The Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL are now sitting at the foot of a new offseason. Another cycle of player movement, stars and rosters being reshuffled, big contracts being signed, and high draft picks is upon us.
Maybe no team is poised to have a more important offseason for their short- and long-term future than the Jaguars entering 2021. The team has a new head coach in Urban Meyer, a new general manager in Trent Baalke, and eventually a new quarterback to lead the franchise.
But the Jaguars are fresh off a 1-15 season and have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to get back to being a competitive team. A 12-36 record over the last three seasons summarizes just how much the Jaguars' roster has deteriorated in recent years.
But which of the team's many needs are the most pressing? Which positions deserve the most attention and thought as the Jaguars navigate the offseason? We will go through what we see as the team's eight largest needs in a series of articles that examines two needs at a time. In this edition, we take a look at Jacksonville's top two needs.
No. 1: Quarterback
This much is obvious and doesn't require much explanation. It might not require any explanation at all after what transpired with Jacksonville's quarterback room in 2020, but let us try anyway.
The Jaguars had high expectations for Gardner Minshew in his second season, but a thumb injury near the quarter pole of the season derailed his tenure as starting quarterback and began a cycle of him, Jake Luton, and Mike Glennon all taking turns at the quarterback position.
Jacksonville's season ended with a 1-15 record and the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in large part due to the issues at quarterback. According to Pro Football Reference, the Jaguars' passing offense had the fourth-lowest percentage of on-target passes. They also ranked No. 26 in EPA per dropback, according to rbsdm.com. There is no metric out there in which Jacksonville's passing game impressed, so the need for a new quarterback is paramount.
The Jaguars haven't had a franchise quarterback of any kind in the entirety of the franchise, with Mark Brunell being the closest to one. A truly top-tier quarterback would unlock Jacksonville's offense in ways the team simply hasn't yet experienced. It would create a domino effect in terms of improvement, with all phases of the offense seeing a boost. Considering the Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick, this is the rare time where a team can truly fill its massive quarterback need with relative ease.
"But what’s evaded the history of the Jags, really, has been a franchise quarterback," Jaguars owner Shad Khan said on January 4 after firing former head coach Doug Marrone.
"And I think what’s unique, certainly, is that we have the ability now to make a choice and it’s going to define the franchise moving forward.”
The most obvious solution is for the Jaguars to use the No. 1 pick on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence has been hailed by many as one of the best quarterback prospects of the last two decades; a quarterback who is the same caliber of player as Andrew Luck.
Jacksonville has a need at backup quarterback as well, but the need for a starting passer clearly takes precedence. In short, the Jaguars don't have their future quarterback currently on the roster in any real form. The Jaguars will, of course, have other options at quarterback such as Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, but Lawrence should e considered essentially a lock to be the team's opening day starter in 2021.
No. 2: Left tackle
As things stand today, Will Richardson is the best left tackle on Jacksonville's active roster. Perhaps the Jaguars extend or place a franchise/transition tag on Cam Robinson to retain his services, but that would just be filling the need that has been created by his rookie deal already expiring. The Jaguars need a reliable left tackle considering the massive investment they are about to place into the quarterback position in April. They can just look at what transpired with Joe Burrow and the Bengals this fall and realize how crucial it is to protect their star quarterback moving forward.
The Jaguars have some familiar options to fill the left tackle need. Robinson and Richardson are the two internal candidates. Robinson has started 50 games for the Jaguars (including postseason) at left tackle since being drafted in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, including 30 of the last 32 games. Richardson is a former mid-round pick who started two games at left tackle in 2019.
Whether the Jaguars should retain Robinson or look for a new left tackle for the first time since the 2021 offseason is one of the most important questions facing Meyer and Baalke. Lawrence will need a blindside protector of the best possible quality, so the Jaguars quickly need to determine who the answer is when it comes to the position.
Jacksonville could find an external veteran to fill the role too. The top tackles set to hit free agency aside from Robinson are Trent Williams, Russell Okung, Alejandro Villanueva, and Jason Peters. Williams is clearly the best option, but he will likely command a contract that is near the highest in terms of annual salary for offensive tackles. Robinson would be a cheaper option, though not as cheap as the draft.
The Jaguars could fill the position with the No. 25 overall pick or one of their two second-round selections. A number of offensive tackles who have frequently been mocked in that range are Samuel Cosmi, Alex Leatherwood, Teven Jenkins, Jalen Mayfield, and Liam Eichenberg.
The issue here would be having to rely on a rookie left tackle as opposed to a veteran like Robinson or Williams. This certainly isn't always a bad thing considering rookie offensive tackles like Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills impressed at left tackle in 2020, but it is a point worth examining.