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Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars should pursue running back Le’Veon Bell in free agency

Zach Goodall

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Jan 14, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) carries the ball past Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (97) during the second half in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2019 offseason needing to address virtually every position along the offensive side of their roster. Not every position necessarily needs a new starter, but after what was an abysmal offensive showing during the entirety of the 2018 season, nothing should be ruled out.

In which case, how about totally canning the Leonard Fournette experiment at running back and making a huge, unexpected free agency splash in targeting former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell?

It sounds really crazy at first, and many fans would hate the idea of giving up on the former 4th overall pick so quickly, but when you connect some dots and really think about the idea, it can make sense.

With the quarterback position being the biggest need this offseason, the idea of chasing Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles in either free agency or via trade is popular amongst Jaguars fans and media alike. He’s a former Super Bowl MVP who has filled in and won games when starter Carson Wentz went out with injuries. As former Jaguars and current Eagles beat writer Mike Kaye wrote on the Foles/Jaguars rumors the other day, “Foles would be the biggest celebrity in the city once he put pen to paper, even with All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the roster”.

However, acquiring Foles will not be cheap, and comes with a lot of risks. Sure, he played some of his best football under new Jaguars offensive coordinator and former Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, but he’s a bit of a journeyman who’s had an up-and-down career as a whole. His first three years in Philadelphia provided flashes, including a 27 touchdown and two interception sophomore season, with 2891 passing yards and a 64% completion percentage in 13 games. However, he was traded to the St. Louis Rams after his third year with the Eagles after throwing 10 interceptions in eight games and going on the injured reserve with a broken collarbone in Week 9.

Foles looked no better in one season with the Rams than he did the year prior, throwing only seven TDs and 10 INTs in 11 games, then requesting to be released after the Rams traded up and selected QB Jared Goff with the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He spent the 2016 season as Alex Smith’s backup with the Kansas City Chiefs, starting one game against the Jaguars where he threw for 187 yards and a TD. Foles made his way back to Philadelphia as Wentz’s backup, and the rest is history: He’s thrown for 1950 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions in 12 games filling in for Wentz, and won the Super Bowl 52 MVP Award.

While recency bias would say Foles is a prime candidate for the Jaguars starting QB job, his shaky career history should keep Jacksonville from breaking the bank on the 30 year old signal-caller. And as mentioned previously, he’s going to be expensive. Reports broke after he bought out his team-option that the Eagles were planning on franchise tagging Foles in order to trade him away before free agency. That provides a ton of risk for Philadelphia if no team is willing to pay his franchise tag price plus trade away assets for Foles, as the tag is projected at $25 million in 2019 for quarterbacks and the Eagles reportedly are asking for a third round pick in return for Foles services.

Considering the Jaguars are currently projected to be $4,316,311 under the cap, and have so many needs on offense, it doesn’t make much sense to spend that much on a 30 year old quarterback who’s never consistently played well as a starter in the NFL.

However, the Jaguars are going to be trimming fat anyway this offseason to get into a better position with cap space. Whether it’s to go after Foles or not, the team is expected to release players such as defensive tackle Malik Jackson (clearing $11 million in cap space), right tackle Jermey Parnell ($6 million), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins ($4,328,125), running back Carlos Hyde ($4.7 million) and possibly more to get back “into the green” and be able to sign/extend players.

So, if the Jaguars are to create a bunch of cap space, chances are they’ll spend some to improve the team. But instead of going after a somewhat inconsistent and expensive quarterback, why not utilize that money on other positions and draft a young franchise quarterback instead?

Why not go after running back Le’Veon Bell?

The Jaguars are in limbo at running back, more than fans are willing to admit. Starting running back Leonard Fournette has missed 11 games in his first two seasons from a mix of lower body injuries (which were a red flag for the LSU product before he was drafted) and suspensions. When he was actually on the field, he averaged a mere 3.7 yards per carry and only 740 rushing ards per season. The team waived his guarantees in his contract following the 2018 season for his behavior – he now has to earn every penny on his originally fully-guaranteed rookie deal. In all honesty, his situation has become a real headache, and the team has the ability to move on from his deal easier now than before his guarantees were waived.

