The Jacksonville Jaguars are gearing up for what promises to be one of their most influential offseasons in franchise history. With the No. 1 overall pick and ample draft capital—to build on a club record 12 picks from the 2020 NFL Draft—the Jags have a chance to change the face of the franchise for the future, starting this spring.
Despite the first and second-year players that will inevitably shape the roster in the coming months, there are still valuable options for the Jaguars already on the roster. With free agency set to open in just over two months (March 17) the Jags must begin to build their 2021 roster now with options from those currently in the locker room set to become FA’s this spring.
One of the most important contract decisions the Jaguars will have to make in the coming weeks and months is on left tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson has been a mainstay at left tackle for three of the last four seasons following the Jaguars selecting him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Save for an ACL injury in 2018 that limited him to two games, Robinson has started all but three of the team's games at left tackle since he was drafted, including the postseason. Only 25-years-old until October, Robinson is a young left tackle who the Jaguars were once high enough on to spend a top-35 pick on.
But should the Jaguars keep Robinson under contract for next season and potentially beyond, or should they let him walk in free agency? Here is the case for and against re-signing him.
The biggest argument for keeping Robinson, either with a multi-year contract or a tag, is simple. Do the Jaguars want to potentially have to entrust a rookie left tackle, who won't even be a top-10 pick, with protecting Trevor Lawrence? We have seen other teams trust rookie blindside protectors, such as the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns last season, but neither of those players was protecting a rookie quarterback who was the No. 1 overall pick.
It may seem like a bit of a reach to proclaim a player should be extended just because of the drafting of another position, but Lawrence is going to be Jacksonville's most important asset. They have the cap space now to protect him as much as possible, so it is more sensible to spend money on the offensive line and secure it with veterans than it is to ask for young blockers to develop with their rookie quarterback.
To Robinson's credit, it isn't only the Lawrence factor that should push the Jaguars toward re-signing him. According to Sports Info Solutions, Robinson's overall blown block % and blown pass block % in 2020 was the lowest of his career, not counting the two games he played in 2018.
Robinson's overall play never reached the consistency level the Jaguars were likely hoping for when they picked him, but he did show considerable improvement from 2019 to 2020 as he got healthier. With his youth, there is an argument to make that he hasn't reached his peak to this point.
"I think what we’ve seen from Cam this year, we’ve seen flashes of what we expect of him, where he’s done a very good job," former Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said on December 11.
"And there’s been a lot of flashes in almost every game, but the consistency is what you’re trying to drive for, and he’s working at that every single day to get that better. He’s got a couple things that he’s working on. If he can clean a couple things up, I think the consistency will rise.”
Whether Robinson can find that consistency under his next contract is the question, but the Jaguars are at least well aware of what his floor looks like and just how probable it is that he takes that next crucial step.
While there are a fair number of reasons for the Jaguars to keep Robinson on the team next season, there are certainly arguments to be made for the detractors as well.
The primary argument would be that Robinson has never developed into more than an average left tackle to this point. Paying him his market value wouldn't come cheap, so the Jaguars would be banking on a development that they haven't yet seen. Robinson has loads of talent, but the Jaguars need to be positive that he can put it all together if they invest a new contract into him.
There is also the factor that the Jaguars will have other avenues to explore at left tackle. This year's draft class looks deep at offensive tackle, so while the Jaguars would likely miss out on an elite tackle prospect, they could very well still get a long-term answer at the position via the No. 25 overall pick.
Then there are the other free agency options. While Robinson clearly has the advantage in terms of youth, San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams should be seen as an enticing possibility by the Jaguars. He is older, but he is still an elite player. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has started 90 regular season games since 2015 and could give the Jaguars another potential reliable veteran option on the edge.
The 36th highest-paid left tackle entering 2020, Robinson should be expected to earn a contract that pays him over $10 million a year once he signs a new deal. For comparison, 17 left tackles are currently under contracts that pay at least $10 million annually, according to Spotrac.
Spotrac has Robinson's market value set at four-years, $45,598,548 . This would give Robinson an average salary of $11,399,637, which would rank as the 16th highest annual salary among current 2021 left tackles.
Ultimately, Robinson's play would have to take a step forward to justify the high contract value. With that said, Robinson showed enough growth in 2020 that should help the Jaguars feel more comfortable with that type of investment. Meanwhile, it just makes more sense for the Jaguars to trust Robinson than a rookie left tackle.