JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – NFL free agency begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. The Jaguars have a roster in need of talent. Much of that can be addressed in next month’s NFL draft, but Jacksonville needs veteran help, too.
The News4Jax sports staff looks at some of the biggest needs and players who the team could target when the league year opens.
Offensive needs: QB, OT, OG, TE.
We’re talking about a backup quarterback here. Even though the Jaguars have a need at starter, we’re going to assume that they address that issue on April 29 when they draft Trevor Lawrence with the first pick of the draft. So, what about the backup position — or positions. Gardner Minshew and Jake Luton remain on the roster. Mike Glennon was on a one-year contract so he will become a free agent. I’ve said this before on a number of occasions: if you have a young starting quarterback, you need to have a veteran as a backup. Not only to step in in the case of an injury, but more importantly, to serve in a mentor’s role. There are several available quarterbacks who could fill this role.
Candidates: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Dolphins), Alex Smith (Washington), Andy Dalton (Cowboys).
Best fit: Smith. His age, 36, and his history of injuries make him more suitable as a backup at this point. His history with Urban Meyer makes him a good fit with the Jaguars. Smith will know how the new Jaguars head coach operates, how he communicates, and what he expects from the offense and his quarterback. If Smith is willing to share his experience with Lawrence, it would be an ideal situation. The move could leave the Jaguars with an opportunity to trade Gardner Minshew. Any draft picks the Jaguars realize in return would be beneficial since they only spent a sixth-round pick on Minshew.
Both tackle positions could be addressed this offseason. Cam Robinson was franchise-tagged, but he has been unable to stay healthy. When he has, his play has been inconsistent. Jawaan Taylor took a step back in his second season at right tackle. The former second-round pick from Florida needs to be pushed more. The Jaguars can certainly use better play at guard as well. The right guard has been a mixed bag, but the team hasn’t spent much money at that position. Left guard is another story. Andrew Norwell has underperformed, particularly in pass protection, although he’s sticking around this year.
Candidates: OT Trent Williams (Niners), OT Russell Okung (Panthers), OT Alejandro Villanueva (Steelers), G Joe Thuney (Patriots).
Best fits: Williams. If the Jaguars can lure Williams, he could move into the left tackle spot. The Jaguars are going to have to spend at the position, either to keep Robinson long term, or to bring in a free agent. Williams may be toward the end of his career, but the 32-year-old, can still play at a high level. He earned his eighth career Pro Bowl nod in 2020.
Since Marcedes Lewis made the AFC Pro Bowl team in 2010, here’s a list of the tight ends the Jaguars have brought in to replace Lewis or fill the gap left after his departure:
Zach Potter, Zach Miller, Clay Harbor, Nic Jacobs, Julius Thomas, Ben Koyack, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Nick O’Leary, Josh Oliver, Geoff Swaim and James O’Shaughnessy. We’re not through. In 2020, there were Tyler Eifert, Ben Ellefson and Tyler Davis. There are more, but your eyes are already glazing over. The point is, the Jaguars haven’t had a true threat at the position in a decade. In fact, the Jaguars haven’t had a tight end catch more than five touchdown passes since Lewis’ 10-touchdown season of 2010. And if you want to feel even worse about the history of the position, you’ll be saddened to hear that aside from Lewis’ 2010 season, the next highest total for a Jaguars tight end is five, by Thomas in 2015, and Lewis in 2017. So yes, the Jaguars need a tight end.
Candidates: Hunter Henry (Chargers), Mo Alie-Cox (Colts), Jonnu Smith (Titans), Kyle Rudolph (Vikings).
Best fits: Henry is the popular choice. He’s the best free agent tight end on the market. Legging out his 2018 season where he missed the entire year with an injury, Henry has increased his catches each year with the Chargers, although he has never matched his rookie year when he caught eight touchdowns. He’s 26 years old and coming into the prime of his career. Alie-Cox and Smith would be addition by subtraction moves, with them coming from divisional foes. Rudolph is the most intriguing to me. At 31, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But he has a great locker room reputation and his 11.9 yards per reception in 2020 were the highest in his career. Even though he caught only one touchdown last season (Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson may be more to blame than Rudolph’s age), that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something left in the tank. Considering where the Jaguars are with the tight ends, I wouldn’t mind seeing any combination of two of these players signed. That’s how badly the Jaguars need to bolster the position.
It’s pretty clear given Urban Meyer’s comments that the Jaguars are going to add at least one explosive wide receiver in free agency or the draft. Meyer wants the Jaguars to play fast — not just between plays, but he wants the offense to be able to strike deep.
Candidates: Kenny Golladay (Detroit), Will Fuller V (Houston), JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh), Corey Davis (Tennessee), Curtis Samuel (Carolina), T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis), Marvin Jones (Detroit).
Best fit: Smith-Schuster.
All of these players have something that is keeping them from being the perfect fit in Jacksonville. Golladay has been injury prone. Smith-Schuster has been a terrific deep threat for the Steelers early in his career, but his yards per target has decreased each season in the NFL. How much of that is a result of Ben Roethlisberger’s declining arm strength? That’s the big question to be asked of a potential signing. In each of his first two years, Smith-Schuster had a 97 yards touchdown catch. Last year, his longest reception was a 31 yarder. At the age of 24, it can’t be about him slowing down. Can it? Corey Davis has never been a factor in Nashville, Samuel fits as more of a slot guy. Hilton is on the wrong side of 30 and so is Marvin Jones.