When it comes to the NFL, where each player is among the very best in the entire world at their position, the margin of talent can be thin from game to game. As Urban Meyer described at his opening press conference as the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach, the NFL is a league that is designed for teams to go .500.
As a result, having top-end talent who can separate themselves from the pack and distinguish themselves is often what can push a team to the top. Look at the top-paid players on each team and you can get an idea for how far or close the team is to competing for a championship because many games are determined by how one team's core players fare in comparison to the other team.
What can we gather from how the Jaguars' current core is conspired and what it means moving forward? We take a look at the 10 largest cap hits for the 2021 season to find answers, using figures from Spotrac.
No. 1: LG Andrew Norwell
Andrew Norwell tops the list for the Jaguars in 2021, which would have been the case even if his two remaining years under contract weren't restructed into a one-year, $12 million deal. The eigth-year veteran signed a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jaguars in 2018 following an All-Pro season in Carolina and is now the player set to carry the biggest cap hit for Urban Meyer's first NFL squad.
According to Pro Football Focus, last year was Norwell's best season as a pass blocker in Jacksonville. He No. 25 among guards in that area in 2019, but went all the way up to No. 8 in 2020. Norwell started 13 games at left guard last season and has started 40-of-48 games since signing with the Jaguars in 2018. He played 11 games in 2018 and 16 in 2019.
There was speculation early in the offseason the Jaguars could look to deal Norwell in a trade, but the team instead restructured his contract and ensured he would enter 2021 as the team's starting left guard for the fourth season in a row.
No. 2: LT Cam Robinson
Like a few other players on this list, Cam Robinson's contract has just the one year remaining on it as a result of the Jaguars placing the franchise tag on the former second-round pick. While the Jaguars spent a second-round selection this year on Stanford's Walker Little (No. 45 overall), Robinson is still the strong favorite to be the Jaguars' Week 1 starter at left tackle.
Robinson, 25, has been a mainstay for the Jaguars at left tackle since the team selected him No. 34 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. He started 18 games during the team's 2017 playoff run and has started 47 games in his career, including each of the last 30 games. If his 2021 season goes as the Jaguars envision, he could be in line for a larger payday down the road.
No. 3: LB Myles Jack
Described by head coach Urban Meyer as an "alpha leader", Myles Jack is one of the heartbeats of the Jaguars' locker room. His ability as a leader and communicator on and off the field is matched by his ability to be a true difference-maker at the linebacker position thanks to his blend of speed, power and ball skills. Jack missed two games in 2020 but he still played like one of the best linebackers in the entire AFC and arguably the league. He recorded a career-high 118 tackles, a career-high six tackles for loss, and a career-high five pass deflections.
Jack signed his four-year, $57,000,000 contract under a previous regime, but both his contract, play on the field and the Jaguars' public actions make it clear he is in Jacksonville for the long haul. His cap hit in 2021 is actually set to be the lowest of the remaining years, with his cap hit rising to $13,150,000 in 2022 and 13,900,000 in 2023, the final year of his contract.
No. 4: LB Joe Schobert
The Jaguars' lone big-money free agent a year ago, Joe Schobert had some ups and downs in his first season as the team's middle linebacker. He ended the year with 141 tackles, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, and four pass deflections. While he made his share of big plays, including a pick-six against the Minnesota Vikings, he also gave up quite a few big plays in his own right as he adjusted to a new defense and a makeshift defensive line in front of him.
Schobert's cap hit is set to continue to climb following 2021, with this being the only year it will be below $10,000,000. It rises to $11,650,000 in 2022, $13,150,000 in 2023, and $13,650,000 in 2024, with his dead cap falling each year as well. As such, the Jaguars could get out of Schobert's contract following 2021 with relative ease. If they don't, then he will continue to be high on this list moving forward.
No. 5: C Brandon Linder
Entering the second-to-last year of his five-year contract signed in 2017, Linder's cap hit has remained around the same since he signed his deal. The stark difference now is that he carries zero dead cap in 2021 or 2021, when his cap hit increases to $10,000,000. In short, this means the Jaguars could release or trade Linder at any point in the next two years and only save money, never losing any on the move.
That shouldn't be expected, however, considering the importance of Linder to the line. While he turns 30 in January, Linder's play has remained at a consistently high level throughout his entire career, developing into one of the NFL's best centers. Linder missed seven games in both 2020 and 2018 with injuries and has played 16 games only once in his career, making his health the major focus of his place on the roster moving forward.
