If there's one glaring need on the Jaguars' current roster, it's at tight end. On offense, you don't need elite tight ends to be successful, but having at least one high-quality pass catcher at that spot can significantly help, especially when you've got a rookie QB coming in.
Right now, the Jaguars have James O'Shaughnessy, Chris Manhertz, Tyler Davis, and Ben Ellefson on their active roster. On Wednesday, Jacksonville traded Josh Oliver to Baltimore for a conditional seventh-round pick, ending 2019 third-round picks' tenure in Duval.
In O'Shaughnessy, you've got a quality number two or three tight end that can provide blocking and pass-catching. Chris Manhertz, who the Jaguars' signed to a two-year deal on Wednesday, is more of a blocking tight end. A valuable piece, to be sure, but not someone who you can rely on to make an impact catching passes. Davis, a 2020 seventh-round pick, has impressive athleticism and a blocking prowess but very little experience. Ben Ellefson contributed in 2020 due to injuries but again fits into the "serviceable" category.
Where can the Jaguars find a tight end to serve as a safety valve and playmaker for Trevor Lawrence? The draft is certainly an option, but the Jaguars should look to have one in the fold prior to the draft, lest they pigeonhole themselves early on. Drafting for need is a dangerous game.
Left on the free-agent market, Dan Arnold makes sense. He's a big tight end with a massive catch radius, plus-athleticism, and strong hands. He hauled in nearly 69% of his targets in 2020 and likely wouldn't break the bank. His addition to the room would allow the Jags to go into the draft not needing to reach on a tight end early.
Jacob Hollister, a former Seahawk who has connections to much of the Jaguars' offensive staff, is also on the market. He's not as much of a threat in the passing game but has hauled in three touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. He's proven to be a quality blocker too. His presence wouldn't eliminate the need for another tight end, but would give you another decent option.
Veteran tight end Zach Ertz has been the subject of trade rumors. But the Eagles aren't willing to give up the three-time Pro Bowler for nothing. He had a down year in 2020 and is now on the wrong side of 30, but he's still the most talented option out there. Because the Jaguars have an excess of draft capital, I'd be willing to give up any day three pick to land Ertz. Anything more than that might be a reach for a player who looks to be trending in the wrong direction. Ertz is only under contract through 2021.
Another potential trade target is Browns' tight end David Njoku. At just 24 years old, Njoku has flashed some big time talent and could be a strong option. The Browns signed Austin Hooper to a large contract last offseason, making Njoku expendable. But what would he cost? A third round pick? The Jaguars only third rounder this year is pick 65, which might be rich for Njoku. If he's available for a fourth-rounder, he'd make plenty of sense. Njoku is in the last year of his rookie contract.
One name that hasn't come up much is Robert Tonyan. The Packers placed a second-round tender on the talented tight end, meaning if the Jaguars want to sign him, they'll have to give up a second-round pick. The Jaguars could sign Tonyan to an offer sheet, but the Packers would have the opportunity to match the contract offer. If Green Bay chose not to match the offer sheet, the Jaguars would give up their top second-round pick and sign Tonyan. Because Tonyan is young and has proven to be wildly efficient and effective as a pass-catcher, I believe he could be worth a relatively large contract and a second-round pick.
If I were calling the shots, I'd be exploring trade options for Zach Ertz and David Njoku, looking at what it would cost to sign Tonyan to an offer sheet, and also discussing a contract with Dan Arnold.
If the Jaguars can't land a proven tight end, they might be looking at drafting Pat Freiemuth at the top of the second round or Brevin Jordan a bit later on. Tommy Tremble and Hunter long both look like guys who might be able to contribute early. Some developmental move tight ends might be on the board later, like Kenny Yeboah, Tre McKitty, and Pro Wells. While they are quality options, young tight ends almost always take some time to develop into reliable weapons.
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