The Jaguars were so close to reaching the Super Bowl — they held a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead before losing to New England in the AFC Championship Game. To remain a legitimate contender over the next several seasons, the team needs to add a game-changing receiver, find a pass-catching tight end and address the interior of the offensive line.
It’s not an overwhelming task, either. The receiver is already in house, and it’s a good draft for tight ends and offensive linemen. Executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell can make the Jaguars the favorite in the AFC with two draft picks.
The first priority is re-signing receiver Allen Robinson, who missed nearly all of the 2017 season because of a torn left ACL. His rookie contract expires on March 14, and the Jaguars can work out a reasonable, long-term deal or get him to agree to a one-year, incentive-laden deal similar to the one Alshon Jeffery signed with Philadelphia last offseason.
If neither works, the team can use the franchise tag. The projected salary for that is about $16 million, and while that’s a little high for a player who has missed 17 games in four seasons, the Jaguars can easily afford it now that the team won’t have to pay Bortles the $19.053 million he was due under his fifth-year option.
Robinson is expected to be cleared with no restrictions by training camp, and bringing him back gives Bortles the explosive downfield playmaker the offense didn’t have last season. Robinson led the NFL in catches of 20 or more yards in 2015 (31), but he and Bortles both struggled in 2016 (just 11 catches of 20 or more yards on the same number of targets). However, he had a fantastic camp last year, and the Jaguars believed he was headed for a big season before his injury.
The Jaguars also need a pass-catching tight end to complement Marcedes Lewis, who will be in his 13th season with the team and is more of a blocker than receiver. Jaguars tight ends caught an NFL-low 43 passes and were targeted the third-fewest times last season.
Jimmy Graham is a player the team could target in free agency, but the tight end draft class is also good. Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert are players who have been linked to the Jaguars with the 29th pick in various mock drafts. All three are move tight ends who can make plays in the seam and create matchup issues with smaller defensive backs when lined up outside.
The Jaguars also have to get better along the interior of the offensive line. The Jaguars finished the regular season as the NFL’s top rushing team (141.4 yards per game), but their production dropped off significantly over the final six games. The Jaguars averaged 51.3 fewer yards rushing per game in Weeks 12-17 than they did in the first 11 weeks.
Right guard A.J. Cann was up and down, and left guard Patrick Omameh is an average player, so addressing one or both guard spots in free agency or high in the draft is a must. Josh Sitton, Andrew Norwell and Justin Pugh are veterans worth investigating, but they might cost more than the Jaguars are willing to pay.
It’s unlikely the Jaguars would address guard with their first pick in the draft, but using a second- or third-round pick could net them an immediate starter who will help the front be more consistent in the run game.
That the Jaguars are sticking with Bortles is a sign management believes in his ability to get them to the Super Bowl. Adding those additional pieces on offense to complement one of the NFL’s best defenses makes it a stronger possibility.
Lions releasing running back Kerryon Johnson, per reports
Detroit drafted the former Auburn standout in the second round in 2018. Johnson became expendable after the team drafted D’Andre Swift No. 35 overall in 2020, signed free agent running back Jamaal Williams in March and drafted Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson last week.
Johnson ran for 1,225 yards and eight touchdowns over three seasons. He also has 61 career receptions for 527 yards and three scores.
Last year, he had 181 yards rushing and two scores on 52 carries. and had 19 receptions for 187 yards receiving and a touchdown.
NFL Network first reported that Johnson would be waived.
The Lions also added a player in free agency, signing tight end Darren Fells on Wednesday. The move gives the team a veteran at the position it can put on the field with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The 35-year-old Fells has 123 career catches with 1,483 yards receiving and 21 touchdowns. The previous two years in Houston, he had a combined 55 catches for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Fells has started 76 games — including 13 with the Lions in 2017 — and played in 102 games with Arizona, Detroit, Cleveland and the Texans. He was a rebounding standout at UC Irvine and played basketball in Argentina, Mexico, Belgium, Finland and France before playing in the NFL.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
QB Blaine Gabbert re-signing with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on 1-year, $2.5 million deal, source says
TAMPA, Fla. — Once again, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has kept his word.
Days after saying the Bucs would work to re-sign Tom Brady’s top backup, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the team is indeed re-signing Gabbert to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Gabbert, who has played in 60 career games with 48 starts, previously earned $1.187 million in 2020 and $1.6 million in 2019.
Last season, Gabbert, 31, completed 9 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, with all but one of those pass attempts coming in the second half against the Detroit Lions in Week 16, when Arians opted to rest Brady.
The Bucs selected quarterback Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft last week, but Arians said that would not preclude them from re-signing Gabbert. The team also re-signed Ryan Griffin, who was last year’s third-string backup, earlier this offseason.
Gabbert enters his third season with the Bucs, after spending 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, 2017 with Arians and the Arizona Cardinals, 2014-16 with the San Francisco 49ers and 2011-13 with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gabbert has had an eventful offseason. In addition to attending the Kentucky Derby with Brady and Griffin on Saturday, he married longtime sweetheart Bekah Mills in Paradise Valley, Arizona, in March.
NFL sends memo reminding clubs the league will not pay players who suffer injuries away from facilities
The NFL reminded teams Wednesday that they are not obligated to pay players who suffer an injury away from the team facility, an issue that moved this week to the center of an ongoing dispute between the NFL and NFL Players Association over in-person participation in offseason workouts.
The memo, obtained by ESPN, was prompted by several prominent players who were surprised by media reports about Denver Broncos offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, who tore an Achilles tendon this week while working out on his own and could miss the 2021 season. NFL contracts have long classified such injuries as “non-football,” because they happen away from the team environment, and they are not covered by typical injury guarantees. As a result, the Broncos could withhold James’ salary for as long as he is sidelined. More than $10 million would have been guaranteed if the injury had occurred at the Broncos’ facility.
The NFL has noted this contractual leverage multiple times during negotiations with the NFLPA, which has advised players to skip the voluntary portion of in-person offseason training unless they stand to lose workout bonuses.
“According to the media coverage,” the NFL wrote in its memo, “several players have expressed surprise that Mr. James’ injury was not covered by his Injury Guarantee, although this point has been made frequently in our discussions with the NFLPA about the offseason program. Clubs are encouraged to remind players of the significant injury-related protection provided if they choose to work out at the club facility and the risks they undertake in choosing to train in non-NFL locations.”
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