The Jaguars pulled off a blockbuster trade on Tuesday. Jacksonville will send AJ Bouye to Denver in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Jaguars' reasons for doing so were obvious. Bouye's cap number of $15.4M was too much for the Jags to bear, especially after two straight down years for the veteran cornerback. Bouye is still a quality starting cornerback, but the Jaguars were likely going to release him if they couldn't find a trade partner. Getting a mid-round pick was an excellent return.
But AJ Bouye's departure leaves a gaping hole on the Jaguars' roster at cornerback. Tre Herndon figures to start on one side, and DJ Hayden will likely continue locking down the slot. But beyond that, the Jaguars' cupboard is relatively bare at the cornerback position. The Jaguars are high on Parry Nickerson, who started two games for the Jets in 2018 and one for the Jaguars at the end of last season, but he's highly unproven. The only other cornerback on the roster is Brandon Watson, a 2019 undrafted free agent.
The Jaguars will need to add at least two more legitimate cornerbacks to the roster this offseason. They'll undoubtedly select a corner or two in the draft, but before that is free agency. When the free agency period officially opens on March 18th, I expect the Jaguars to sign a starting-caliber cornerback, or someone who they think has the potential to compete for a starting job.
What are there options?
Byron Jones is easily the hottest name on the cornerback market. At 27 years old, Jones is an athletic anomaly with great length and toughness. He'll be the highest-paid free agent cornerback this year and for good reason. He's spent his entire five-year career in Dallas, but with other pressing roster needs, the Cowboys appear unlikely to bring Jones back. He'll likely cost over $15M per year, which may be out of the Jaguars price range. But if the Jags want to go all-in on a player from this free-agent class, Jones might be their best bet.
You might be wondering: if the Jaguars are going to spend big money on a cornerback, why didn't they just keep AJ Bouye? The answer is simple. Signing someone new, the Jaguars have the ability to use signing bonuses and other salary cap tools to help lower a potential signings 2020 cap number.
Chris Harris Jr. could be a short term option. With AJ Bouye's arrival in Denver, many believe Harris will be on his way out. Harris is 31 years old and will probably cost over $11M to sign, but he would bring a sterling resume and plenty of versatility to the Jaguars' cornerback room. I'm not sure why, other than a big payday, Harris would want to sign in Jacksonville, but he'd surely help the Jaguars defensive backfield.
James Bradberry could be a potential target in Jacksonville. He's not the same caliber of player as Byron Jones or Chris Harris, but the Jags have a big need. Bradberry may price himself out, as he's reportedly searching for $15M or more. At that number, signing the 26-year-old cornerback would be untenable. But if Bradberry's number ends up being closer to $10-12M per year, he could be an option.
Return of the Prince? Prince Amukamara spent one year in Jacksonville before signing with the Bears, where he played well, especially in coverage. At 31 years old, Amukamara won't earn an elite contract and could probably be had for under $8M per year. He's another quick fix type option that could start in 2020.
If the Jaguars want to keep it inside the division, they could attempt to bring in Bradley Robey, who spent 2019 in Houston. Roby will be 28 before the start of the 2020 season but should be significantly cheaper than the top options. He wouldn't be a home run by any means, but if the Jaguars need a starting-caliber cornerback (they do), Roby fits the bill.
Othe names to watch: Artie Burns, Ronald Darby, Trae Waynes, Eli Apple
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