The Jaguars are in a not so envious position. Coming off two seasons in which the team went a combined 11-21, Jacksonville has a number of major cap decisions to make before free agency arrives in mid-march. The Jags currently have negative cap space, those there's work to do in that department. Over the next week or so, I want to look at the Jaguars' five most expensive players heading into 2020 and offer a break down on how the team could handle their contracts.
Marcell Dareus, DT, $22.5M club option
If the Jaguars keep Marcell Dareus on the roster under their 2020 club option, they'll be taking on a $22.5M cap hit. Obviously, they can't do that. So the question becomes whether the Jags should attempt to rework Dareus' contract or simply cut bait with the veteran DT.
Since arriving in Jacksonville mid-way through the 2017 season, Dareus has been one of the most critical defenders for the Big Cats. He's been a vital piece, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Prior to his arrival in 2017, the Jaguars were getting gashed week in and week out against the run. And in 2019, after he suffered a core muscle injury and got placed on IR, the Jaguars' run defense once again faltered. With Dareus on the field in 2019, the Jaguars' defense allowed an average of 117 yards per game on the ground. While allowing 117 rushing yards per game certainly isn't great, it's a far cry from the 152 yards per game they surrendered on the ground without Dareus in 2019. The Jaguars went 3-3 in games Dareus played last season but were just 3-7 without him. And the team allowed only 17.8 points per game with Dareus in the lineup versus a whopping 28.9 without him.
NOTE: Excluding the Carolina game, where Marcell Dareus actually played well, but the Jaguars' linebacker and safeties couldn't tackle, the Jacksonville defense allowed 84 rushing yards per game with Dareus in the lineup in 2019.
It seems possible, given Dareus' history with Doug Marrone and his affinity for living in Jacksonville, that the Jaguars could decline the club option and then re-sign Dareus to a new deal. But how much would the Jaguars need to offer their run-stuffing defensive tackle for him to stick around in 2020? Dareus will turn 30 before the start of free agency and will surely look to cash in one last time before age gets the best of him. But it's important to consider that he has already made a cool $87 million during his professional career.
I don't think Dareus would agree to anything under $10M per year over a 2-3 year deal. In fact, I think it would likely cost the Jaguars closer to the $11-12M range to keep their veteran defensive tackle. Is he worth that much? It's probably more than he would fetch on the open market, but without such an offer, why wouldn't Dareus at least test the free-agent waters? The stark difference in the Jaguars' defensive statistics over the last two and a half seasons when Dareus is on the field versus when he's off it suggests that he is worth every penny. The team would be able to afford such a deal, especially when you consider that over half of his 2020 salary could come in the form of a signing bonus, which would be prorated over the course of the contract. That means they could likely retain him for a 2020 cap hit of around $4-6M. I would say that's a worthy investment for a player who has meant so much to the Jaguars' overall defensive success over the last three years.
But the team could also elect to try and find a cheaper alternative in free agency. Players like Michael Pierce and Beau Allen could be potential fits and will likely cost far less.
And there's always the draft. Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw could be targets for the Jaguars with their first pick in the draft. After that, players like Neville Gallimore, Ross Blacklock, and Raekwon Davis could be attractive in the second round.
What would I do? I'd do my best to keep Dareus around. He fits what the Jaguars like to do defensively and could probably be had at a reasonable price, even if you have to overpay him a little. Jacksonville isn't going to be one of the hottest free agent landing spots in 2020, so pulling in another big fish at defensive tackle could be difficult. I'd try to retain Dareus and draft his replacement on the first two days of the draft. For a front office and coaching staff that has to win in 2020, keeping a proven run defender around would be a prudent decision.
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