The Jacksonville Jaguars have gotten off to a busy start in free agency this week, though not the start anyone expected.
While most pressumed the Jaguars, who entered the week with the most cap space in the NFL, would add several impact players. Instead, the Jaguars have focused almost solely on improving the team's depth and special teams.
One of the few players who doesn't have the apperance of a backup or depth player, however, is the first one the Jaguars agreed to terms with: Chicago Bears defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris.
The Jaguars reportedly agreed to a three-year, $24.4 million deal with Harris with $14 million in guarantees, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Robertson-Harris, 27, recorded 7.5 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, nine tackles for loss, and six pass deflections as a versatile defensive lineman in the Bears' 3-4 defense over the last four seasons. But what does Robertson-Harris bring to the table, and what grade does the addition get in our eyes? We weigh in here.
How does he fit?
Robertson-Harris' most obvious fit as as a starting defensive end for the team's new expected 3-4 scheme. The Jaguars had mostly 4-3 defensive tackles on the roster and badly needed an athletic interior lineman with the length to win against both guards and tackles.
The need for the Jaguars to add some athleticism and juice to their defensive line was clear for all to see, especially after last season when the Jaguars' defensive tackles were a non-factor in terms of impact plays.
Jacksonville's six primary defensive tackles last season — Doug Costin, Taven Bryan, Abry Jones, DaVon Hamilton, Daniel Ekuale, and Caraun Reid — combined for just 2.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hits. No defensive tackle had more than one sack, and only three of the six defensive tackles recorded at least half a sack.
Robertson-Harris isn't built in the mold of a stalwart who you can put in the middle of the defense and expect for run holes to be clogged up, but he gives the Jaguars a versatile chess piece for Joe Cullen's exotic and aggressive scheme.
As it stands today, Robertson-Harris projects as one of Jacksonville's top options to rush from the interior on passing downs. He flashed the ability to win from wide alignments on the edge but his rare blend of length, power, size, and athleticism make him a bigger mismatch for offensive guards than tackles.
In terms of scheme fit and filling a need, Robertson-Harris checks the boxes for the Jaguars, even if he wasn't a popular name heading into free agency. If he can get back to his 2018-2019 form, where he combined for 55 pressures, 21 quarterback hits, and 5.5 sacks as a rotational player, than the Jaguars filled one important spot in their defense.
The only true question about how he fits in is the fact that he has never been consistently leaned upon as an every-down player. He only started 13 games in his career with the Bears and played more than 34% of the Bears' defensive snaps in only one season (2019). Labeling him a starter, which his money indicates is what he will be, is a bit of a projection due to this important factor.
Impact on depth chart
Robertson-Harris was paid more than the Jaguars gave Rodney Gunter to be a projected starter last season, so there should be little doubt about his place on the depth chart. He wasn't a weekly starter with the Bears, but chances are he will be at the top of the Jaguars' depth chart in terms of interior defensive linemen who aren't nose tackles.
The player that will most likely lose reps because of Robertson-Harris is coincidentally one the Jaguars just re-signed: Dawuane Smoot. Smoot translates much better as an interior player in the new scheme than as an edge defender, but Robertson-Harris was paid more by the Jaguars, already signalling how the team sees them in the pecking order.
Robertson-Harris should be expected to be a day one starter at defensive end and a consistent contributor on third-downs as an interior rusher. His addition is a sign, however, that the new regime is content with moving on from former first-round bust Taven Bryan. With Robertson-Harris in the fold, the Jaguars now have their athletic defensive lineman to push the pocket and attempting to get some kind of production out of Bryan is now a moot point.
Overall, look for Robertson-Harris to play a big role early on in his Jaguars tenure. The Jaguars needed a penetrating defensive lineman more than almost any position outside of quarterback, and that is exactly what they agreed to pay Robertson-Harris to do.
Overall grade: C.
Robertson-Harris was one of the better pure interior pass-rushers on the market since it was an extremely weak position group this year. Because of that, this grade gets a slightly higher bump. Once Leonard Williams was franchise tagged, Robertson-Harris became a logical fallback option that is hard to fault the Jaguars for making.
The issues here, however, are two-fold and keep the grade from being any higher. The fact that the Jaguars paid Robertson-Harris after he came off a season where he made only 10 tackles and played in just eight games due to a season-ending shoulder injury is a tough pill to swallow when you take in the fact that he is one of their bigger additions.
Ideally when you sign a role player to a starter contract, you do so after they have proven they can produce with more snaps. Robertson-Harris' production increased as he saw the field more in Chicago, but 2020 was a lost season for a player the Jaguars will need to make an impact right away.
There is also the fact that the Jaguars are now going to be leaning on a player who was mostly a rotational defender for the Bears. The Bears saw him as a valuable piece and utilized his talents, but there have to be reasons why they didn't make him a bigger part of the defense.
Ultimately this is a solid signing in terms of scheme fit and needs, but there are some red flags to monitor.