Thanks to Shad Khan's decision to move a second home game to London in 2020, the Jaguars are currently dealing with a massive PR crisis. Despite this, the football club still has a busy schedule ahead. The NFL Combine starts on February 24th; the deadline to franchise or transition tag players (hello, Yannick Ngakoue) comes next on March 10th; the legal tampering period starts on March 16th and then on March 18th teams have to tender restricted free agents before 4 pm as Free Agency officially begins.
With all that fun stuff coming up in the next month and a half, I wanted to break down all the moves the Jaguars should make prior to the beginning of free agency.
Let's start with players the Jaguars need to part ways with. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is the first that needs to go. His 2020 cap hit is $22.5M, which is obviously unpalatable. Next up? Wide receiver Marqise Lee ($5.25M cap savings), tight end Geoff Swaim ($4.050M cap savings), defensive tackle Abry Jones ($4M caps savings), and linebacker Jake Ryan ($6M cap savings) should get cut.
Many would like to see Andrew Norwell's name among those that should get cut. But the Jaguars would still owe Norwell nearly $10M, even if they cut their starting left guard. The team would net about $5.5M in cap savings, which wouldn't be enough to replace his level of play in free agency.
With those roster cuts, the Jaguars would save $39.3 million towards the 2020 salary cap. The team could also elect to move on from a couple more veterans like WR Chris Conley ($2.295M cap savings), and AJ Cann ($2.441M cap savings). I would keep those players on the roster for the time being because to replace them, you'd likely need to go with rookies, which might be counterintuitive considering Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone need to win now.
With an extra $39M to work with and the added bonus of $10.84M in rollover cap, plus the salary cap expected to rise to at least $199M (according to spotrac.com), the Jaguars would have about $40M to work with this offseason.
The next steps in terms of roster building would be figuring out Yannick Ngakoue's contract, signing exclusive rights free agents, and tendering restricted free agents. I broke down what a new Yannick Ngakoue contract should look like here. With nearly $40M in cap space, the Jaguars should have no problem signing Ngakoue to a long term contract that's agreeable to both sides. While his average salary should eclipse $20M, Yan's 2020 cap hit shouldn't be more than $8M. So after signing Yan, the team would still have about $30M to play with this offseason.
Among the Jaguars' restricted free agents are WR Keelan Cole, LB James Onwualu, LB Donald Payne, and DT Carl Davis. The Jaguars can choose to place a first, second, or original round tender on those players. The only one I would consider tendering is Keelan Cole for a second or original round tender. Cole is not perfect and hasn't been the most consistent player during his three years, but he's had some bright moments in Duval. If he's your fifth or sixth receiver on the depth chart, you're in excellent shape there.
The Jaguars have three exclusive rights free agents: offensive lineman Brandon Thomas, linebacker Austin Calitro, and running back Devante Mays. The coaching staff has been fond of Brandon Thomas, so I could see the Jags bringing him back on a league-minimum deal.
That's all, folks. This gets us all the way to free agency. Based on the plan I outlined above, the Jaguars would have retained Yannick Ngakoue and still have around $30M in cap space entering free agency. If you figure the rookies will cost around $10M, then Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone will have about $20M to go out and improve their team in free agency.
PS: If the Jaguars are able to find a trade partner for QB Nick Foles, they could potentially save a few extra million towards the cap in 2020.
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