The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Jaguars 2021 Recap
The Jaguars are coming off one of the most iconically bad seasons in recent memory. Their fate was sealed the minute they inked Urban Meyer as their head coach. Meyer was overinvolved in high-level decisions like giving Tim Tebow an unearned roster spot and practice reps during the summer on top of creating a faux quarterback competition between Trevor Lawrence and Gardner Minshew. Then, in the day-to-day, he was seemingly distant. Meyer didn’t have a clear answer as to why James Robinson was benched in Week 13. Instead, he passed the blame onto his staff. That is the same staff that he would go on to call “losers” later in the year. Unsurprisingly, the laughable chaos caused by Meyer resulted in an awful product on the field. Meyer didn’t even make it to the end of the season and will go down as a contender for worst NFL coach ever. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell closed out the year as the head coach but the team looked about the same and he wasn’t retained. Though the Jaguars have many goals from a talent acquisition and development perspective, forgetting the 2021 season is also high on the list.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 14.9 (32nd)
- Dropback EPA: -.06 (27th)
- Passing yards per game: 202 (22nd)
- Rush EPA: -.11 (25th)
- Rushing yards per game: 103 (22nd)
Jacksonville’s awful ranks in all of their offensive metrics matched what anyone watching them saw take place on the field. Unsurprisingly, their struggles to produce points were fueled by turnovers. The Jags turned the ball over 29 times which trailed only the Giants. No team lost more fumbles and the passing game didn't fare much better, giving the ball away 17 times through the air. Lawrence led all quarterbacks in interceptions. While Meyer gets plenty of the blame for this season’s outcome, the No. 1 overall pick bears plenty of responsibility. Lawrence ranked dead last in yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, and touchdown rate among qualified quarterbacks. He was a poor decision-maker and was unable to pair that with any semblance of upside, rarely displaying the elite arm talent that earned him his elite pedigree. The speed of the NFL confused him as he was caught holding the ball often and sometimes made routine throws look difficult. Lawrence was touted as one of the best quarterback prospects of the past decade and that can still be true. He just needs to show more of what made him the first overall pick with fewer mistakes in his second season. A new head coach and offensive scheme will certainly help.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 26.9 (28th)
- Dropback EPA: .23 (31st)
- Passing yards per game: 228 (17th)
- Rush EPA: -.05 (21st)
- Rushing yards per game: 125 (23rd)
As has been a tradition in Jacksonville over the last half-decade, their defense was also an embarrassment. Supposedly liking their depth at corner, the Jags bailed on top-10 pick C.J. Henderson after 10 career games. Unsurprisingly, Pro Football Focus ranked them as the 29th team in coverage and they finished 27th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Henderson wasn’t playing well when they had him but any amount of depth could have been useful for the Jags. They weren’t competing for a Super Bowl this year either so even holding him as a developmental project would have been prudent. The team did not have a Pro Bowl player on defense (or offense) and Josh Allen was the team’s lone bright spot. Allen led Jacksonville in sacks (7.5) and TFLs (12). Allen was complimented by defensive end Dawuane Smoot, who notched six sacks in a rotational pass-rushing role. If linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson can improve in his third year, the Jaguars will have the bones of a solid pass-rush.
Jaguars 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
LT Cam Robinson, LG Andrew Norwell, RG A.J. Cann, WR D.J. Chark, DT Taven Bryan, S Andrew Wingard
C Brandon Linder ($9.5 million in savings), RB Carlos Hyde ($2 million), TE Chris Manhertz ($1.9 million)
Notes: Jacksonville's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
The Jags have loads of cap space and a slew of extra picks in rounds three, six, and seven. Linder is entering the final season of his five-year deal. He's still playing at a solid level but the savings for cutting him had to be mentioned. If the team does want to get some of his cap hit back, a restructure is also possible.
