth behind Josh Allen and Travon Walker is looking thin. If there was ever a position that Jacksonville would spend draft capital upgrading, surely it would be this one?
There are plenty of candidates too (not just on the free agent market). Preston Smith, Boogie Basham, Charles Harris, Jerry Hughes, Derek Barnett, the list goes on - it seems as if every team has an inconsistent pocket penetrator they would be happy to see re-homed. Amidst this sea of middling talent, Trent Baalke would be wise to find the one name that appears to be on an upward career trajectory…
Dorance Armstrong has played in 76 games in five years with the Cowboys, but started just 13. Last year was a breakout campaign for the former Kansas Jayhawk, who recorded 8.5 sacks (he has 13 sacks in his last two seasons, with just 10 starts) - all despite being in a group that includes Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sam Williams, and Dante Fowler.
With Parsons making the permanent move to the edge, Armstrong’s opportunities will seemingly shrink even further. And with just one year left on his deal, it seems smart for Jerry Jones to see what he can get for this underutilized talent. A man who knows how to get to the quarterback could be just what this Jaguars defense needs.