JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The 2018 season has been a disaster for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Injuries hampered the offense, quarterback Blake Bortles regressed, the defense has been good but not the elite unit many expected despite returning all but one starter, and they failed to win a game in October and November.
The Jaguars are still mathematically alive in the playoff race despite entering Thursday’s game (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox) in Tennessee with a 4-8 record, but they will be eliminated with their next loss. A team that won the AFC South and was 10 minutes away from the Super Bowl last season is now facing a critical offseason.
Significant changes are needed if the Jaguars are going to contend again in 2019. Here are five things the franchise must do in the offseason:
Find a quarterback(s)
The Jaguars have decided to move on from Bortles as their long-term starter, so quarterback should be their No. 1 priority in the draft, but they also should sign a veteran in free agency as long as they can do so at a reasonable price.
That’s assuming the Jaguars release Bortles, though there might be some hesitancy to do so because of the $16.5 million in dead money that would count against the salary cap. That would be the most any team has ever paid in dead money for a single player in NFL history, so the Jaguars might decide keeping Bortles and his $21 million cap figure makes more sense. They would essentially be paying him $4.5 million to be a backup since they’re going to have to pay $16.5 million regardless.
It’s not a great group of free-agent quarterbacks, though. Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick top the list. Bridgewater will likely be in high demand and that will drive the price up, so he’s not a quarterback the Jaguars will pursue unless they believe he can be their long-term starter.
There might be some high-profile starters available if they’re cut by their teams, such as Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston, Eli Manning and Nick Foles. Economics might rule those players out because of the Jaguars’ cap situation, so their best option likely will be to draft one in the first round.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert is generally regarded as the best quarterback in the class — provided he decides to forgo his senior season. The Jaguars might have to trade up in order to get him, as well, because the Giants and possibly Oakland — both of whom are currently ahead of the Jaguars in the draft order — could be drafting quarterbacks.
Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones, NC State’s Ryan Finley, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, and West Virginia’s Will Grier are some of the other top quarterback prospects who could be taken in the first few rounds. If the Jaguars opt to bypass quarterback with their first pick, one of these players should be available in the second round.
Whether it’s a free agent, a yet-to-be-released high-profile starter, or a rookie, the Jaguars must have a new starting quarterback in 2019.
Purge bigger salaries to get cap relief
Per ESPN’s Roster Management system, the Jaguars are $19 million over the projected salary cap in 2019 (Philadelphia is the only team also over the projected cap, by $33.5 million), so that means the franchise will have to cut some big-money players loose. Also looming over the team is a potential $16.5 million dead cap hit if they cut Bortles (that drops to $11.5 million after June 1).
Six of the Jaguars’ eight biggest cap figures in 2019 belong to defensive players, including defensive tackle Malik Jackson ($15 million cap figure/$4 million dead money), defensive end Calais Campbell ($14.5 million/$3 million), and nose tackle Marcell Dareus ($10.6 million/no dead money).
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Campbell (seven sacks) is still very productive at 32 years old and he’s the high-priced player the Jaguars are most likely to retain, but they might ask him to renegotiate his contract to make it more cap-friendly. Same goes for Dareus, who has been the Jaguars’ best interior lineman all season. Jackson, however, has lost his starting job, so he’s pretty much gone.
The Jaguars also are likely to release safety Barry Church ($6.25 million) and right tackle Jermey Parnell ($6 million) because they have no dead money and the team already has their replacements on the roster (Ronnie Harrison and Ereck Flowers/Will Richardson). Safety Tashaun Gipson ($9.05 million/$1.6 million) and running back Carlos Hyde ($4.75 million/no dead money) also could be gone.
The Jaguars had planned ahead with the 2018 draft for some of these moves by taking defensive tackle Taven Bryan, Harrison and Richardson in the first four rounds.
Cutting Jackson, Campbell, Dareus, Church, Parnell, Gipson and Hyde would save the Jaguars $57.55 million in cap space after the $8.6 million in dead money is factored in. They likely won’t all be cut — keeping Campbell and Dareus would be wise if the Jaguars can re-work their deals — but the Jaguars have to make some tough decisions in the offseason.
Find a couple of playmakers
After quarterback, the most glaring weakness on offense is the lack of playmakers other than Leonard Fournette. Poor quarterback play certainly contributed to the inefficiency, but the fact that defenses sold out to stop the run and didn’t worry about giving up big plays was a factor as well.
Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant are likely leaving in free agency (and Hyde could be cut), so the Jaguars should prioritize adding several players there. They don’t need to invest high draft picks to do it, either. The league is full of impact running backs taken in the fourth round or later: Jay Ajayi (fifth), James White (fourth), Latavius Murray (sixth), Frank Gore (third) and Darren Sproles (fourth). Denver’s Phillip Lindsay is fourth in the NFL in rushing and the Broncos signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent.
The situation at receiver is a little better. Marqise Lee comes back from a severe knee injury and Dede Westbrook has shown flashes of big-play ability. Rookie DJ Chark has had issues with ball security, but he’s also shown he has potential as a downfield threat. Keelan Cole was benched after dropping five passes and fumbling twice in October and his future with the team is shaky, but he still can be a third or fourth receiver.
Tight end is a problem. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has missed most of the season with a sports hernia, is their best blocker and pass-catcher, but he has averaged only 10 yards per catch in his five-year career. It appears to be a very good draft for tight ends, led by Iowa’s Noah Fant and Alabama’s Irv Smith, Jr. The Jaguars failed to draft a tight end in 2018 and cannot make the same mistake in 2019.
