Jaguars must take advantage of free agency to improve roster

Jaguars have cap space to make splash in free agency

John Reid
Florida Times-Union
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Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) hauls in a touchdown catch over Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard (42) during a September game in Nashville.

Jaguars coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke are a month away from filling some of the team's primary needs with veteran talent acquired in free agency. 

It's a critical step that begins on March 17 when NFL teams can begin signing free agents during the official start of the 2021 league year. The Jaguars are in a position to make a big splash with more than $74 million in available cap space.

After going 1-15 last season under former coach Doug Marrone, the Jaguars have plenty of trouble areas on their roster that must get addressed.

Perhaps at the top of the list is getting more talent on the defensive front. Last season, the Jaguars didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback as they finished with the second-fewest sacks in the league with 18. 

Another difficult position has been the tight end. The unit combined for just two touchdowns last season that Tyler Eifert caught. In 2019, only James O'Shaughnessy (2) and Nick O'Leary (1) caught TD passes. 

Here are five free agents the Jaguars should possibly target in free agency.  

San Francisco 49ers lineman Trent Williams stretches during practice before the 2020 season.

Trent Williams

Position: Left tackle

Team in 2020: San Francisco 49ers

 What makes him a good fit: With Cam Robinson becoming a free agent, the Jaguars need an upgrade at left tackle. Why not make a push to get the best available? Williams is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and would be more than capable of protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence's blind side. Williams has allowed only 4 1/2 sacks over the past two seasons. It will take a lucrative offer to entice Williams to come to Jacksonville, but the Jaguars have the available cap space to outbid teams.  The Jaguars' top competition is expected to be the 49ers, who acquired Williams in a trade last year with the Washington Redskins in exchange for a fifth-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft and a third-round pick in 2021.    

Jonnu Smith

Position: tight end

Team in 2020: Tennessee Titans

What makes him a good fit: Smith enjoyed career highs for catches (41), receiving yards (448) and touchdowns (eight) this past season. That's the kind of production the Jaguars desperately needs that's been lacking for the past three seasons.  Smith has the ability to get separation to become an effective downfield threat for Lawrence.

Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel signals a first down after a catch. Samuel is among several free agents who could appeal to the Jaguars.

Curtis Samuel

Position: Wide receiver

Team in 2020: Carolina Panthers

What makes him a good fit: Samuel played for Meyer at Ohio State and could be a big factor why the Jaguars may make a strong push to pursue him instead of Allen Robinson. It never hurts coming off a breakout season as Samuel did this past season for the Carolina Panthers with career-highs for catches (77) and receiving yards (851). The Jaguars need more reliable playmakers to join DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault. It's likely the Jaguars will make a push to re-sign free agent receiver Keelan Cole but not for Chris Conley, who struggled with drops last season. 

Sheldon Rankins

Position: Defensive tackle

Team in 2020: New Orleans Saints

What makes him a good fit: The Jaguars are expected to operate from a 3-4 base defense under new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, which means they need bigger interior lineman. This unit has a young promising talent in DaVon Hamilton, but it lacks proven veteran talent. Rankins is a fifth-year veteran who has been overshadowed in New Orleans by defensive end Cam Jordan. Under the right situation like with the Jaguars, Rankins could be the veteran leader that's been missing Calais Campbell was traded last spring. However, Rankins has to get back to the level he performed in 2018 when he had eight sacks and 41 tackles.  Over the past two seasons, Rankins has combined for 3.5 sacks and 30 tackles.  

Troy Hill

Position: cornerback.

Team in 2020: Los Angeles Rams

What makes him a good fit: The Jaguars need a veteran to fill the role as a shutdown caliber cornerback and Hill would be an excellent addition. He scored three defensive touchdowns for the Los Angeles Rams last season, with two interceptions returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery, too.  Although he mainly played nickel corner for the Los Angeles Rams last season, Hill could play on the outside. First-round pick CJ Henderson was thrust in the starting lineup last season and struggled after having a breakout game against the Colts in the opener. This position needs more experienced competition. 

Davis, MacCracken and Hughes join Jaguars staff 

The Jaguars announced the additions of senior personnel executive Michael Davis, director of roster management Trip MacCracken and player personnel coordinator Drew Hughes. The three will assist general manager Trent Baalke.

“Mike, Trip, and Drew will be key contributors to our personnel department,” said Baalke.  “Mike and Trip bring 45 years of combined experience in the NFL and Drew has over 8 years of experience directing the recruiting efforts at Power 5 universities.  Mike and I worked together for the New York Jets organization from 1998-2000.  He has a proven track record as a talent evaluator and will focus his attention on the evaluation and assessment of college prospects.”

Davis joins the Jaguars after spending five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs as a personnel executive. While in Kansas City, Davis oversaw the scouting of top collegiate prospects and assisted in pro personnel operations.

MacCracken enters his 20th season in the NFL, last serving in the league from 2010-17 as the director of football administration for the Kansas City Chiefs. Most recently he served as the director of player personnel for the XFL’s New York Guardians from 2019-20. Prior to his time in Kansas City, he was the salary cap manager from 1999-2009 for the Cleveland Browns, where his duties included contract negotiations in addition to other responsibilities in football operations. Prior to his time in the NFL, MacCracken completed an internship at the NFL Management Council in 1998.

Hughes most recently served as the director of player personnel with the University of South Carolina in 2020. Previously he managed the recruiting efforts at the University of Tennessee and was the director of player personnel at Florida from 2014-17. Hughes held similar roles at N.C. State in 2013 and Central Florida in 2012. He also served as a recruiting specialist at Alabama from 2007-11. 

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