Yesterday, I inadvertently forgot to include Dawuane Smoot in my piece detailing Jaguars that need to finish the 2020 season with a bang. To err is human.
Defensive end Dawuane Smoot's career arc is an unusual one. The former third-round pick had an impressive junior season at Illinois, registering seven sacks, two passes defended, two forced fumbles, and 14.5 tackles for loss. He regressed a bit as a senior but was still an effective defender.
The Jaguars selected Smoot with the 68th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. During his first two years in the league, he logged 286 pass-rush snaps but failed to register a single sack with a pedestrian pressure percentage of just over nine. He was a capable run defender during that span.
But over his last two campaigns, Smoot has been much more effective when it comes to getting opposing quarterbacks to the ground. He logged six sacks in 2019, and with 4.5 sacks through 12 games in 2020, he's on pace to hit the six sack mark yet again. The oddity here is that his pressure percentage has dropped to below 7.5, but his sack totals have improved exponentially. He's certainly had more opportunities to rush the passer over the last two years, and he's gotten the job done in the sack department. Smoot's even put on a few pounds, which, in addition to rushing the passer off the edge, has allowed him to push the pocket from the interior.
At this point in his career, Smoot is a situational pass rusher that can line up at multiple positions along the defensive line. He's not overly efficient when it comes to generating pressure, but he's been able to consistently rack up sacks over the last two seasons.
Dawuane is in the final year of his rookie contract, which begs the question: what will his market look like come free agency?
Of course, the Jaguars could re-sign Smoot before he has the chance to test the free-agent waters, but with no long-term general manager in place, it's unclear whether or not the Jags would have interest in doing so.
Smoot expressed his desire to stay in Jax. "Well, I already bought a house here, so I'm looking to stay here," Smoot told the media. "My family loves it here. I love it here. It's a lot of opportunity here, so I'm definitely trying to stay here for a long time."
But he wants to be compensated fairly: "I would say I need to be paid what I'm worth. Let me just say that."
But what is fair for a situational pass rusher with positional versatility?
The market for pass rushers in 2020 free agency wasn't the sexiest. Jadeveon Clowney, one of the more well-rounded edge defenders in football, earned only $13 million on a one-year deal. Shaq Barrett, the NFL's sack leader in 2019, landed just $15.8 million on a single-year contract.
The 2021 free agent landscape, which will be limited due to COVID's impact on the salary cap and the fact that many teams are already tight against the cap, could make it even more challenging for pass rushers to garner fair value in free agency. And make no mistake about it, Dawuane Smoot is not in the same stratosphere as Clowney or Barrett.
All of this to say, if the Jaguars want to keep Smoot around as their third or fourth pass rusher, they could likely do so for a reasonable fee. If the new GM can re-sign Smoot to a deal worth $5-6 million per season with two-three years guaranteed, I'd be all for it. That type of contract would give the Jaguars plenty of flexibility to move on after a season or two if he doesn't continue to be a quality rotational rusher. I doubt he'd earn much more than that on the open market, so the Jaguars could potentially sign him for even less. The Big Cats have salary cap room to spare.
Don't get me wrong, Smoot isn't a great player, but he knows how to get the quarterback on the turf, and as a situational pass rusher, the Jaguars could do a lot worse. Having depth in the pass rusher department is critical in the modern game. Keeping Smoot around would eliminate the need to draft a pass rusher early on in the draft. With Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson in the fold, the Jaguars have some young bucks that possess the talent to become big-time starters on the edge. And with the depth of the 2021 edge rusher class, Jacksonville should be able to land a quality developmental pass rusher in the third or fourth round if the new general manager desires even more young depth.
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