The Jacksonville Jaguars 2016 season was a disappointment in many aspects. However, despite the general stagnation of the offense, the offensive line as a unit took a step in the right direction. The line improved on sacks allowed, rushing yards per game and rushing touchdowns from the 2015 season. However, there will likely be at least two new starters when the Jaguars kick off the 2017 season, with as many as four new faces being a possibility.
Jacksonville Jaguars Should Invest in Offensive Line in Free Agency
The Jaguars have already started making moves.The team declined to pick up starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum‘s option, making the former Pittsburgh Steeler a free agent for the second consecutive season. Beachum didn’t perform particularly poorly in his one season in Jacksonville, however, newly acquired Executive VP Tom Coughlin decided that it would behoove the club to go in a different direction. The Jaguars wasted little time finding a replacement for Beachum. They traded for former all-pro Branden Albert, who had spent the past three seasons in South Beach playing for the Miami Dolphins. The 32-year-old Virginia alum has battled injuries throughout his career, but when healthy has proved to be on if the NFL’s premier blindside protectors.
With Albert and fourth-year center Brandon Linder entrenched as starters, the Jaguars could realistically seek to upgrade each of the other three positions on the offensive line this offseason. In most drafts, the Jaguars would elect to choose an offensive tackle with the fourth overall pick. With that said, the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t most drafts. A particular weak offensive line class means that in order for the Jaguars to find immediate starters up front, they’ll likely have to look to free agency.
There is definitely a few top notch offensive lineman available for the Jags in free agency this year. The headliner being Cincinnati Bengals offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, who has played at a very high level since being drafted out of Wisconsin with the 27th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Other top players include Detroit Lions lineman Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, Baltimore Ravens right tackle, former college teammate of Zeitler’s, Rick Wagner and Ron Leary who has spent his entire career as a part of the NFL’s most dominant offensive line with the Dallas Cowboys.
The top priority for the Jaguars in free agency should be going after Kevin Zeitler, he’s one of the top available players, regardless of position. Zeitler will likely be looking for a deal similar to the five-year, $58,500,000 contract the Oakland Raiders gave Kelechi Osemele last offseason. That’s more than fair for an elite guard, and considering Osemele was an all-pro player for the Raiders last season, it was money well spent. Zeitler would also fill a major need for the Jags, as A.J. Cann was underwhelming for the squad in his sophomore season. Adding Zeitler would immediately improve the overall talent of the offense.
Another huge question mark for the Jags if the right tackle position which has been manned by Jermey Parnell for the past two seasons. Parnell is a solid run blocking right tackle, but his poor footwork has caused him to be a turnstile in pass protection. Parnell was signed to a 5-year contract prior to the 2015 season, but his stay in Duval County could be limited to just two years if the team ultimately decides to move in another direction going forward. The logical signing for the Jaguars could be another former Wisconsin Badger, Rick Wagner. Originally a fifth-round selection, Wagner has been a cornerstone at right tackle for the Ravens since cracking the starting lineup in 2014. The 6’6″ mauler would be a big upgrade for the Jags if the Ravens let him hit the open market.
If Jacksonville is successful in luring the tandem of former Badgers to the First Coast, the offensive line will be a major strength for the team for the first time in a decade. The starting five on opening day would project as, from left to right: Albert, Cann, Linder, Zeitler, and Wagner. Cann is still as a young player and will likely be given another chance in his natural position of left guard. It would benefit the team to resign a player like Patrick Omameh or former second-overall pick Luke Joeckel as an insurance policy. Both players started at left guard for the Jaguars in 2016 and have also played tackle in their respective careers.