The No. 2 RB T.J. Yeldon, who played well in place of Fournette during the 11 games he has missed, won’t be returning to the team as things stand. His rookie contract is up, and he will likely cash in on the free agency market beyond what the Jaguars would be able to pay him for his No. 2 role. A team will pay him to be their starter after he averaged 5.7 yards per touch and scored five total touchdowns in a reserve role in 2018. Also, his “liked” tweets on Twitter are pretty damning:

The Jaguars could easily shake up their RB room this offseason, and Le’Veon Bell could come in and provide elite ability not only as a runner but as a receiver and pass blocker – he’s arguably the best all-around running back the NFL has seen in recent history. He sat out the entire 2018 season due to contract issues, but he had back-to-back 1200 rushing yard seasons in 2016-17, with 16 rushing touchdowns and averaging 4.45 yards per carry. On top of that, Bell caught 160 passes for 1271 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He literally had the 10th most receptions in the NFL in 2018 (85), among wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. That’s insane.

Le’Veon Bell would walk into Jacksonville as one of the team’s best running backs in franchise history. Obviously, he’d be behind Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’s far ahead of the team’s third all-time leading rusher James Stewart by almost 3000 rushing yards. In only two more career games.

Let’s get down to the money: Bell sat out during the 2018 season because he demanded high guarantees in his next long-term contract, as well as being the highest-paid RB in the league – but the Steelers wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Here’s a quote from his agent that makes Bell’s demands appear well-thought out:

“The Steelers have a unique way of structuring deals,” Bakari said. “These contracts are not fully guaranteed. Le’Veon plays a position that has one of the shortest lifespans in the league. We have to focus on the guarantee. It’s safe to say he’ll get a guarantee [as a free agent] that is more traditional, and he’ll be protected for the balance of his career.”

Based on these statements and how running backs are currently paid, Bell is in line to make a boat-load this offseason. Todd Gurley, the NFL’s highest paid RB, averages $14.3 million a year on his new deal with $45 million in guarantees, including a $21 million signing bonus.

So, one should expect Bell to come in around $14.5 million a year with frontloaded guarantees. My personal projection: Five years, $72.5 million, with $50 million in guarantees spread out over the first three years of the deal, and a large signing bonus around $20 million to knock out 40% of the guarantees. And if the Jaguars release the players stated above, and perhaps a couple of others, they could afford this – in fact, he’d be cheaper than Nick Foles on a year-to-year basis from all angles.

This type of move would be an earthquake across the NFL, but while it seems crazy, it could reap benefits. The Jaguars would hold onto the draft pick they’d have to send to the Eagles for Foles, and save an average of about $10 million in contract value per year (before guarantees factor in). In doing so, the Jaguars would land one of the leagues best running backs and a player who puts up top-20 production as a receiver, all in one, while holding onto funds to pay players such as cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue down the line.

In this situation, it would become clear the Jaguars would want to draft their own quarterback, and Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins would make sense. The Jaguars would likely have to trade up for Haskins, with the 4th overall pick being the sweet spot in order to not give up many assets and still solidify themselves above other quarterback-needy teams, but trading up in the draft to land a quarterback on the slotted-rookie contract (which would be around $7-8 million a year) makes a lot more sense than trading away assets to pay an inconsistent QB $25 million a year.

And for Fournette, it’s safe to assume he’d be traded away in this situation. While he could net the Jaguars something like a late third round/early fourth round pick, it’d be interesting to see if they could package him into the draft-day trade up for a quarterback. But if not, at least they can regain some draft day value by shipping him away and continue to address the offense.

Imagine a Jaguars offense with Dwayne Haskins under center, and Le’Veon Bell handling not only running back duties, but providing a legitimate receiving option for the young quarterback? Plus whoever else they draft, as well  as in-house weapons such as Dede Westbrook and second-year WR D.J. Chark.

It’s far-fetched, and these moves would take the entire NFL by storm, but this would be a fantastic way to fix the Jaguars offensive woes heading into the 2019 season, while also saving more money than what it would take to pay Nick Foles.