Draft an offensive lineman in first three rounds
The Jaguars’ offensive line was ravaged by injuries this season and left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell, and center Brandon Linder will be returning from season-ending knee and foot injuries. The team will have to replace right guard A.J. Cann and Parnell, though Flowers or Richardson will have the inside track to be the right tackle.
NFL teams generally don’t have good depth along the offensive line, so a talented rookie would help significantly. Especially an interior player, because Linder, who started his career at guard, has never played a full season and will have missed 26 out of a possible 80 games by the time this season ends.
The Jaguars missed on addressing this area, too, bypassing guard Will Hernandez to add Bryan to a position group that was already the team’s strength. If they’re going to continue to emphasize the power-run game to open up the pass game, then they must not repeat that mistake.
Seriously listen to trade offers regarding Ramsey
Although the team said in a statement that it has zero intention of trading Jalen Ramsey, there’s no harm in listening.
The roster’s biggest holes can’t be fixed in one offseason and the best way to re-stock is through the draft. Ramsey is the most valuable commodity the Jaguars have, and though he likely wouldn’t command what Chicago gave up for Khalil Mack (two firsts, a third-, and a sixth-round pick) the Jaguars might be able to get two first-round picks. That’s two additional impact players (if they make the right picks) — or they could be used as part of a package to move up to be in position to get their choice at quarterback.
An elite cornerback — even one as great as Ramsey is and will become — isn’t necessary to win a Super Bowl. It surely helps, but teams have done it without one. For example, New England’s starting corners in Super Bowl LI were Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler. Good players, but not elite. Philadelphia’s corners in Super Bowl LII were Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Same thing. Quarterbacks and pass-rushers are more important and the Jaguars could use additional picks to acquire one or more.
It’s unlikely the Jaguars will trade Ramsey, but it would be irresponsible not to listen. They might get an offer they can’t refuse.
Denver Broncos coach Vance Joseph defends kicking field goal on fourth-and-1 vs. Cleveland Browns — ‘I wanted points there’
DENVER — The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn’t go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don’t get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision — take points.”
McManus made the 29-yard field goal — after a delay of game penalty — and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn’t get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
“Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],” Keenum said. “I wanted to convert third down. That’s what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can’t complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joseph said “absolutely” the Broncos’ back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
“Absolutely, the third-down play didn’t look great, and we had points,” Joseph said. “Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did … hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.”
While the Broncos’ defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver’s 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland’s drive.
“That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?” Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “We can’t allow that.”
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns’ rush for a sack to end the Broncos’ chances.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “Man, that’s what I dream about. Man, that’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game … to get that close, it pisses me off … Lot of anger at myself. There’s some plays I could make that I didn’t.”
It wasn’t pretty, but for at least one more night, the Browns are still in the playoff hunt – Cleveland Browns Blog
DENVER – The Cleveland Browns don’t care how it happened, they just care that it did.
The Browns somehow had slogged through for a 17-16 win, their fourth in five games.
And they had somehow kept their flickering playoff hopes alive.
It was a struggle — for both teams, but the Browns now hope for help on Sunday and point to Cincinnati in a home game on Dec. 23. The team is 4-2 with Gregg Williams as interim coach and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator.
Mayfield was nowhere near as effective as he had been the previous four games, but when it mattered most he came through. After a T.J. Carrie fourth quarter interception, Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry for 12, Rashard Higgins for 16, Landry for six and then found Antonio Callaway for the touchdown that provided the winning points.
Denver would get a field goal to cut the lead to one, but Chubb broke a 40-yard run and the Browns were able to keep the ball until 1:49 remained.
Keenum got the Broncos to the 50, but a spike and two incomplete passes led to the fourth-and-10, when the Browns called blitz and Peppers came through up the middle to end the game.
Mayfield started strong, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman on the Browns first possession. He finished 18-for-31 for 188 yards, with two touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble.
It wasn’t a spectacular effort.
But it was a winning effort, and a Browns team that had won four games in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons combined has won four of five to keep the postseason in view. At 6-7-1, the Browns trail five seven-win teams in the standings. If the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans all win Sunday, Cleveland would be eliminated from the race. But, still, at least for Saturday night, the Browns are still alive.
That’s not a prediction many would have made when the Browns fell to 2-6-1 after Williams’ first game, or even before the season.
But that’s where the Browns are.
Believe it or not.
Von Miller eclipses Simon Fletcher as Broncos’ all-time sacks leader
DENVER — Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has always said he considers the most important part of his job is “getting sacks and making game-changing plays,” and he has now done that more than any other player in franchise history.
When Miller launched himself through the Cleveland Browns‘ offensive line on the last play of the third quarter Saturday night and pulled quarterback Baker Mayfield to the ground, he had his 98th career sack.
Miller passed Broncos Ring of Famer Simon Fletcher, who finished his career with 97.5 sacks.
The play came at an opportune time for the Broncos, as the Browns had driven into Denver territory against a Broncos defense depleted at cornerback by injury and Jamar Taylor‘s ejection. The sack also gave Miller 14.5 for the season, the second-highest single-season total of his career.
His career high is 18.5 in 2012.
Miller was asked this past week if he thinks about awards and records down the road.
“I don’t really,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t. The thing about getting sacks, the sack race is so close right now. I’m three sacks away from [Rams defensive tackle] Aaron Donald, and the next guy behind me is just a sack away. So, it’s a tight race and every sack could mean the difference. That’s where my mindset is at right now.”
The Browns beat the Broncos 17-16.
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