While many folks around Duval, including myself, are hyper-focused on the upcoming NFL Draft, the league's annual free agency period comes first. Even though the Jaguars are strapped for cash, they'll likely find a way to haul in one or two big-name free agents in March. I don't foresee Dave Caldwell and company signing anyone to a record contract as they have in years past, but a big-time free agent or two could find their way to Jax this spring.
I expect the Jaguars to release the following players prior to free agency to get well under the cap: DT Marcell Dareus ($20M cap savings), WR Marqise Lee ($5.25M cap savings), TE Geoff Swaim ($4M cap savings), and LB Jake Ryan ($6M cap savings).
I also believe the Jaguars will either sign DE Yannick Ngakoue to a long term deal or place the team's franchise tag on him prior to the deadline on March 10th. Dave Caldwell has publicly stated multiple times that Ngakoue is the team's top priority this offseason.
With the Jaguars' rollover cap and the expected rise in the salary cap for 2020, the team will have enough money to bring in a high priced free agent or two, especially with the way that Dave Caldwell and John Idzik structure contracts.
The legal tampering period starts on March 16th, and teams are permitted to officially sign unrestricted free agents on March 18th at 4 pm. Here are five players that could help the Jaguars out in a big way come free agency.
The Falcons' tight end had a breakout 2019 campaign but has been an above-average tight end throughout his four-year career. He doesn't have elite athleticism or a crazy catch radius. But he would bring stability to the Jaguars' tight end room that has been sorely lacking since the team cut Marcedes Lewis after the 2017 season. Hooper has racked up at least 500 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons, but he was able to do so in a high-flying Falcons' offense. I wouldn't necessarily expect that kind of production here. But Gardner Minshew needs a steady set of hands and a tight end that can be reliable in the middle of the field. Hooper is an average blocking tight end. Signing Hooper would take a position of weakness and potentially turn it into a strength. With James O'Shaughnessy and Josh Oliver as backups, this would be an above-average group. I expect Austin Hooper to sign for anywhere from $10-12M per year.
Brandon Scherff plays right guard and has been with the Redskins since entering the league as the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He's been one of the more reliable guards over his five-year career and, at 28 years old, should have plenty left in the tank. AJ Cann has been a liability for the Jaguars at right guard for several years now, and Scherff would represent a much-needed upgrade. Scherff played for newly hired Jaguars' offensive coordinator Jay Gruden his entire career until Gruden's firing in 2019. He's going to command big money; I'd expect him to haul in a deal worth over $13M per year. The Jaguars will have one of the most highly paid offensive line groups in football if they elect to pull the trigger on this veteran guard.
A versatile linebacker that has spent his entire four-year career with the Rams, Littleton will be looking for a big payday this offseason. 2019 was by far his best year as a pro, so there's always a risk of him not living up to his level of play in a contract year. Still, Littleton would bring experience to a linebacker room that is sorely lacking in that department. He has the ability to play both middle and weakside linebacker. Littleton is a strong tackler and cover man, so he would likely be a three-down linebacker for the Jags. He'll likely push for $10M+ per year, which might be rich for the Jaguars, who are already paying Myles Jack over $15M in 2020. But the Jaguars need help stopping the run and getting off the field on third down, and Littleton could undoubtedly provide help in both departments.
I wouldn't rule out the Jaguars trying to bring back Marcell Dareus, but if he's ready to move on, Michael Pierce would be a sensible choice to replace him at nose tackle. A staunch run defender at 340 pounds, Pierce would greatly help the Jaguars in that area after an embarrassing team run defense effort in 2019. At 27, Pierce is in the prime of his career. Stealing him away from the Ravens may be difficult, but he won't be the highest-priced free agent DT out there. The Jaguars could probably reel him for anywhere between $6-$9M per year.
Many, including myself, think pairing another top-notch receiver with DJ Chark should be a priority for the Jaguars this offseason. Most of my speculation in that regard has been towards draftable players, but Robby Anderson would fit in Jacksonville too. The 26-year-old receiver is a major downfield threat, just like DJ Chark. Lining those two up on opposite sides of the field would greatly stretch the boundaries of any defense and create a legitimate danger for vertical chunk plays every time the pair is on the field together. Anderson will likely cost upwards of $12 million, which is why I think this could be a stretch. But if the Jaguars want another proven deep threat that's just coming into his prime, Anderson could be the way to go.
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