With a Defensive Focus in Free Agency, Could the Jaguars Shift April’s Attention to Offense?
The Jacksonville Jaguars had a number of glaring roster holes entering this year's free agency period. From defensive line, to linebacker, to tight end, to the secondary, the Jaguars desperately needed not only starting-caliber players but NFL-quality depth.
The Jaguars filled a number of their needs on the surface via seven free agency signings in the past week or so. While not every signing will be an impact player or is even a lock to make the roster in 2020, the Jaguars have bought themselves insurance in terms of depth at a number of key spots.
Update: The Jaguars no longer have an agreement with cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Through the first week of free agency, the Jaguars have signed the following players:
- ILB Joe Schobert: Set to start at middle linebacker in 2020.
- DL Rodney Gunter: Most likely replacement for Calais Campbell at the 'big end' spot, but can also play inside.
- DT Al Woods: Nose tackle depth who can start if needed.
- DL/OLB Cassius Marsh: Depth at defensive end and strongside linebacker, most likely a special teams player.
- CB Rashaan Melvin: Veteran depth at cornerback, though not a lock to make the roster due to the numbers game.
- TE Tyler Eifert: The favorite to start at tight end in 2020, or at least share a big role witH Josh Oliver.
As you can see, the majority of the Jaguars' moves have been about shoring up the front seven and the secondary. Six defensive players have been signed, and while not all are guaranteed to be starters or even get regular snaps with the defense, it is a big boost in terms of depth.
But the Jaguars' defense isn't the only unit that needed a massive overhaul this offseason. The offense will undergo a schematic change with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and will almost assuredly lean on Gardner Minshew II in his sophomore season, so the already shaky offensive depth chart needs a major facelift to ensure success.
Last year, the Jaguars' offense scored only 18.8 points per game, ranking 26th in the NFL. The offense struggled at all areas of the field despite a few games of production, and the red-zone specifically was a major issue considering the team scored touchdowns on only 40.43% of their red-zone possessions, the second-worst mark of any team.
So while the offense needs just as much attention as the defense, it hasn't exactly gotten the same treatment in free agency. Most of the Jaguars' moves have been depth signings, and the Eifert addition is likely one of the few signings that will result in a starting role.
But ultimately, the lack of additions to the offense creates an interesting scenario in which the Jaguars could shift the majority of their focus in this year's NFL Draft to the offensive side of the ball.
The Jaguars have been frequently mocked two defenders in the first round and, in some cases, defenders with each of their first four picks. But after their moves in free agency, does this seem likely?
With the Jaguars needing to surround Minshew with as much talent as possible, it would make sense to see the Jaguars attempt to add a blue-chip defensive talent in the first round and then devote a majority of their other premium picks to rebuild the offense.
We have seen general manager Dave Caldwell focus mostly on one side of the ball in past drafts, so it wouldn't be out of his character to shift the priority to offense versus the defense. In 2014, Caldwell drafted six offensive players and only three defensive players. In 2016, Caldwell oversaw a draft in which the Jaguars drafted six defensive players and only one offensive player.
With 12 draft picks in 2020, which is the most of any Jaguars' draft in Caldwell's tenure, the Jaguars could opt to be balanced and attack the offense and defense with similar vigor. But after adding six veterans to the defense in free agency and filling depth roles that rookies otherwise would have had to fill, the Jaguars could have the flexibility to focus on adding players at wide receiver, offensive line, tight end, and running back instead of pouring multiple resources into the secondary or defensive line.
The Jaguars' defense still needs a lot of help, but Caldwell and the Jaguars' front office did a good job of filling needs with low-cost options who can, at worst, be solid depth. The same work wasn't done on the offense, but this could be because Caldwell and the Jaguars want to invest in a strong wide receiver and offensive line class.
April is still a few weeks away, but Caldwell and the Jaguars have plenty of room to mold the Jaguars' roster in the preferred image due to the high volume of picks. The question now is whether most of those picks will result in new players for a formerly stagnant offense.