JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to do with the first overall pick in the NFL draft isn’t as clear as it was when they picked first last season.
That was a no-brainer: They were taking quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
This year, there are multiple options in play: Pass-rushers Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackles Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu. Maybe even someone else.
The Jaguars’ decision, however, depends on left tackle Cam Robinson.
Robinson is an impending free agent, and the Jaguars must decide what to do with him. Do they use the franchise tag for the second year in a row? Sign him to a long-term deal? Let him walk? If they bring him back, the first pick isn’t likely to be an offensive tackle. If they don’t, they may pick a tackle – but it could be another month before that becomes clear.
The first day teams can use the franchise tag is Tuesday, and they have until 4 p.m. ET on March 8 to do so. If the Jaguars use it on Robinson he’d be owed $16.5 million and the salary would be fully guaranteed. The Jaguars also could try to sign Robinson to a new contract and Spotrac projects a market value of a $16.8 million annual salary, slightly higher than the franchise tag.
Either way, Robinson would be protecting Lawrence’s blind side at least in 2022. The Jaguars could opt to have Walker Little, one of the team’s two second-round picks in 2021, compete with incumbent starter Jawaan Taylor to be the starter at right tackle.
Robinson hasn’t been one of the league’s better left tackles in his five-year career. Per ESPN Stats & information, he ranked 48th in pass block win rate among tackles in 2021 at 86.1%, which is just below average (87.5%). During 2017-21, he ranked 69th in pass block win rate (81.3%) among tackles who played at least 16 games.
Robinson also has allowed 29 sacks, per ESPN Stats & Information. For comparison, Taylor has allowed 40 in 12 fewer games.
By allowing Robinson to walk, the Jaguars could go with Little (who had an 81.2% pass block win rate in 86 pass block snaps) at left tackle and stay with Taylor at right tackle. Or they could try to sign a left tackle in free agency, though there are only two players younger than 30 who are impending free agents: Indianapolis Colts’ Julie’n Davenport, who started four games last season, is the other one.
Or the Jaguars could take Alabama’s Neal or N.C. State’s Ekwonu with the first pick, locking up a left tackle at a reasonable salary for the next five years. The Jaguars have the second-most projected salary cap space available, per ESPN’s Roster Management System ($57.73 million) but they may have to dig into that significantly if they also want to pursue a high-end receiver, multiple receivers, and a tight end to complement Dan Arnold. Drafting the tackle may be the most economical decision.
Free agency begins March 16, and by the time that week ends, there should be a clearer picture of what the Jaguars may do with the first overall pick.