Although it is the silliest part of silly season right now, the talk surrounding the Jacksonville Jaguars and their potential interest in taking an offensive tackle in the NFL draft is getting too big to ignore.
The Jaguars pick second in the first round and have many greater needs than at offensive tackle. Eugene Monroe is one of the best left tackles in the NFL and will remain at that spot regardless of who the team takes. Any potential tackle addition would fill the spot that Eben Britton never really grew into at right tackle.
Monroe is entering the final year of his current contract and the Jaguars don’t appear set on entering negotiations with him anytime soon. That opens the door for any potential rookie addition, be it Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel or Lane Johnson, to start at right tackle for one season before succeeding Monroe after that. For a first time general manager and head coach, that is a very bold move.
The current offensive tackle market in the NFL is a buyer’s market, so much so that former-first round pick and impressive talent Andre Smith can’t find the contract he is looking for. Even a quality left tackle like Jake Long, not to mention former first overall draft pick, had to settle for a cheaper deal than he expected entering free agency. Couple that with Monroe likely being the best player on the Jaguars’ roster and this move makes little sense.
Of course, the possibility is there that the Jaguars are legitimately excited about the prospect of having two top offensive tackles on their roster for the long-term. In that instance they would need to re-sign Monroe.
Two top tier tackles could have a dramatic affect on the Jaguars’ offense. Blaine Gabbert has been one of the most underwhelming starting quarterbacks in the NFL over the past decade at least, but he also hasn’t had a huge amount to work with during his short stint under center. The Jaguars’ offensive line has been a constant problem over the past two years, while his number one receiver was quickly knocked out of the game because of concussions last year.
Worst of all, Maurice Jones-Drew only had 86 carries on the season and missed 10 games. Jones-Drew’s loss was huge and he is still recovering into the off-season, but he is also expected to be healthy in time for the season opener and return to being a pivotal point of the offense.
Laurent Robinson may be gone after just one season, but Cecil Shorts, Justin Blackmon and Jordan Shipley create a promising trio of wide receivers whose skill-sets perfectly complement each other. With the talented Marcedes Lewis, who is inconsistent but definitely doesn’t need replacing, starting at tight end, the Jaguars actually have no real glaring weakness at the skill-positions.
In fact, outside of quarterback, offensive tackle is quite clearly the Jaguars’ best direction to go in with any offensive addition.
New head coach Gus Bradley was the defensive coordinator of a Seattle Sehawks unit made up of mismatch odd-balls who had been rejected by other teams. Bradley, along with general manager John Schneider, proved that his coaching and guidance can get the best out of players on that side of the ball, so he may not feel pressured to add talent to that side of the ball.
The New York Jets’ Rex Ryan and Kansas City Chiefs’ Romeo Crennel showed last season that coaching on the defensive side of the ball can sometimes matter more than the team’s actual talent. The Chiefs had one of the most talented units in terms of individual players last year, but their displays on the field were nothing short of dismal. In New York, Ryan’s best defensive player tore his ACL early on and his unit was overmatched in terms of talent even before that point. Ryan still managed to get impressive displays from the group on a consistent basis.
If Bradley is backing himself to rebuild the defense without heavy investment and if they believe in Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henner or simply think they don’t need a quarterback at the top of the draft, then it makes a lot of sense for the Jaguars to pursue a top offensive lineman.
Pairing Monroe and one of the draft’s top offensive tackles together would take a huge amount of pressure off of the Jaguars’ interior offensive line, create a better pocket for whoever is playing quarterback and aid Maurice Jones-Drew’s attempts to set the tone. That seems like an instant upgrade on an offense that should improve as their young receivers develop together on the field.
Even if the quarterback play continues to handicap the Jaguars so much so that they are picking at this stage of the draft again next season, they will have an opportunity to then land Tahj Boyd or Teddy Bridgewater who are much more promising than anyone in this year’s class. In that scenario, not only would they land their presumed franchise quarterback, they would also have the option of franchise tagging Eugene Monroe and their right tackle would only be entering the second season of his rookie deal.
With their young receivers established at that point, the presumed rookie starter would be landing in the perfect position to begin his development.
The Jaguars aren’t going to turn their franchise’s fortunes around in one season. Having been a part of the Seattle Seahawks gradual rise to the top, Gus Bradley should understand that and this pick indicates that they are not just guided by their current problems.
You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf