By: Hays Carlyon
The Jaguars face arguably their most challenging off-season in team history.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan elected to retain eighth-year general manager Dave Caldwell and fourth-year coach Doug Marrone, despite their poor results. Caldwell is 38-77 overall (including the playoffs). Marrone is 8-20 in his last 28 games with an overall record of 24-29 counting the playoffs.
That forces the Jaguars into a win-now mentality.
I’m going to present my plan for the Jaguars off-season based on what Khan wants – win now.
This series will be focused on what I would do if I were Caldwell and Marrone under the win-now mandate.
We already addressed the Nick Foles situation in Part 1. Today, I’ll break down cuts and extensions. In the coming days, I’ll address free-agent acquisitions and the plan for the draft.
Let’s start with cuts.
According to spotrac.com, the Jaguars are roughly $40,000 over the salary cap which they project at $199 million. The Jaguars have the third-worst cap situation in the NFL.
The roster already has holes, so cutting veterans is a tricky business. You are creating more holes with the cuts. With that in mind, the win-now mandate makes my list of cuts much more conservative than most projections.
I would cut the following players, cap savings listed: defensive tackle Marcell Dareus ($20 million), linebacker Jake Ryan ($6 million), receiver Marqise Lee ($5.25 million) and defensive tackle Abry Jones ($4 million).
Those cuts create $35.25 million and other than Dareus I don’t think I’ve lost any real on-field impact.
That’s it. I’m keeping expensive veterans in defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and left guard Andrew Norwell for different reasons.
Campbell is too good to cut. Also, there’s no chance he’ll accept a reduced salary or return if cut. He’ll go ring chase and sign with a Super Bowl contender.
Releasing Bouye leaves too big a chasm at cornerback with Tre Herndon the best perimeter player. D.J. Hayden is an excellent nickel, but not nearly as effective on the outside.
Norwell has been disappointing in his two seasons here because of his high salary, but cutting him only saves $5.5 million, which buys you only an average-priced guard.
So, we’ve created $35 million in cap space and have only impacted the interior of the defensive line.
Now, to a huge question facing the Jaguars: How to proceed with free-agent defensive end Yannick Ngakoue? The 24-year-old Ngakoue recorded 38 ½ sacks with 15 forced fumbles (counting playoffs) in his first four seasons combined.
I would give Ngakoue the contract he’s seeking in line with what Kansas City gave Frank Clark last year: five years, $104 million with a $19 million signing bonus and $62.3 million in guaranteed money.
The Chiefs structured that deal so that Clark’s first-year cap charge was just $6.5 million. That’s a strategy I would emulate. Sign Ngakoue, but keep his first-year charge around $7 million.
So, we’ve made our cuts, signed Ngakoue and have $28 million to work with moving into free agency and the draft.
Our biggest needs are:
-Defensive tackle: Taven Bryan and Dontavius Russell return. This demands huge resources, likely involving the ninth-overall pick. I don’t expect Dareus to re-sign at a cheaper price with the Jaguars after he’s cut. He’ll ring chase like Campbell.
-Tight end: Geoff Swaim, James O’Shaughnessy and Josh Oliver return. Swaim’s salary ($3.9 million) ranks 22nd among tight ends so I kept him. A better starter is needed.
-Offensive line: The five starters all return in this plan, but an upgrade for Cam Robinson at left tackle should be a high priority. Right guard A.J. Cann needs some competition too.
-Linebacker: Marrone’s “I don’t have time for a learning curve” comment regarding hiring experienced offensive coordinator Jay Gruden makes me believe Myles Jack will stay at middle. I think that comment is the team’s mantra for the whole off-season. The outside spots need help.
We have $28 million in cap space and nine draft selections (two first-rounders, two sixth-rounders) to work with to try and win now.
(You can email Hays at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)