Well, that was interesting.
As the Jacksonville Jaguars' cornerback depth has continued to look shakier and shakier, the team made a bold blockbuster trade on Monday morning. With an 0-3 record starting at them in the face, the Jaguars dealt former No. 9 overall pick and starting cornerback CJ Henderson and a fifth-round pick to the Carolina Panthers for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round pick.
What does the Henderson trade move for the Jaguars' defense moving forward? What does it say about the team's front office and its management of the front office? We break it all down below.
This is a horrible look for the Jaguars' front office considering the mismanagement of the cornerback position
Was CJ Henderson consistent with the Jaguars? No, not really. Did he have many good games aside from his stellar debut in Week 1 last year? No, not really. But trading Henderson is a strange football move for a team that is already short on cornerbacks. The Jaguars emphasized depth at the cornerback all offseason, which was signaled by the moves to re-sign Sidney Jones and drafting Tyson Campbell at No. 33 overall (the first pick of the second-round). But in the last month-and-a-half, the Jaguars have now traded two of their six cornerbacks from training camp. The Jaguars have dealt both Jones and Henderson before the fourth game of the season, leaving the Jaguars with Shaquill Griffin, Campbell, Chris Claybrooks, Tre Herndon, and Nevin Lawson as the team's cornerback room.
Compare the current group to the Jaguars' cornerback room from the preseason, and it is a clear significant downgrade. And the trade of Jones now looks even more curious considering the Jaguars' willingness to trade Henderson so early into the season. Why did the Jaguars trade Jones if they weren't convinced about Henderson's long-term fit? Why didn't the Jaguars draft a true nickel cornerback at some point in the draft to allow Campbell to develop on the outside before Week 3? The Jaguars have mismanaged the cornerback room in a major way over the last two months, which is the biggest takeaway from this trade. The Jaguars got decent value for Henderson considering his durability issues and the lack of reliability he has shown over the last two seasons, but the front office has otherwise done little to signal that they know what they are doing at the cornerback position.
Tyson Campbell will now take a permanent spot on the outside
The Jaguars will wear some egg on their face for some time for the Henderson trade, which is the result of getting just a journeyman tight end and a third-round pick in return for a No. 9 overall pick from just a season ago. But while the Jaguars will catch national flack for their lack of ability to get more for Henderson, there is one silver lining for the Jaguars when it comes to accepting defeat on the Henderson front. That silver lining is Tyson Campbell, who will now be allowed to play his natural position on a full-time basis.
Campbell was selected by the Jaguars initially to provide immediate depth at the top of the depth chart as well as slide into the starting nickel role. But for as talented as Campbell is, the rookie cornerback was simply never a fit in the slot. This was true when he was at Georgia, this was true during the draft, during training camp, during the preseason, and especially true during the first two weeks of the 2021 season. The Jaguars had to play Campbell on the inside because they were committed to seeing if this staff was the one that could get the most out of Henderson, but it led to Campbell playing far out of position.
Now, though, Campbell can be moved to the outside on a full-time basis. He will no longer be asked to play against smaller, quicker receivers who he will have little chance to match in space. Instead, he can do what he does best, which is stack up bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage and use his length and strength to challenge them throughout the route. Campbell isn't a space player, and the Jaguars did a disservice to him by asking him to be one. Now, due to Henderson's trade, Campbell can go back to doing what he does best. It is little surprise he had his best game in Week 3 when he was lined up exclusively on the outside, after all.
Cornerback has just leaped to arguably the Jaguars' biggest need
There are few positions that depth is as important at as cornerback. Not only do injuries frequently happen at cornerback, but more and more corners are being asked to play major roles due to the high frequency of passing and spread formations at the NFL level. In short, any good defense needs at least three cornerbacks who are starting quality or close to it. Right now, the Jaguars have one (Griffin), and are hoping to develop a second in Campbell. Considering the duo was supposed to combine with Henderson to form a strong trio of cornerbacks, the Jaguars now have a lot of work to do moving forward at cornerback. With the importance of the position and the Jaguars' lack of depth at cornerback, it can now be argued that cornerback is the Jaguars' greatest need entering the 2022 offseason.
As of right now, the Jaguars' backup cornerbacks are Claybrooks, Herndon, and Lawson. Claybrooks has struggled in a big way when asked to play full-time snaps this year, often being picked on by opposing offenses and quarterbacks. Herndon is a solid depth player, but it is unlikely that he would be more than a No. 4 cornerback on most good defenses. As for Lawson, he was released by a Raiders' defense that needs cornerbacks just as badly as Jacksonville, and he has zero career interceptions to his name. The Jaguars' cornerback depth is beyond concerning at this point. Even if Campbell does develop into a reliable starter, the Jaguars still need to find at least one more starting cornerback this offseason, as well as improved depth.