As a fan of a sports team of who not much is expected but nearly goes all the way the hardest thing is working out how to react when the golden run comes to an end. Should you be delighted they did that well? Disappointed that they couldn’t finish the job? Should you expect them to make the final step next year? The answer to all of those questions is really yes because you should be delighted, frustrated and hopeful. That is the internal, and occasionally external, debate that many Jaguars fans have had this week. So now that the dust is settling what can Jaguars fans expect from this offseason and how will it set them up for the 2018 season?
Let’s start with the strength of the team and the defence. Usually at this point the narrative might be can they bring back all of the guys who made them stars in 2017 but the Jaguars actually have most of their big name key players on defence signed next year. To add to that they still have approximately $25 million in cap space as it stands right now so they aren’t in a desperate need to free up cap space. The big debate is going to come at the line backer position because we saw Myles Jack carried off the field with a knee injury in the AFC championship and Paul Pozluzny is a free agent.
If Jack was healthy then I think they let Pozluzny walk but the questions marks over his health could mean they bring Pozluzny back just as insurance. The question all comes around whether they can get Pozluzny back at a decent price on a contract that doesn’t hamstring them in the future. They might have to appeal to Pozluzny’s sense of team pride given he has been a long suffering part of a losing team and now they have a good team that might be enough to get him on a discount. This is a position they will definitely need to look to supplement in the draft with a quick line backer who can play that Jack role as a side line to side line defender. He may not be as good as Jack but he just needs to be good enough that he can fit into the same scheme in the event that the injury prone Jack goes down mid-game or mid-season.
The other defensive free agent is Aaron Colvin which might seem minor but that nickel cornerback position is a tough one to play. He should have a good demand on the open market and the Jaguars will need to invest some time working out who is going to be that guy for them next year.
On the offensive side of the ball there are more questions surrounding free agents. They largely made this run without two of their premier wide receivers in Allen Robinson and Marquise Lee both of whom missed time this year and will be free agents. With Allen Hurns signed to a decent contract and the emergence of Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook they might decide to let Lee and Robinson walk. That is not a bad idea but there is also the possibility of releasing Hurns whose contract doesn’t have any cap dead space and signing one of those two using the Hurns money and some more from the cap space. There are always free agent wide receivers who can help your team but the value might be placed at keeping guys in the building who know your scheme and who you trust. This is going to be an interesting subplot to the Jacksonville offseason and while it won’t be headline news it could be a key piece to helping them next year.
The other free agent on the offensive side of the ball is starting left guard Patrick Omameh. Now guard is not the most key position on the offensive line but when you rely on a strong run game you need a guy in that position who can be effective. Again he is likely to have some demand on the open market so the Jaguars need a decent plan either to promote a guy from the bench or to get a suitable fill in in free agency or the draft.
Now let’s focus on the key question that the whole offseason will hinge around, what do you do with Blake Bortles? Bortles cap hit is over $19 million but not a single penny of that is guaranteed unless he gets injured. That presents some interesting options.
- Let him play out the year on the contract but you leave yourself not knowing what you will do next year. You might see the best Bortles of his career because he is playing for a contract but technically he was playing for a contract this year and he didn’t set the world alight. You also get the awkward situation that he will be, as of now, the highest paid player that season when he isn’t your best player and probably isn’t even in the top 10. The risk here is that you could cause dissension in the ranks and split the locker room. The defence may feel slighted by it and the whole team might question whether the decision is loyalty over the will to win. It could lead to an ugly situation.
- Release him and let him test free agency. It might be that once he sees there is no major demand he will consider coming back on a cheaper contract but that has its own risks. What if another team who is desperate for a QB decides they can coach him into that franchise QB? They might give him a big contract the Jaguars aren’t willing to match and then with no succession plan that leaves a massive gaping hole in the offence that you have to fill. Equally he might feel slighted by the move and refuse to re-sign with the Jaguars and take less money somewhere else. If they want Bortles as their QB next year this is probably the riskiest move they can make.
- Sit down with him and ask him to re-structure his deal for a multi-year contract on half the money. Again you run the risk of him feeling slighted but if so then you do options 1 or 2 and go back to the drawing board. If they can take $9 million plus off Blakes cap they can re-invest it in a back-up to come and compete with him and potentially have some extra change to hit free agency with to either re-sign their own guys or bring in some fresh blood.
If they do go down the release or re-structure routes then who are the options at QB they might consider?
- Chad Henne: has been given every chance and he repeatedly loses out to Bortles so he isn’t the answer.
- Kirk Cousins: This one is going to be expensive because Cousins is going to be the apple of many teams eye this off-season. It’s possible but it will cost more than $19 million and likely need a long contract. I am unconvinced this is the right move
- Nick Foles: Is going to be expensive and might just be another version of Bortles. His success in 2017 is a very small sample size.
- Case Keenum: Again they run the risk that he was a flash in the pan. They are bringing a new QB who will be expensive and will need to learn the system.
- Drew Brees: This would require a trade and New Orleans might not even discuss it until after the draft. If they could this would be amazing for them but it runs the risk of leaving them exposed if they release Bortles and it doesn’t come off.
- Whoever isn’t re-signed in Minnesota: I have mentioned Keenum but there is also Bradford and Bridgewater. If they let Bridgewater go then absolutely he’s the man to go for. They might even be able to get him on a cheapish one year or two year show us what you’ve got type deal. Bradford’s injuries should scare them off.
Those are just a few of the QB options facing Jacksonville as they enter this offseason. It could be a very boring one if they decide to put their faith in Bortles early but if they go down the other two routes then it could be an intriguing offseason. The Jaguars have earned the right to be considered a contender they just now have to make the right moves this offseason to make sure they remain one.