Ayers is coming off his best season as a pro, by far. He was asked to become a full time starter in 2015 for the first time in nearly 5 years. He responded by being one of the only bright spots on a porous Giants’ defense and by being one of the most effective edge defenders in the entire league. Due to injury Ayers played in only 12 games in 2015, starting 11 of them. Despite missing 4 games Ayers was still able to record 9.5 sacks, an astounding 48 pressures, and 41 total tackles. If Ayers was able to play the whole season his numbers would have likely been closer to 12.5 sacks, 60 pressures and 50 tackles. Regardless, he had a standout season and finished the season ranked as the 8th best edge defender according to Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 88.5.
Ayers is now 30 years old and entering his eighth year in the league, so he still has at least a couple good years left in him, but he is no spring pup. If he were a few years younger, he would likely score one of the richest free agent contracts this offseason, but due to his age and lack of major production prior to 2015, he will likely not command a mega contract. He could certainly be in play for a Jaguars’ team that according to General Manger, David Caldwell, will be looking to bring in an “influx of pass rushers”. For those concerned that Ayers is a one year wonder, there minds can be put at ease — in the two seasons prior to 2015, Ayers recorded at least 5 sacks in more of a reserve role. With three straight years of solid play, he should at least get a look from the Jags.
But where does Ayers fit with the Jags?
In terms of salary, Ayers won’t command a contract as hefty as someone like Olivier Vernon or Bruce Irvin, but he also won’t be brought in for a bargain. The Jaguars have the type of cap space to bring in virtually any one they want, and Ayers certainly won’t put a massive dent in the “mountain of cap space” that the Jags have.
In terms of scheme fit, the answer is less clear. If the Jaguars stick with the same exact scheme that they ran last year, which they likely won’t, then Ayers could be a LEO, or OTTO. If he is brought into play LEO then he would likely not be a starter, which doesn't seem likely. If he is brought in to play OTTO, then he would either be a backup or would be replacing Dan Skuta in the starting lineup. I don't think either of those options are likely. I think the Jaguars will be adjusting their big end position to allow someone with more pass rush ability to play that spot. The team needs to get after the quarterback and with a supposed “influx of pass rushers” they will need to find ways to get the new pass rushers on the field, whether it’s Robert Ayers, Olivier Vernon, or someone else.
I don’t think Ayers will be the Jaguars first choice when it comes to pass rushers in free agency this year, but he could be a valuable edition to the team. If other, more heralded pass rushers become unavailable, then you could see Mr. Ayers rocking the teal and black of Duval in 2016.
What do you think? Would you like to see Ayers in Jax?
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