WHAT COULD THE JAGUARS 2021 FREE AGENT CLASS LOOK LIKE IF URBAN MEYER TRULY LIKES HIS CURRENT O-LINE?
Last week, in an interview with Jane Slater, Urban Meyer spoke highly about his offensive line group. He explained, "Our offensive line is pretty good. You know, it's not a blow-up offensive line. You know, we got some other areas we got to fix. So I have a vision of what it looks like. Coach Schottenheimer and Bevell, we've had those conversations, but it's going to be built around what we have, and there's some good pieces there, but we're going to make it even better."
Whether or not this is subterfuge remains to be seen. But it got me thinking — what would the Jaguars' free agency plan look like if the team truly is content with their offensive line group?
Four of the five 2020 starters are locked in for 2021 but left tackle Cam Robinson is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Might Meyer be interested in bringing back Robinson, who played better than most give him credit for in 2021? He certainly wouldn't be the most expensive option on the market. If the Jaguars decided to retain Robinson on a deal worth $10-12M per year, how might the rest of their free agent class take shape? If that's the route they choose to go, the Jaguars would likely only be spending about $5-6 million in 2021 cap space on their left tackle position, leaving them with a little over $70 million in 2021 salary cap space.
Here's how this could all play out:
Cam Robinson is back at left tackle, and that's not a dire situation. Robinson's pressure rate allowed in 2020 was 6%, just north of Pro Bowler Orlando Brown, who allowed pressures on 5.4% of his pass pro reps. Given more positive game scripts, a better QB behind him, and more overall talent on offense, at only 25 years old, Robinson could have his best football in front of him.
I believe Meyer will be eager to add two former players he coached at Ohio State. The first is center Corey Linsley, who has been solid for the Packers throughout his career. Green Bay is notoriously cheap, and Meyer could likely steal Linsley away for about $10M per year. Another 2021 cap hit of around $5 million, and the Jaguars are still sitting pretty with $65M in cap space. But with Linsley taking over at center, the Jaguars can shift Brandon Linder back to right guard, eliminating the need for AJ Cann, who the Jaguars save $5M in cap space by releasing, getting them back up to $70M in 2021 cap space.
The second former Buckeye that Urban locks in on is Curtis Samuel, who is an excellent receiver and gadget player. He's explosive, efficient, and well-versed in an Urban Meyer offense. Let's say Samuel, who is but one of many talented receivers set to hit free agency, lands a four-year deal worth $13M per season with a $7M 2021 cap hit. The Jags are now at $63 million in 2021 cap space and have a core group of receivers loaded with talent and a quality offensive line.
The Jaguars have several intriguing in-house free agents, but only a couple really move the needle for Urban Meyer. He brings back Sidney Jones, an ascending young cornerback, on a two-three year contract worth $7 million per ($3.5M 2021 cap hit). Meyer remembers Dawuane Smoot from his days in the Big Ten at Illinois and likes the development he's shown as a versatile defensive lineman, so he signs him to a three-year deal worth $6M per year ($3M 2021 cap hit). Meyer does decide to retain Tyler Shatley, a versatile backup interior offensive lineman, on a 1.5M, one-year contract ($1M 2021 cap hit). The Jaguars consider bringing Keelan Cole back, but his drops and the vast amount of talent available at the position in the draft and free agency lead the Jaguars to let the veteran receiver walk. Now that the Jaguars have added two core pieces for Urban Meyer's rebuild, taken care of their own free agents, and still have $55.5M in spending money, they can shift their attention to the rest of the free agent pool.
The Jaguars could undoubtedly use a playmaking safety, and that's what they'd get in free agent John Johnson III. Sure, Justin Simmons and Marcus Maye are also set to become free agents, but both the Broncos and Jets are positioned to retain their star safeties. The Rams are strapped for cash, and Johnson could very well be on his way to a big payday elsewhere. He excels at covering tight ends and rolling downhill towards the ball. He's picked off eight passes and recorded 32 pass breakups during his first four years in the league. In a year where many teams will be looking to cut costs, the Jags land Johnson for $12M per over five years, taking on a $6.5M 2021 cap hit. They've now got $49M in cap space.
The Jaguars still need to shore up their defensive front. A big space-eater will be required in their new multi-look front. The Giants spend their big bucks on keeping Leonard Williams around, allowing the 317-pound Dalvin Tomlinson to hit the market. The Jaguars scoop him up on a three-year deal worth $10M per, costing them $5M in 2021 cap space. The Big Cats now have $44M to play with.
Adding another versatile player — one with experience playing for Joe Cullen — would be a smart move. Matthew Judon was in Baltimore the entire time Cullen was there, and he's produced a combined 156 QB pressures over the last three years with an impressive pass rush win rate of 13.5%. The Jags ink him to a three-year contract worth $17M annually, with a $9M 2021 cap hit.
Needing a proven slot cornerback after letting DJ Hayden and Tre Herndon walk, the Jaguars target Brian Poole, who found success in Atlanta and New York. The Jaguars pay $8M for Poole on a three-year deal ($4M 2021 cap hit). Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke are left with just over $30 million in 2021 cap space.
Thinking ahead, the Jaguars decide to stop the big-spending for 2021 there. They sign DJ Chark to an extension, but that won't count against the cap until 2022. But getting him under contract now, as he prepares for a big fourth season in the league, is the sharp move.
Is your head spinning? Mine too.
The Jaguars bring back LT Cam Robinson, CB Sidney Jones, DE Dawuane Smoot, and OL Tyler Shatley.
They sign C Corey Linsley, WR Curtis Samuel, S John Johnson III, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, EDGE Matthew Judon, and SCB Brian Poole.
Signing DJ Chark to an extension is the final piece to the puzzle.
They've done all this with just over $30M in 2021 cap space to spare, enough to sign the rookie class, make in-season trades, and be in good salary cap standing heading into 2022.
This might not be the flashiest free-agent class possible, but it would give the Jaguars a bunch of scheme and culture fits that are all playing at a very high level. It would also set them up to have some maneuverability heading into 2022. I'd probably still prefer the team to go after Trent Williams in free agency, which would still allow them the flexibility to sign the rest of the aforementioned players. The legal tampering period will begin on March 15th.
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