The Jaguars have both of their starting guards and their left tackle set to hit free agency. At right tackle, Jawaan Taylor is serviceable but some camp competition for the three-year vet could also be beneficial. This position of need could have easily been tackle or, more broadly, offensive line. If the goal of Jacksonville’s offseason is to make Lawrence look like the player they drafted, it starts in the trenches. Pro Football Focus charted Lawrence as averaging 4.4 yards per attempt while under pressure. That was 37th out of 40 qualified quarterbacks.
Laquon Treadwell and Tavon Austin were starting receivers for the Jaguars at the end of 2021. Do I need to say more? If I must, D.J. Chark is a free agent with a mixed history of production. Marvin Jones will be 32 years old next season. Laviska Shenault was one of the league's most inefficient receivers in his second season, though misuse of his unique skills gets some of the blame there. Assuming Shenault stays in the slot, the Jaguars could greatly benefit from finding another boundary receiver.
The Jags have plenty of holes on defense but linebacker may be their biggest. Damien Wilson joined the team last offseason as a journeyman interior linebacker. He started for most of the year but wasn’t particularly effective and is not guaranteed to be re-signed. Myles Jack all but disappeared from the box score outside of his tackle totals in 2021. He did not register a pass defense, forced fumble, or sack. Even if Jack bounces back as a pass-rusher, an interior force who can cover running backs and tight ends is needed to compliment him.
The Jags hired former Eagles boss Doug Pederson as their next head coach on the heels of Meyer’s disastrous one-year stint. They’ll be going from one of the most inept and irresponsible coaches in the league to a coach with a Super Bowl victory to his name in the past five years. That alone will make a massive difference for the culture and discipline of the team.
On the field, Pederson was brought in to help Lawrence. He played quarterback in the NFL and was a quarterbacks coach with the Eagles before getting his first OC gig. In eight years as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Pederson helmed seven top-12 offenses. Pederson became famous in the media for his use of RPO, which he utilized heavily en route to his Super Bowl win with Nick Foles as his quarterback. Wentz was given the help of play-action at one of the highest rates with Pederson as his coach. Plenty of this came on RPOs but Pederson also used Wentz on traditional play-action designs as well. In Wentz’s peak season, he averaged 3.5 more yards per attempt on play-action throws. In that season (2018), the Eagles passed at the seventh-highest rate. Using deception to give Lawrence easier throws while not stalling the offense with a run-heavy script is a good starting point for understanding Jacksonville’s new offense.
Pederson tabbed Bucs linebackers coach Mike Caldwell as his defensive coordinator. The two worked together in Philly when both were position coaches. Pederson previously ran a 4-3 base front with the Eagles but his roots lie on the other side of the ball so the team will reportedly stick with their 3-4 look from 2021. This matches the base that Caldwell used in Tampa Bay. During his time with the Bucs, Caldwell oversaw the development of Pro Bowl linebacker Devin White and also worked with Lavonte David. Tampa Bay was hyper-aggressive in Caldwell’s three years with the team, blitzing at a top-five rate every season. This paid dividends over the past two years as the Bucs earned a top-five pressure rate in 2020 and 2021. Though Caldwell wasn’t calling the plays, Tampa Bay’s success should lead him to bring much of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' philosophy to Jacksonville.
The hard truth is that the Jags are a long way from competing at the highest level. They hold the top overall pick again but the draft pundits are split on whether an offensive or defensive lineman should be the first pick. Jacksonville’s pass rush is a far cry from being elite but it’s still one of their stronger positions. Alabama's stud offensive tackle Evan Neal will be the pick if GM Trent Baalke is looking to match an elite talent with a need. Baalke was an active trader during his time with the 49ers so a trade down should be considered as well. This team is in need of talent across the board and a war chest of future picks would push them in the right direction.
Overall, the offseason has to be focused on putting Lawrence in a position to win. A better coach will help but more talent at receiver and a bolstered offensive line are the keys to Lawrence turning the corner. Improving his weaponry and line will come at the expense of the defense and that's a cost Baalke will have to come to grips with. A solid defense is nice but, without a quarterback to put points on the board, it means little. Some investments can still be made in the defense but a true overhaul may be a year away on the road-map to success.