No. 6: QB Trevor Lawrence (projected)
This is a projected figure from Spotrac since the No. 1 overall pick has yet to sign his contract, but it still goes to show the state of the Jaguars' current cap hits that Lawrence is nearly top-5 as a rookie. The first-ever top overall pick in Jaguars' history, Lawrence is set to be the Jaguars' Week 1 starter after a stellar three-year career at Clemson -- even if the Jaguars have yet to say so.
As Lawrence's career progresses, he will likely fall further down this list until he nears the end of his rookie deal. Teams with quarterbacks on rookie contracts often use that window of cost-controlled play to bring in other expensive free agents to fill out the roster and take advantage of the cap space. The Jaguars will likely do the same over the next two to three offseasons. In a best-case scenario, they will do so until Lawrence is set to sign a record-breaking contract extension.
No. 7: RG A.J. Cann
Entering the final year of the three-year, $15,055,000 contract he signed in 2019, A.J. Cann is again slated to be the team's starting right guard. Cann is coming off one of the best seasons of his career as both a pass-blocker and run-blocker, with PFF ranking him as the league's 28th-best guard entering the 2021 season.
Cann has a steady presence on a team that has seen its offense and offensive line reshaped multiple times in the same span. He has started 77 of 80 games at right guard in the last five seasons, giving the Jaguars a consistent veteran to rely on week in and week out. Cann is again set to be the team's starting right guard after the Jaguars made minimal investments to the interior offensive line this offseason.
No. 8: EDGE Josh Allen
On this list as a result of being a top-10 pick in 2019, Josh Allen is one of the Jaguars' most important players in 2021 and beyond. He is the team's best hope for generating a pass-rush, with his 10.5-sack season in 2019 a reminder of the kind of talent he possesses flying off the edge. Allen is entering his third season with the team but his first as an outside linebacker as opposed to an every-down defensive end.
“Josh has a completely dominated his training. He’s attacked it, done everything we asked of him. It’s been really neat to have him, see another guy that’s really brought the strength gains and what he did [in the offseason]," Jaguars defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi said on Wednesday.
"He’s somebody that can play on the edge, operate out of two-point, a three-point. We’re going to ask him to rush the passer, set edges, drop in coverage and up to this point, he’s done a nice job attacking all three of those phases.”
No. 9: CB Shaquill Griffin
The biggest free agent the Jaguars signed this offseason, Shaquill Griffin is stepping into a No. 1 cornerback role in Jacksonville and will immediately be asked to be the alpha of the team's cornerback room. While it remains to be seen what combination of cornerbacks the Jaguars start across from him, it is clear that Griffin is going to be the cornerback the Jaguars lean upon the most when it comes to stopping opposing top threats in 2021.
Griffin will shoot up to the top of this list next year as his cap hit increases to $16,500,000 in the second year of his deal. In the third and final year of his deal, that number will rise to $17,500,000. Griffin is in a position to be one of the faces of the Jaguars' new regime, at least for the early phases of it.
No. 10: WR Marvin Jones
The oldest player on the Jaguars' roster until they signed Tim Tebow earlier this summer, Marvin Jones is expected to step into Jacksonville's offense and make an impact right away. His track record of leadership and consistent production makes him one of the team's top veterans, making it little surprise that he cracks the top-10, even if it is in the final slot.
Jones is a lock to be a starter for the Jaguars in 2020, rejoining offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after spending two seasons with him in Detroit. In 29 games in Bevell's offense, Jones caught 138 receptions for 1,757 yards (12.7 yards per catch) and 18 touchdowns, giving the Jaguars a veteran presence who has proven he can produce in the scheme.
Jones' contract is interesting, with his cap hit nearly doubling in 2022. The 31-year-old receiver signed a two-year, $12,500,000 contract in March, which will see his cap hit ($8,212,500) cost more than his dead cap figure ($5,212,500), giving the Jaguars $3,000,000 in cap savings if he is released next offseason.
In short, the Jaguars' highest-paid players compose of this year's No. 1 overall pick, two new additions by the front office, a former top pick, the two starting linebackers, and 80% of the team's starting offensive line.
With the Jaguars investing so much in the line and Jack/Schobert, those two position groups should be expected to be strengths of the roster. If they are instead liabilities or non-factors, then the Jaguars will be working with negative value and will likely struggle on the field as well.
The Jaguars will see more and more of the new additions take the top spots moving forward. Three players on this list are in the final year of their contracts and the Jaguars didn't spend heavily enough in free agency or front-load their deals to have any of the new additions take a spot in the top-10.