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.
Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones to play against Detroit Lions despite hamstring
Jones returned to the lineup last Sunday and had eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons’ 40-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
After sitting out the Falcons’ Week 3 loss to the Chicago Bears, he played just 15 snaps in Week 4 and did not play in Week 5 with the same hamstring injury.
Jones sat out practice Wednesday before being a limited participant Thursday and Friday.
He has 23 catches for 350 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Arizona Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins expected to face Seattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins, listed as questionable for Sunday night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks due to an ankle injury, is expected to play, a source tells ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Hopkins was held out of practice this week due to the injury, which has plagued him much of the season. Despite regularly appearing on the injury report, Hopkins hasn’t missed a game and leads the NFL with 47 receptions for a league-leading 601 yards and two touchdowns.
Hopkins had two receptions for 73 yards in Monday night’s win over Dallas. He’s missed just two games due to injury in his eight-year career.
Las Vegas Raiders activate offensive linemen Kolton Miller, Denzelle Good, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson off COVID-19 list
HENDERSON, Nev. — The Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday activated four starting offensive linemen who had close contact with right tackle Trent Brown earlier this week.
Left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Denzelle Good, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson came off the COVID-19 list Saturday but must still test negative for the virus on Sunday morning in order to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
None of the four players have tested positive since going on the COVID-19 list this week as “high risk” close contacts to right tackle Trent Brown, who did test positive on Wednesday morning.
The four players were with Brown at practice on Monday. According to league protocol, as high risk contacts, they had to test negative for five consecutive days, plus the last day of contact.
Safety Johnathan Abram had contact with Brown on Tuesday, so there is not enough time for him to finish the protocol and play against Tampa Bay.
Brown was not wearing his tracking device, as mandated by NFL protocol, on Monday, so practice film had to be scoured to see who Brown had been close to that day.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Friday that Brown, who remains on the COVID-19 list, was feeling better.
With Miller, Good, Hudson and Jackson in self-isolation and joining the Raiders virtually this week to prepare, Las Vegas practiced with an offensive line of Brandon Parker, John Simpson, Andre James, Patrick Omameh and Sam Young. Left guard Richie Incognito remains on injured reserve.
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