Not many teams need a complete overhaul of the roster entering 2021 quite like the Jacksonville Jaguars. Luckily for them, no team is more equipped to do just that.
The NFL got a major update on Sunday afternoon when ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on a topic that has been a long-awaited detail: the 2021 salary cap. Schefter reported that the salary cap is expected to be between $180-$181 million, an increase from what some projected it would be following a 2020 season that was greatly impacted by COVID-19.
Thanks to a 2020 offseason that focused on clearing Jacksonville's roster of most of its expensive contracts -- save for Andrew Norwell, Brandon Linder, and Myles Jack -- the Jaguars were always going to enter 2021 with a healthy amount of cap space. Now we may know just what the exact cap situation looks like for the new-look Jaguars.
If the cap is set at $180.5 million, then the Jaguars would lead the NFL in available cap space with $77,514,963, according to Over The Cap. This is over $8 million more than the team with the second-most projected cap space, which is coincidentally the Jaguars' AFC South rival in the Indianapolis Colts ($69,197,114 in projected cap space).
The other teams rounding out the top five, according to Over The Cap, are the New York Jets ($67,975,814), New England Patriots ($63,004,415), and the Washington Football Team ($39,625,824). These should be the primary teams expected to compete with the Jaguars for the top-tier free agents.
Just how much better off are the Jaguars than the teams on the opposite end of the spectrum? According to Over The Cap, there are 13 teams that are currently projected to be in the red for the 2021 salary cap. Several of these teams have relatively easy fixes, but five teams are at least $28 million over the projected salary cap ceiling.
This means while several teams are set to have to make subtractions to their roster in order to get under the cap, the Jaguars will have to the exact opposite. It has been assumed since last offseason that 2021 would see several highly-paid veterans released from their contracts for this very reason, and the Jaguars could be one of the few teams to benefit from such a situation.
A year ago, the Jaguars spent minimally in free agency. Joe Schobert signed a five-year, $53.75 million contract while Tyler Eifert, Al Woods, and Rodney Gunter were brought in on short-term deals without much financial commitment. This, again, was the result of the Jaguars having to eat record levels of dead cap due to the trades of players like Calais Campbell, Nick Foles, and A.J. Bouye.
Now, the Jaguars find themselves in the opposite position. The Jaguars should be expected to be major spenders in free agency considering both their projected cap room and the number of holes on the roster. As of today, the Jaguars don't have many players on the roster who are immediately deserving of long-term deals either, so their solid footing in terms of cap space should hold for some time.
As things stand today, the five highest-paid players on the Jaguars' roster for 2021 are Norwell ($15 million cap hit), Jack ($12.15 million cap hit), Schobert ($9.9 million cap hit), Linder ($8.562 million cap hit), and Eifert (6.375 million cap hit). With that said, Eifert's cap hit is due to a team option for 2021. If the Jaguars do not exercise that option, then A.J. Cann would be the next highest-paid player with a cap number of $6,292,709.
In short, the Jaguars have just two players who are currently projected to have cap hits of over $10 million. By comparison, this year's Super Bowl champion, Tampa Bay, has six players projected to have cap hits of over $10 million in 2021. This doesn't even factor in Chris Godwin's potential extension or franchise tag, either.
What does this mean? Simply, the Jaguars need to have high-caliber players who are deserving of top-tier contracts if they wish to rebound from a 1-15 season. Head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke are going to have to make tough decisions for how to spend that money, but the money will have to be spent one way or another. The roster needs an influx of talented veterans, and this is how the Jaguars can do that.
As of today, Over The Cap has the Jaguars projected to spend $58,649,392 on its offense and $64,990,713 on its defense in 2021. This figure is pre-free agency and will change, but it is interesting to see that the Jaguars are currently spending more on the defensive side of the ball, a trend that could be reasonably expected to continue in 2021.
The Jaguars could use some of their cap space to keep potential free agents from their own roster. Players like Keelan Cole, Cam Robinson, Dawuane Smoot, and Sidney Jones are all set to be unrestricted free agents in March.
Robinson can be assumed to be the most likely of these players to return considering the lack of depth at left tackle behind him, but a franchise or transition tag could be in the cards. As of now, it appears a franchise tag for Robinson would cost near $13 million, a price the Jaguars could afford easily in 2021.
All in all, the Jaguars have a healthy cap situation moving forward. According to Over The Cap, they have just $3,083,098 in dead money presently. They don't have many players with large dead cap hits who can be expected to be released.
The Jaguars have a lot of work to do to fix their roster moving forward. Free agency will undoubtedly play a major role in how the Jaguars go about filling the gaps in the roster. But unlike last season, the Jaguars can be aggressive thanks to a financial position that is currently the best in the NFL.