Zach Goodall covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for the Locked On Jaguars podcast and website. Follow him on Twitter @zach_goodall.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Matt Crosson

    February 12, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    This would be completely crazy, but I think it is the type of thing that needs to happen. It seems our history is one to never take big chances, but sometimes taking big risks net big results. The real question is would Bell be able to produce since he took a year off?

  2. Eric

    February 16, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    This would be a painfully Jaguars thing to do…. pay a guy who is a little bit better than the guy you already have more than twice the money? Makes zero sense….. spend the money on guys who could make an average quarterback capable of advancing in the playoffs

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue has plenty of leverage, wont use it

Demetrius Harvey

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Jul 26, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) runs a protection route during training camp at the Dream Finder Homes practice facility outside of TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As the Jaguars began voluntary OTAs today there was at least one major storyline. Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was present at practice today and plans to be present for the entire offseason. With Ngakoue ready for a new contract, many speculated he would be holding out until the contract is signed. That is not the case and Ngakoue stated today at his media presser, “I don’t have to be here, but I chose to be here.”

Showing up for voluntary OTAs is significant as it is typically a time when a player up for a contract would be almost expected to sit out due to the risk of injury. Jalen Ramsey, for example, works out in Nashville where he is most comfortable. Although he would be in Nashville regardless of contract, it is still an incentive to stay away for now.

“Just trying to build some team camaraderie, being a leader — that’s the main reason I came back” Ngakoue stated when asked why he was back for voluntary OTAs. Ngakoue taking more of a leadership role this offseason is already off to a roaring start. Showing up and leading by example for young players such as Josh Allen, Taven Bryan, etc, will pay dividends for the Jaguars future.

Earlier this offseason two players — Frank Clark and Demarcus Lawrence — earned contracts of upwards to $100M and Ngakoue is prepared to accept the same. Although he will ultimately let his agent perform the heavy lifting. When asked about the contracts of Clark and Lawrence and the prospect of getting a similar $100M contract, Ngakoue said, “It’s not a secret, we all can go on the computer and see what they did — that money don’t mean nothing but I know what I’m worth.”

This is great for the Jaguars and sets the tone for a potential future extension for Ngakoue. He is saying all of the right things, and this should give Jaguars fans something good to feel about as they continue throughout the offseason. Ngakoue is entering his fourth year and has accumulated 29.5 sacks through his first three seasons in the NFL. Ngakoue has shown the Jaguars no reason not to pay him as soon as possible. And they absolutely should.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Five significant Jaguars storylines heading into OTAs

Demetrius Harvey

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Jul 26, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs with the ball following a catch as Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (44) runs behind during training camp at the Dream Finder Homes practice facility outside of TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The first of the Jaguars ten Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are starting today.  As the players get set to hit the field, there will be a multitude of storylines worth watching. This will be the first time the Jaguars coaches and their players can take part in 11 on 11 activities. Although there will be no pads for any of these practices.

The Jaguars will use this time to get better in terms of on-the-field performance, but their camaraderie as they get set to go with an abundance of new players, including the starting QB will be just as important.

The team’s OTAs will begin Tuesday (Today), May 21 and conclude on Friday, June 7, while the Jaguars’ three-day mandatory minicamp will take place June 11 – 13.

1. Nick Foles and the Jaguars offense

The Jaguars entered the 2019 offseason with a splash; signing quarterback Nick Foles to the highest guaranteed money a Jaguars player has ever received. Since then, they have made moves to allow for him to succeed, such as selecting tight end Josh Oliver and right tackle Jawaan Taylor in the draft just last month.

Quarterback is the most important position group on the team, and with Nick Foles at the center, all eyes will be on him from now on. It will be important for the Jaguars — and their fans —  to get a good look at the new offense under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, and how well Foles can execute it. Although many fans feel the Jaguars did not adequately address the weapons on offense, there is a possibility the quarterback was holding the team back.

With Marqise Lee not ready yet, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and D.J. Chark will be the only Jaguars receivers on the Jaguars roster last season participating. It will be interesting to see their connection with Foles even as early as today.

2. How will the linebacker group shake out?

This storyline has almost as much intrigue as the quarterback situation. This is because of Telvin Smith posting an impromptu Instagram post revealing his intentions to sit out the 2019 season. The Jaguars have addressed the position during the offseason seemingly as a response to Smith not being in contact with the team prior to the draft. Selecting LB Quincy Williams at the bottom of the third round was the icing on the cake.

