Jaguars free agency primer: Who can they keep, who should they target as league year arrives

From left to right, Jerrick McKinnon, Dawuane Smoot, Mike Gesicki and Jawaan Taylor. (Getty and AP photos) (News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars are embarking on an offseason that will be very different from the ones they have had over the last few years. The Jaguars won’t be reinviting the wheel this offseason; they are just adding some bells and whistles to the car.

The Jaguars had a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs so they will be picking in the back end of the draft instead of the top spot like they have the last two years.

That success does have a price tag. The Jaguars spent big bucks in free agency over the last two years which has put them close to the salary cap this year, so don’t expect them to be backing the Brinks truck up for any of the top free agents up this year.

When does free agency start?

The negotiation window for teams to start talking to players and agents is Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is the official start of the new league year and the start of free agency. While contract agreements will be reported before then, nothing is official until the pen is put to paper on Wednesday.

How much salary cap space do the Jags have?

According to, the Jaguars have just over $6.9 million of salary cap space. That’s not much wiggle room but there are still a few ways the team can work to clear some space to make moves like negotiating a long-term deal with Evan Engram. They franchise tagged Engram last week.

Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram (17) stiff-arms New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Who are the Jaguars hitting free agency?

TE Dan Arnold

DE Adam Gotsis

T Blake Hance (ERFA)

CB Tre Herndon

WR Marvin Jones

DE Arden Key

TE Chris Manhertz

K Riley Patterson (ERFA)

DT Corey Peters

DE Dawuane Smoot

RT Jawaan Taylor

S Andrew Wingard

ERFA: Exclusive Rights Free Agent means the player cannot negotiate with other teams.

What can we expect from the Jaguars in free agency?

Justin Barney: After the last two years where Shad Khan emptied the bank account to remake the roster, we can expect a muted free agency this cycle. Free agency should be used to supplement and fine tune the roster, not restock it. It’s not sustainable long term, especially with a looming extension for Trevor Lawrence in the near future. As Jamal St. Cyr touches on below, the Jaguars will spot fill with modest contracts, value bin depth signings and prove-it deal guys. One player I wouldn’t mind seeing Jacksonville go after is TE Mike Gesicki. He’s coming off a down year with the Dolphins and could use a rehab year with a new team, ala what Jacksonville did with Engram last season. That would give Jacksonville two very good tight ends. Gesicki is similar to Engram and would put two pass catchers on the field at the same time.

Jamal St. Cyr: DO NOT expect any big splash signings. The Jaguars don’t have much wiggle room this year free agency will be picking up the scraps and trying to find a diamond in the rough from somewhere. I’d expect the Jaguars to sign some young veteran players who have “flaws.” Maybe a guy that has been benched before or just hasn’t produced up to expectations. Think about the deals Arden Key and Engram signed last year. The Jaguars will look for similar type players on prove-it deals that can spot-fill some key needs.

What free agents should the Jaguars keep?

JB: One guy I’d like to see return is Arden Key. He’s stacked two good seasons together, including last year in Jacksonville. Key was a sneaky good signing last year. He’s not a starter, but Key was invaluable last season. He’s likely to get paid in a longer-term deal, but the Jaguars should consider a reunion.

He’d be my No. 2 free agent that Jacksonville should keep. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor would be my preference, but Taylor picked the best time for a career year. He’s going to make some cash as a free agent and it won’t be in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have an in-house candidate in Walker Little to step in for Taylor. Jacksonville needs all the pass rush help it can get and Key is a big one. Another guy I’d bring back is Andrew Wingard. He’s a valuable reserve and very good on special teams.

JS: If I could only pick one, I’d go with Dawuane Smoot. That won’t be the most popular answer to the question but before you bring out the pitchforks hear me out. Smoot was on pace to have maybe his best season as a pro He had five sacks before getting hurt in Week 16.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot (91) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Smoot has been a consistent producer for the Jaguars getting at least five sacks for four straight seasons. It is likely that Smoot could have been having the type of season that would have given him a much more robust market and priced him out of the Jaguars range. The injury will mean that he will almost certainly start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but the Jaguars need to improve the pass rush and it is tough to do that when you lose guys you can depend on.

Who are some free agents the Jaguars should target?

JB: A few guys come to mind. DE Marcus Davenport is a good reclamation project, but is probably going to be priced out of Jacksonville’s market. I’d like to see some help at tight end. I mentioned Gesicki above. Former Bolles star Hayden Hurst would be a value signing at tight end. Defensive tackle Greg Gaines of the Rams would be a player who could help the pass rush and fortify the line. He’s more of a 3-4 tackle, but the Jaguars struggled last season when they were dealing with injuries to their big bodies on that defensive front.

Sheldon Rankins of the Jets is another 300-pounder who could help add a rotational piece to the defensive line. Assuming Jacksonville loses Taylor, it would be wise to add a proven swing tackle in free agency. Jermaine Eluemunor of the Raiders has started for just one season, but could be a good candidate. New England’s Isaiah Wynn has starting quality tackle makeup, but injuries have been an issue. He’s another reclamation project who has high upside as a swing tackle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Green Bay Packers' Allen Lazard during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JS: This is tough because money is tight. On offense, I like tight end Irv Smith. He would make sense the Jaguars have basically a blank slate at tight end. Smith is an upside play similar to Engram last year. On defense, I like cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. He plays inside and outside but kind of fell out of favor in Tampa. Mike Caldwell was there and may know how to help get the best out of him. A couple of other guys I like are RB Jerrick McKinnon and DT Morgan Fox.

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Jamal St. Cyr is an award-winning sports anchor who joined the News4Jax sports team in 2019.