Ladies and gents, NFL free agency starts next week! That's right, the legal tampering period opens on Monday the 16th, and then teams can officially sign free agents after 4 pm on the 18th.
The Jaguars have some work to do before the start of free agency. The deadline to franchise tag Yannick Ngakoue is Thursday, March 12th, at 4 pm. The team is also expected to make a number of cap saving moves before the start of free agency. With trade rumors swirling around Yannick Ngakoue and Nick Foles, there's no shortage of potential roster moves the Jaguars could make in the next week.
But as we get set for free agency, I've been examining some of the Jaguars' most pressing roster needs. Last week, I dove into the world of potential free-agent cornerbacks. With AJ Bouye headed west, the Jaguars MUST add a starting outside cornerback via free agency or the draft or both.
Now, I'm going to break down some of the potential free-agent defensive tackles, another area where the Jaguars have a definite need. With Marcell Dareus out the door, the Jaguars don't have a nose tackle on the roster that would inspire any sort of confidence in the starting lineup. After Marcell Dareus hit the IR in 2019, the Jaguars' run defense fell on hard times, surrendering insane amounts of yardage on the ground. So, like the cornerback position, the Jaguars will need to add a starting-caliber defensive tackle that knows how to stop the run.
Chris Jones and Michael Brockers are two of the hottest names you'll see out there. But Jones is likely to be franchise tagged — and could ultimately be traded — while Brockers plays on the edge as much as he does on the defensive interior. I don't think either defensive lineman will be in play for the Jaguars.
Here are my five top potential free agent targets for the Jaguars at defensive tackle.
The former Steelers' defensive tackle is getting ready for a big payday. He could be on his way to a contract worth in excess of $15 million per year. At six-foot-two and 305 pounds, Hargrave squeezes the most out of his size. The Jaguars would likely only be able to afford his services if a new CBA is agreed upon, which would allow them to convert a large chunk of his 2020 salary into a signing bonus. Hargrave is just 27 and is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive interior. He's excellent against the run and doubles as a pocket-pusher — he's racked up 10.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
How sweet would it be to steal a run-stuffing defensive tackle from a divisional opponent? That's exactly what the Jaguars could do if they target DJ Reader in free agency. Of course, they won't be the only ones in the mix for the six-foot-three, 347-pound behemoth. The Texans would like to bring Reader back; after all, he's their number one run defender. But that seems unlikely, given how much Reader could be set to make on the open market. The Jaguars would likely have to spend $13-14 million per year to land Reader, but he'd be worth it, especially if a new CBA is agreed upon. That would allow the Jaguars to use a massive signing bonus to cut his year one cap hit in half or even more. Reader will turn 26 this summer and should be set for the best years of his career during his next contract. Not only is Reader a nasty run defender, but he's also been highly durable, missing just three games in his career.
Yes, I believe bringing Dareus back as he enters his age 30 season, would be a big win for the Jaguars. When he's been on the field for Jacksonville over the last two-plus seasons, their run defense has been mostly good. Without him? The teams' rush defense is putrid, as evidenced by their over 150+ yards per game allowed on the ground without Dareus in the lineup in 2019. Dareus suffered a core-muscle injury in 2019, but that shouldn't affect his training this offseason. On many occasions, Dareus has spoken about his affinity for living in Jacksonville and playing for head coach Doug Marrone. Marrone has also been highly complimentary of Dareus. The Jags' GM, Dave Caldwell, made it clear that the team would be open to bringing Dareus back after not picking up his 2020 club option (it was way too costly for the Jaguars to consider). Dareus would probably cost around $8-10 million per year over a two or three-year deal, but could potentially cost even less, depending on how the market trends to start free agency.
A former seventh-round pick, Harris has yet to earn a big contract in the NFL. He'll turn 29 this season, but should be in line to have a few big seasons left in him. Harris has been a solid run defender for the Broncos over the last three seasons and has also emerged as an interior penetrator, racking up 13 sacks in the last three seasons. He's not the brick wall that Reader is, but Harris is more than adequate against the run. At six-foot-three and 300 pounds, Harris could help the Jaguars to solidify their defensive front and would likely cost between $8-10 million per year.
The Ravens' Michael Pierce is a tough man to move. At just six-feet tall, he doesn't have the ideal height for a defensive lineman. But at 340 pounds, he's nearly an impenetrable force. He's been super stout against the run in Baltimore for the last four seasons and will turn 28 in November. Pierce wouldn't bring the same penetration ability to the table, but he'd be able to help sure up the Jaguars' leaky run defense in a big way. And Pierce would be by far the cheapest option we've looked at so far.
The addition of any of these five players would, at the very least, inspire some hope that the Jaguars' defense could potentially hold up against the run in 2020.
Other names to keep an eye on: A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Corey Liuget, Mike Daniels, Sheldon Day, Beau Allen, Vernon Butler, Timmy Jernigan, Xavier Williams, Damon Harrison
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