The Jaguars will look for a new weak-side linebacker and there have been plenty of questions of whether they will turn to a rookie, a new vet, or even Myles Jack to take over the position. Who takes over will be very important and we should get an answer sooner rather than later.

3. Rookies

The rookies are always a storyline and with the Jaguars selecting two premier players — Josh Allen and Jawaan Taylor — all eyes will be on them. Rookies are not typically thrust into starting positions too early, so do not it will not be a shock if Taylor is taking second-team reps or if Allen is not out there with the defensive line/linebacker group. However, it will be important to see exactly what position Allen plays as there has been speculation of him playing SAM since they drafted him.

Rookie TE Josh Oliver will be someone worth watching on offense. As mentioned earlier, he was a part of the Jaguars plan to get an influx of talent on offense. Quincy Williams, as previously mentioned, might be one of the more underrated rookies to watch for. How he plays during the offseason could change the entire linebacker group.

Obviously all eyes will be on the Jaguars rookies during the 10 OTAs starting today, however, these are the most important to keep an eye out on how they perform.

4. Safety situation

Probably one of the most talked about situations as far as depth on the roster this offseason has been safety. Before the end of the 2018 season, the Jaguars released strong safety Barry Church and circled back to release Tashaun Gipson earlier this offseason. This allowed then-rookie Ronnie Harrison to start in place of Church, and Jarrod Wilson to start in place of Gipson. How Wilson performs in this new role will be vital to the Jaguars success at free safety.

The Jaguars in this offseason have not addressed the safety position at all besides signing former AAF safety Josh Brown. How Jaguars undrafted rookies and other depth players attack this position will be important to watch out for as we begin OTAs.

5. No injuries, please

Seriously. If there is one thing the Jaguars cannot afford, it is an injury to a pivotal position. These practices are not supposed to be extensive but as we have seen in the past, anything can happen. If the Jaguars come out of these OTAs with no injuries, it will be a huge win entering mandatory minicamp in June, and training camp in July.

Keep a close eye on Jaguars players who are already injured. Players such as Marqise Lee, Jake Ryan, and Cam Robinson will be going through various levels of rehab. Lee will not be on the field, however, Ryan or Robinson might be closer to returning.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Should the Jaguars sign Gerald McCoy when he’s released?

Demetrius Harvey

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Dec 24, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts after a sack in the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive tackle  Gerald McCoy has recently been informed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers according to Adam Schefter at ESPN. According to Schefter, the Jaguars are one of the spots that “make sense”. This list includes the Patriots, Browns, Cowboys, and Chargers. McCoy wants to sign with a playoff team and the Jaguars were in the AFC Championship game in the 2017-2018 season.

There are a variety of factors to take into account if the Jaguars do intend to do their due diligence on Gerald McCoy. McCoy has been one of the most dominant defensive tackles since he was drafted third overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010. Last season, McCoy accounted for 28 combined tackles and six sacks in 14 games. Although his sack production has not fallen off yet, he is 31 years old and has not been as dominant as he was in his younger days.

In 2018, the Jaguars drafted Taven Bryan in the first-round, and due to the salary cap, they released veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson who immediately signed with the Philidelphia Eagles. If the Jaguars were to bring in McCoy the cost would almost assuredly be steep, and although they have ways to manipulate the cap, the question would be if Dave Caldwell or EVP Tom Coughlin would be willing to pay.

With Taven Bryan already locked into the starting role, it would also come down to how the Jaguars feel about the depth at the defensive tackle — specifically three-tech — position. The Jaguars only have Taven Bryan, Marcell Dareus, and Abry Jones entering this season at DT who have played significant roles. Calais Campbell also plays a role on specific downs.

Would Gerald McCoy make sense for the Jaguars? In theory, sure, but only at the right cost and if the player falls in their laps. The Jaguars released Malik Jackson due to cap reasons. Jackson is a younger player who — although he had a down year in 2018 — has had similar production to Gerald McCoy in recent years. Would they be willing to spend on the older player instead?

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