JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars were officially eliminated from the playoffs with last Sunday’s loss -- realistically, they’ve been out since mid-November -- so it’s time to start taking a harder look at decisions to be made before the 2020 season.
Some of the first decisions the front office -- whether it’s the current regime or a new one -- will face concerns the Jaguars’ high-priced players. Some of the decisions will be easy. Others not as much. But those choices will play a significant role as the Jaguars rebuild after another disappointing season.
Here’s a look:
QB Nick Foles
Contract: Four years, $91 million, $50.125 million guaranteed, signed in 2019
2020 figures: $15.125 million salary, $21.875 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: They don’t have much choice but to keep Foles, mainly because of a $33.875 million dead-cap hit if they were to cut him. It's hard to imagine any team being willing to absorb that much dead cap. That would be roughly 20 percent of the salary cap going to a guy who won’t be on the roster. The Jaguars just carried $16.5 million in dead cap in 2019 with Blake Bortles, and this would be more than double that.
Complicating the matter on Foles -- and every NFL player -- is the fact that unless there is a new labor agreement in place by March 1, there is no post-June 1 designation. That means the Jaguars wouldn’t get a break on the dead-cap hit if they cut him or trade him after June 1 because teams can’t push any money into the 2021 year if there’s no collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2020 season.
If the Jaguars were to decide they were willing to eat the massive cap hit, it’s a sure sign that the team has decided that it’s time to level the roster and begin again from the ground up, which means the franchise would be back to where it was after the 2012 season. If Foles is around in 2020, it would have to be as the starter. It wouldn’t play well in the locker room if the team’s highest-paid player is a backup.
LG Andrew Norwell
Contract: Five years, $66.5 million, $30 million guaranteed, signed in 2018
2020 figures: $11.5 million salary, $14.5 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: The Jaguars made Norwell the league’s highest-paid guard (he has since been passed by Zack Martin and Brandon Brooks) and they haven’t gotten anything even close to a return on that investment. Norwell, who was an All-Pro in 2018 in Carolina, has had some very good games and some awful individual plays, but overall has been an average -- at best -- NFL lineman. When you’re being paid big money, however, average isn’t good enough. Cutting Norwell would cost the Jaguars $9 million in dead money in 2020 and save them only $5.5 million, so he could be around one more season. Keeping Foles, however, does make it easier to absorb the $9 million dead-cap figure to cut him (it’s the highest figure of any player the team could cut). He’s likely gone.
C Brandon Linder
Contract: Five years, $51.7 million, $24 million guaranteed extension, signed in 2017
2020 figures: $7 million salary, $8 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: The Jaguars made Linder the highest-paid center when they signed him to the extension just before the 2017 season began. Because of various injuries, he has yet to play a full season, although he’s on pace to do so this season, and hasn’t made a Pro Bowl. He’s been an above-average player when he’s healthy, but fair or not, the expectations are significantly higher than being a good player when you’re making that kind of money. Even though there’s no dead money in his contract for 2020, the Jaguars should keep Linder. It would be hard to find three new starters (anticipating openings at left tackle, left guard and possibly right guard). They could move him back to guard -- where he began his career as the team’s third-round pick in 2014 -- and sign or draft a center, but he’ll be starting somewhere for the Jaguars next year.
DT Marcell Dareus
Contract: Two years, $28.1 million, $7.84 million guaranteed, signed in 2019
2020 figures: $9.5 million salary, $22.5 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: Dareus renegotiated his contract in February to give the Jaguars some cap relief in 2019, but that resulted in the team's highest cap figure in 2020. Dareus has been the key to the Jaguars’ run defense since he was acquired in a midseason trade from Buffalo in 2017. The Jaguars ranked 21st in run defense through the first seven weeks of this season (117.1 yards per game) before he went on IR on Oct. 25. Since then, the Jaguars have given up an average of 193.6 yards per game. He might not be as dominant as he once was but he’s still a very good run-stuffer. His cap figure is just too high. He’ll be cut (just $2.5 million in dead money).
DE Calais Campbell
Contract: Four years, $60 million, $30 million guaranteed, signed in 2017
2020 figures: $15 million salary, $17.5 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: Campbell will go down as the best free-agent signing in franchise history. He had 25 sacks in his first two seasons, which includes a franchise-record 14.5 in 2017, and 52 quarterback hits. He is a two-time Pro Bowl pick and first-team All-Pro (2017) but he has slowed this season (6.5 sacks) and isn’t as dominant as he was. That's not surprising, as he turned 33 in September. He has missed just six games in his 12-year career. If the Jaguars can convince him to renegotiate, it would be a good idea to bring him back in a reserve role, but if not, he’ll be cut to save money. (Like Dareus, it’s just $2.5 million in dead money.)
DE Yannick Ngakoue
Contract: Four years, $3.48 million, $856,176 guaranteed rookie contract
2020 figures: None.
What the Jaguars should do: Ngakoue and the Jaguars couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension this offseason (he held out of camp for 11 days and was fined $528,650) so he’s playing this year on the final year of his rookie deal for a base salary of $2.025 million. That’s a bargain for someone with 35.5 sacks (third in franchise history) and 13 forced fumbles. If the sides aren’t able to work something out this offseason, the Jaguars can use the franchise tag on him, which would pay him approximately $19.3 million next season, per OverTheCap.com. The sides were pretty far apart last offseason, so that’s where this is likely headed.
CB A.J. Bouye
Contract: Five years, $67.5 million, $26 million guaranteed signed in 2017
2020 figures: $13 million salary, $15.41 million cap figure
What the Jaguars should do: Bouye was a Pro Bowl pick and second-team All-Pro in 2017, but hasn’t consistently played at that level since. He has two interceptions and 16 pass breakups since the start of the 2018 season. He assumed the No. 1 corner role when the Jaguars traded Jalen Ramsey in late October but the defense has been a mess this season and he has allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a 100.4 passer rating when he’s the nearest defender in coverage, per NFL NextGen Stats. That ranks 56th among defensive backs who have faced a minimum of 20 targets. If the Jaguars can get Bouye to renegotiate, he could be back. If not, they’ll cut him to save money.