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Exit Interview: Jacksonville Jaguars

Ride or die with Bortles.

Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Record: 10-6

Raise your hand if you called the Jaguars facing the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship before the season began. If you did, you’re a filthy liar.

It was astounding to see a team ride an elite defense deep into the playoffs. One could objectively argue that the Jags have the most talented stop unit in the NFL right now. Their pass rush is solid, and it especially came alive during the postseason. Their linebackers are all among the most reliable in the league.

And who could forget their secondary, perhaps the best in football? Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are near impossible to beat, and it shows in their pass defense totals; the Jags allowed less than 3,000 yards through the air, something no other team did in 2017.

So what was holding them back? Well, Blake Bortles is their quarterback. Admittedly, there were worse passing offenses this year, and Bortles did look much improved during their playoff run. But it’s hard to envision him as a QB that will lead your team to a Super Bowl win.

Management apparently doesn’t fully agree, as they gave Bortles a three-year extension worth $54 million. That’s an affordable contract considering the money being dished out to QBs lately, and it did give the team more cap space for this offseason, but it also means that the Jags have now tied themselves to Bortles for the next few seasons.

In any case, the defense should be able to carry them through any hiccups Bortles has. Coupled with an underrated rushing attack led by Leonard Fournette, and the Jags could remain a competitive team in 2018 and beyond. Who knows? Maybe the playoff success will give Bortles enough confidence to improve. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Current number of draft picks: 7 (#29 in the first round)

Cap space: $33-37 million

Notable free agents

Paul Posluszny, LB: A few seasons ago, Posluszny seemed to have hit a bit of a wall. While his raw numbers were still fairly high, he suffered through a four-season stretch where he averaged just a 54.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. The Jaguars decided to move him into a two-down role instead, and that appears to have paid off.

Despite playing half the snaps of his fellow linebackers, Posluszny still finished with 60 total tackles. PFF was kind to him as well, grading him at an 84. At 33, his time as a premier LB may be over, but he’ll still be able to contribute in a meaningful way. The Jags will definitely look to keep him in tow.

Allen Robinson, WR: Robinson looked poised to leap into the elite tier of wideouts after his 2015 season, where he had an even 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. His numbers dropped in 2016 but were still productive overall. 2017 went poorly, to say the least.

Robinson played just three snaps before tearing his ACL, ending his season. Thankfully, it happened early enough where he should be able to go come week 1 next year. However, Robinson was obviously not apart of the Jaguars resurgence this year, and he may earn more money elsewhere. Still, maybe locking up Bortles could bring back his favorite target as well.

Aaron Colvin, CB: All the attention went to Ramsey and Bouye this season, but Colvin stood out as one of the better #3 corners in football. While he had no interceptions, he did contribute 5 pass breakups, and PFF gave him a grade of 80. Considering their needs in other areas, the Jaguars may let Colvin leave for a bigger role with another team.

Marqise Lee, WR: A second-round pick in 2014, it took Lee a few seasons to blossom into a reliable target in the passing game. He was solid in 2017, catching 56 passes for 702 yards and 3 touchdowns. For a slot receiver, that’s pretty impressive. The Jags may have to make a choice between him and Robinson though.

Chris Ivory, RB: It was bizarre to see the Jaguars give Ivory a five-year deal in 2016, considering his bruiser style. His numbers indicate as much; he rushed for just 821 yards in two seasons for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Ivory clearly took a backseat to Fournette this season, and there wasn’t much use for him at his previous salary, so the Jags cut him last week. He could find a backup role somewhere.

Team needs

WR: Robinson and Lee leaving would put the Jaguars receiving corps in dire straits. Keelan Cole was competent enough, but Allen Hurns had a down season in 2017. If Bortles is truly the future at QB, he’ll need players to throw to.

CB: When your defense has the best cornerback duo in the league, the opposing offense is bound to target the nickel corner a large number of times. Colvin was solid as the #3 guy, but he’s a free agent, so if he departs, the Jags will need to shore up their defensive back depth.

G: Left guard Patrick Omameh is a free agent, and he was a middling blocker at best this season. This seems like a prime position for the Jags to address during the draft.

LB: Posluszny hitting free agency leaves a hole at the third linebacker position. The Jags definitely need to bring him back unless they find someone better.

TE: Marcedes Lewis did surprisingly decent in 2017, but he’ll turn 34 before next year. The Jags offense could be more productive with a younger intermediate option for Bortles in the aerial attack.

QB: While the Jags have given Bortles their blessing for another three years, they should probably think about adding a developmental project in case he fails. There’s a need for a backup anyway, as Chad Henne is a free agent.

Best player/building block

Calais Campbell, DE: There was some concern that Campbell was chasing money when he left the Arizona Cardinals to sign a huge contract with the Jags last offseason. He proceeded to silence all those doubts by having the best season of his career.

Campbell led the team with 14.5 sacks, which was tied for second in the league and his highest as a pro. He also picked up 67 total tackles and a 93.5 grade from PFF, the latter fourth among all edge defenders. Without him, #Sacksonville may not have popped into existence.

Underappreciated player

Myles Jack, LB: Telvin Smith received much of the acclaim among the Jags linebackers, but Jack isn’t far behind him in both talent and production. He was second on the team behind Smith in total tackles with 90, also earning an 83.4 grade from PFF. Both Smith and Jack are in the prime of their careers though, which will serve as a major advantage for the Jags defense for years to come.

 

AFC East: New York Jets; Miami Dolphins; Buffalo Bills

AFC North: Cleveland Browns; Cincinnati Bengals; Baltimore Ravens; Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts; Houston Texans; Tennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver Broncos; Oakland Raiders; Los Angeles Chargers; Kansas City Chiefs

NFC East: New York Giants; Washington Redskins; Dallas Cowboys

NFC North: Chicago Bears; Green Bay Packers; Detroit Lions

NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Carolina Panthers; Atlanta Falcons; New Orleans Saints

NFC West: San Francisco 49ers; Arizona Cardinals; Seattle Seahawks; Los Angeles Rams

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