The Jacksonville Jaguars joined five other teams this week when they elected to not enter into long-term negotiations with their franchise-tagged starters, instead electing to let left tackle Cam Robinson play out 2021 on his $13.75 million franchise tag.
The decision to let Robinson play on his tag has been a long time coming, but it is still one of the most important decisions the Jaguars have made to this point in the offseason. The Jaguars have more clarity at a position where protecting Trevor Lawrence is the top responsibility, at least compared to when the offseason began.
But what does the move to tag Robinson really mean? We break it down with our thoughts below.
The Jaguars unsurprisingly followed the trend in terms of franchise tags in 2021
Other than Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Taylor Moton cashing in on a four-year, $72 million deal, the franchise tag deadline didn't rush any of the other teams around the league into making last-minute deals. A few players like Dak Prescott, Leonard Williams and Justin Simmons were able to sign long-term deals long before the deadline after they were tagged in March, but Robinson and the Jaguars unsurprisingly joined the league's five other teams with franchise tags. From Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams to Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson, there was just zero movements on long-term deals, likely in part because teams are more willing to take on large caps hit in 2021 instead of moving guaranteed money down the line for several years, even with the cap increase set to take place next offseason.
In the end, this was the expected outcome for the Jaguars. Unlike last year in which there seemed like there was a genuine countdown to the deadline for the Jaguars to sign Yannick Ngakoue (who was tagged and then traded), there was never much expectation for the Jaguars and Robinson to strike a long-term deal. From the day Robinson was franchise-tagged in March, the impression was always that it would be a prove-it year for Robinson, from the timing of the deal, to the team's moves the rest of the offseason, to Urban Meyer's own comments in March, this move just seemed telegraphed.
Cam Robinson remains locked in to enter as the starter for 2021, but that is it
The fact the Jaguars elected to pay Robinson a large sum in 2021 instead of spreading out guaranteed money over a few more seasons suggests two things: That they want to see him prove he is a long-term starter and that they are going to give him every chance to do so. The Jaguars could have easily elected to rescind the franchise tag once they got past the NFL Draft and secured a left tackle, or they could have just as easily entered into negotiations with Robinson under a longer deal.
Instead, the Jaguars did neither. As a result of the inaction following the franchise tag, Robinson is guaranteed to enter the season as the team's starting left tackle. For all the genuineness behind the talk of competition, there just doesn't seem to be a reality where the Jaguars pay Robinson $13.75 million to be a backup to a rookie tackle in Week 1. The franchise tag didn't give Robinson any security beyond 2021, or even any security on the starting role toward the end of the season, but it did give him the security of knowing he will at least get a chance to establish himself as a top-shelf left tackle in 2021.
Jacksonville's drafting of Walker Little gave them ideal flexibility with the decision on Robinson
A big reason the Jaguars were able to be patient with Robinson and not have to make any decisions on him following the actual act of placing the franchise tag is because of Walker Little. The Jaguars clearly didn't enter the 2021 NFL Draft with left tackle at the very top of their priority list since they drafted running back Travis Etienne (No. 25 overall) and cornerback Tyson Campbell (No. 33 overall) following the selection of Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. But the Jaguars saw the value of Little at No. 45 after the former five-star recruit and projected first-round pick nearly slipped out of the top-50. Not just the value in taking a talent like Little at that draft slot, but the value of having a rookie left tackle to help give the Jaguars flexibility with Robinson.
"Great story there. He hasn’t played in a long time. He was the number one tackle coming out of high school, I remember him. He was very good before he got hurt early in the season, not this past year but before. And then the Pac-12 canceled the season, and that’s when he started training somewhere else," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said after selecting Little in April.
"We were kind of hoping he’d go play in the Senior Bowl so we could go and watch him, but we did a lot of intel. I know Coach [David] Shaw fairly well, and you watch his athleticism and bendability for a big man. The tackle position was very thin this year, and we needed a backup left tackle. He’s again trying to develop to at one point to become a starter. We’ve kind of focused on him pretty early in the whole scenario.”
Meyer is more or less an open book when it comes to player evaluations, or at least he has been since being hired in Jacksonville, so the Jaguars' plan for Little is clear. Little is a player who can safely develop behind Robinson in 2021. If Robinson doesn't take that next step, Little has the talent but also the time to develop to properly take over his spot. If Robinson does develop, then the Jaguars likely have two starting-caliber left tackles and one on a rookie contract, which means they could easily move Little to the right side. Without Little, the Jaguars would have no guaranteed backup plan for Robinson and his development. Now they do.