What don't the Jaguars need? Am I right? A head coach? A new general manager? Yep, they need both.
But from a roster perspective, where are the Jaguars most desperate to find starters and foundational pieces? That's a question I'll be tackling over the next couple of weeks.
For me, ensuring that there are at least two quality starting offensive tackles and a decent backup is among the more pressing needs for the Big Cats. Giving Trevor Lawrence more time to operate inside the pocket is critical to his year two development. So, let's begin there.
Starting left tackle Cam Robinson played under the franchise tag in 2021 and is set to become a free agent in March. Robinson played his best football down the stretch this season and didn't allow more than two pressures in a contest from week ten on. But was his contract situation a motivating factor? Unfortunately, history suggests the answer is likely yes. Still, Robinson has a fiery play demeanor and is far from the worst option at left tackle.
Starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor failed to show significant development in year three and is more of a liability than an asset in the starting lineup. He led all offensive tackles in penalties and allowed far too much immediate pressure on rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, 2021 second-round pick Walker Little stepped in late in the season on the left side and played very well, both in the running game and in pass protection. Little has the physical ability to get the job done and showed improved confidence and technique down the stretch. We should pencil him in as one of the starting offensive tackles for 2022. While he's only ever played on the left side, Little did cross-train at right tackle throughout 2021 and said he feels comfortable on either side.
What to do about the other tackle spot? The Jaguars could undoubtedly run it back with Cam Robinson with another year of the franchise tag or a long-term deal, but is Robinson worth the money he'd command in either situation? According to Spotrac, his market value is $16.8 million per season. Personally, I wouldn't come close to that number for Cam Robinson, who, in my opinion, has proven to be a slightly above average starting left tackle.
What are their other options?
Terron Armstead and Trenton Brown are two high-level offensive tackles set to hit free agency. Armstead plays on the left side and just turned 30, while Brown aligns on the right and has dealt with his fair share of injuries in recent seasons. Both represent a much higher ceiling than Robinson or Taylor, but they'll be expensive and might not even hit free agency. If Armstead makes it to free agency, I'd be tempted to pay top dollar to land a pass protector of his caliber to help out Trevor Lawrence. That is, assuming his presumed offseason knee surgery goes well, and he's on track to make a full recovery.
While the free-agent market is alluring, I'd probably opt to spend money elsewhere and attack offensive tackle in the draft. If the Jaguars stick with the top overall pick in the draft, Evan Neal makes a ton of sense. He's a literal mountain of a man that excels at the point of attack and in pass protection. His overall athleticism and flexibility are rare for a man of his stature, and he has the versatility to play either side and can even kick inside to guard. Even if the Jaguars opt not to take Neal with the first overall pick, there will be enticing options at tackle. In a trade-down scenario, the Jaguars could potentially still target Evan Neal, Ikem Ekwonu, or Charles Cross. There should still be several quality options in the second round, like Trevor Penning, Bernhard Raimann, and Daniel Faalele.
The bottom line: I'd make sure I feel really good about the talent level and work ethic of both starters and try to ensure I have a quality swing tackle in case of injury. Walker Little should start on one side, while Jawaan Taylor could serve as the backup tackle in the final year of his rookie deal. That means the Jaguars will need to acquire at least one talented offensive tackle, whether it be via free agency or the draft. Cam Robinson is certainly on the table, but I'd opt for a higher-upside swing, either with Terron Armstead, Trenton Brown, or an early draft pick. I lean towards using salary cap space on other positional needs and selecting a talented pass-protecting tackle at the top of the draft. Still, I could be convinced to pay up for Armstead or Brown, effectively eliminating that need prior to draft day.
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