JACKSONVILLE – The workload could be heavy for a change.
We’re talking about the Jaguars’ defense, and that conversation promises to be different in the 2020 offseason than it has been in quite a while because a unit that had been a team strength changed dramatically in 2019.
Now, multiple areas must be addressed in the coming months.
Nearly every level of the defense – line, linebacker and secondary – enters the offseason with at least one position needing upgrading, and salary-cap figures could force the team to make painful decisions regarding players such as defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.
Also key: how the Jaguars handle the contract of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March at the start of the 2020 League Year. The Jaguars have the franchise tag available, which limits Ngakoue’s leverage, but this was a messy situation last offseason that doesn’t figure to be easier in the coming months.
We’ll look at those positions and more in this position-by-position look at the defense as the Jaguars move into the 2020 offseason:
Defensive end (7)
2019 starters:Calais Campbell (16), Yannick Ngakoue (15), Josh Allen (4).
Others on roster:Dawuane Smoot, Lerentee McCray, Chuck Harris, Dewayne Hendrix.
Pending free agents:Ngakoue.
Season in review:This remained a strength in 2019, with the end position featuring one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing trios in Campbell, Ngakoue and Allen. Allen led the team with 10.5 sacks as a rookie, with Ngakoue registering eight and Campbell finishing with 6.5. Campbell was selected to the Pro Bowl for a third time in as many seasons since joining the Jaguars, and Ngakoue reemerged as one of the best strip-sack specialists in the NFL.
Possible first-round defensive ends:Chase Young, Ohio State; Yatur Gross-Matos, Penn State; A.J. Epenesa, Iowa; Julian Okwara, Notre Dame; Anfernee Jennings, Alabama; Terrell Lewis, Alabama; Jon Greenard, Florida.
Chances of Jaguars selecting defensive end in first round:So-so.
Too-early look at the offseason:This figures to be a major offseason focus, with the team needing to determine the franchise futures of both Ngakoue and Campbell. Ngakoue and the Jaguars couldn’t reach a long-term contract extension last offseason, leading to Ngakoue holding out early in training camp. General Manager David Caldwell shortly after the 2019 regular season called a long-term deal with Ngakoue the team’s No. 1 offseason priority, but reaching a figure that makes sense to both sides figures to remain tricky. Campbell has a year remaining on his contract, and the team must decide whether to bring him back at his $17.5 million cap figure, release him or try to reach an agreement under which Campbell can return at a lower salary/cap figure.
Defensive tackles (7)
2019 starters:Taven Bryan (8), Marcell Dareus (6), Abry Jones (15)
Others on roster:Carl Davis, Dontavius Russell, Akeem Spence, Brian Price.
Pending free agents:Spence, Davis.
Season in review:This was difficult season for this position, which struggled much of the season – particularly against the run and particularly after the midseason loss of Dareus to a core-muscle injury. That forced Bryan into the starting lineup and caused he and Jones both to play more snaps than planned.
Possible first-round defensive tackles:Derrick Brown, Auburn; Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina; Raekwon Davis, Alabama.
Chances of Jaguars selecting defensive tackle in first round:High.
Too-early look at the offseason:This will be a major area of offseason focus, with perhaps the team’s top priority moving forward improving a struggling run defense that in a sense defined the 2019 season. Dareus’ $22.5 million cap figure likely will force the team to either release him or dramatically restructure his contract – and the latter seems unlikely for a player still playing at a high level. Considering Dareus’ effectiveness against the run, he may represent the biggest offseason loss if he doesn’t return. Bryan likely will start next season, but the team figures to address this area heavily in the offseason – perhaps with one of their two first-round selections in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2019 starters:Myles Jack (11), Donald Payne (5), Quincy Williams (8), Leon Jacobs (7), Austin Calitro (4), Najee Goode (4)
Others on roster:Jake Ryan, D.J. Alexander, Dakota Allen, Preston Brown, Joe Dineen, Joe Giles-Harris, James Onwualu.
Pending free agents:Brown, Alexander, Goode, Payne (restricted), Onwalu (restricted), Calitro (exclusive rights).
Season in review:This is another position that struggled much of the 2019 season – in part because of inexperience and in large part because injuries. Jack spent the past five games on injured reserve, and Williams entered his rookie season as the starter after the offseason retirement of longtime starting weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith. Williams then struggled early and was replaced in the lineup by Goode. Payne played solidly in place of Jack in the final five games, and Jacobs in his second season showed flashes of being a solid starter in the coming seasons.
Possible first-round linebackers:Isaiah Simmons, Clemson; Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma; Dylan Moses, Alabama.
Chances of Jaguars selecting linebacker in first round:Mid-to-high.
Too-early look at the offseason:This position must be addressed, and the first question must be where to play Jack. He played better in the middle than many observers believe, but he still seems better-suited to playing outside – perhaps on the weak side. If the Jaguars move Jack, that likely will mean having to acquire a starting middle linebacker through free agency or the draft. One possibility to watch is the Jaguars playing Ngakoue at strong-side linebacker in base situations and moving him to rush end in passing situations. If the Jaguars keep their current 4-3 scheme, that’s an option.
2019 starters:A.J. Bouye (14), Jalen Ramsey (2), Tre Herndon (14), D.J. Hayden (8), Parry Nickerson (1), Breon Borders (1)
Others on roster:Brandon Watson.
Pending free agents:None.
Season in review:This area underwent a major shakeup early in the season, when Ramsey – a two-time Pro Bowl selection – demanded a trade and eventually was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for two first-round selections. Herndon moved into Ramsey’s place in the lineup, finishing the season with a team-leading three interceptions and 13 passes defensed. Bouye had an interception with eight passes defensed, and Hayden had perhaps the best season of any Jaguars defensive back with two sacks, 40 tackles, six passes defensed, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.
Possible first-round cornerbacks:Jeff Okudha, Ohio State; Trevon Diggs, Alabama; Paulson Adebo, Stanford; C.J. Henderson, Florida.
Chances of Jaguars selecting cornerback in first round:High
Too-early look at the offseason:This figures to be a major area of focus, with many mocking the position to the Jaguars with one of two first-round selections. The team also must address the future of Bouye, whose $15.4 million cap figure could make him a candidate for restructure or release. How the Jaguars address this position will be one of the team’s primary storylines in the coming weeks.
2019 starters:Jarrod Wilson (16), Ronnie Harrison (14), Andrew Wingard (2).