The Jacksonville Jaguars might be a playoff team with Derek Carr, but because of free-agency splashes following draft misses, they can’t afford him.
Nobody in the NFL has better defensive personnel than the Jacksonville Jaguars, and boy, are they paying handsomely for it.
From 2007-13, the Jaguars drafted 50 players and found a single Pro Bowler — Reggie Nelson — and zero All-Pro talents. In the years since, Jacksonville finally found some stars in the process, landing Telvin Smith in 2014 and Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue in 2016.
Still, the holes were gaping and eventually plugged by Jacksonville’s annual free-agency blitzes. In the two offseasons prior to 2018, the Jaguars signed corner A.J. Bouye, safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson, and defensive ends Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson. During the ’17 season, Jacksonville traded for Marcell Dareus in an attempt to fix its woeful run defense, taking on one of the league’s worst contracts in the process.
All told, those free-agent signings totaled $270.6 million, leaving little margin for error.
On the surface, the moves paid off. The Jaguars fielded a fearsome defense at all three levels and ranked second in both yardage and points allowed, finishing behind only the Minnesota Vikings. Like Minnesota, the Jaguars surprised the football world a season ago, reaching championship weekend before finally bowing out.
Now, years of bad drafting and the disastrous decision to extend Blake Bortles are rearing their ugly heads in a significant manner.
On Sunday, the Jaguars were forced to bench Bortles in the second half of a 20-7 home loss to the Houston Texans. The fifth-year starter threw for 61 yards on 12 attempts while losing a pair of fumbles, looking utterly loss in Jacksonville’s third straight loss.
Despite allowing 90 points over its last three games, the Jaguars’ defense still ranks second in yardage and ninth in points surrendered. In other words, having a league-average quarterback would be the difference between a wasted year and another run at the playoffs within the weak AFC South.
Enter Derek Carr. Carr, 27, is reportedly on the block with the Oakland Raiders will to trade anybody in Jon Gruden’s sight. In his fifth year, Carr has been terrible, throwing 1,783 yards on seven touchdowns and eight interceptions on a 1-5 club on the road to oblivion. Carr certainly isn’t All-Pro worthy, but on a team with the defensive caliber of Jacksonville’s, his Alex Smithian ability to check down would be well-received provided he could curb the recent rash of turnovers.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars can’t afford to acquire Carr because of old sins. Jacksonville could fit the Fresno State product under the cap this season with his prorated salary of approximately $12.5 million. However, moving forward, the Jaguars are projected to be $29.59 million over the 2019 cap number with Carr in the fold, and that’s with it rising to $190 million.
To fit Carr onto the roster beyond this season, Tom Coughlin and the front office would likely be releasing Carlos Hyde, Abry Jones, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Lerentee McCray, Niles Paul, Dareus and Jackson to break even and create room for the incoming draft class.
Is it possible? Surely. Is it likely? No. The Jaguars would be dedicating $43.5 million to Carr and Bortles in 2019 while weakening the defensive front significantly. All of this for a quarterback that while an upgrade from Bortles, is struggling in his own right.
The best course of action for this season is to stand pat. Bortles and Cody Kessler is the combination from hell, but Jacksonville would be well-advised to ride out the final nine regular-season games, hope that Bortles does enough to foster a playoff berth, and then head into the offseason with options.
Jacksonville is going to be stuck with Bortles in 2019, but it can attempt to either sign a quarterback for cheap that brings competition such as Teddy Bridgewater (who should have been a Jaguar this year) or make a play in the draft. The incoming quarterback class is universally thought of as weak, but the group of Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes was also viewed as soft. In short, nobody truly knows yet.
In Duval County, the Jaguars are a source of angst. It’s infuriating to waste talent and time, something of a Bortles specialty.
Ultimately, Jacksonville put itself in this position with bad management for years, followed by huge paydays for veterans on the open market.
The Jaguars now have to reel in their impulse to acquire another one.