Jaguars' 2023 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NFL Playoff Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2023

Jaguars' 2023 Free Agents, Targets and Draft Needs After NFL Playoff Loss

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    Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke
    Jaguars general manager Trent BaalkeZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the biggest surprises of the 2022 NFL season, and not just because they exceeded expectations.

    As the team with the league's worst record in 2020 and 2021, Jacksonville didn't carry many expectations at all. With a 3-7 record at the Week 11 bye, it seemed the team would only show incremental improvement, which was a nice start.

    The 2021 first overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, was starting to play like the blue-chip quarterback he was supposed to be, and the team was competitive in several of its losses.

    However, Jacksonville's second-half surge was stunning. Lawrence and the offense began to click, new head coach Doug Pederson got the players to believe in themselves, and Jacksonville went on a 6-1 run down the stretch to claim the AFC South crown.

    The Jaguars shocked the NFL world again when they engineered the third-biggest comeback in playoff history, overcoming a 27-0 deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 during Wild Card Weekend. On Saturday, they hung tough with the No. 1 seed Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round but ultimately fell short 27-20.

    Over the past two months, the Jags have shown they're not just building toward next year, but that they're already relevant. They went further than even the brightest optimist could have envisioned in early November. With a few more key pieces in place, they could be a legitimate title contender in 2023.

    With Jacksonville's miraculous playoff run finally coming to an end, it's time to look ahead at the work that must be done in the looming offseason.

    Here's a look at the Jaguars' list of impending free agents, potential free-agent targets and draft needs heading into the offseason.

Free Agents

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    Jaguars TE Evan Engram
    Jaguars TE Evan EngramDouglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

    Unrestricted Free Agents

    TE Dan Arnold

    QB C.J. Beathard

    TE Evan Engram

    DE Adam Gotsis

    CB Tre Herndon

    WR Marvin Jones Jr.

    OLB Arden Key

    TE Chris Manhertz

    DT Corey Peters

    DE Dawuane Smoot

    OT Jawaan Taylor

    S Andrew Wingard

    Restricted/Exclusive-Rights Free Agents

    RB JaMycal Hasty

    OT Blake Hance

    K Riley Patterson

    Before the Jaguars start adding to their playoff-caliber roster, they'll need to keep a few key pieces in place.

    Evan Engram is an obvious priority after he and Lawrence established a ton of chemistry during the season. The tight end finished the regular season with 73 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns.

    Wideout Marvin Jones Jr. (529 yards, 3 TDs in the regular season) is worth re-signing on a budget contract, but it's worth noting he'll turn 33 in March.

    Similarly, Jawaan Taylor—who was responsible for seven penalties and five sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus—is a player whose re-signing would be sensible but perhaps not a top priority.

    On the positive side, the right tackle is only 25 years old and could still be a long-term piece of the puzzle.

    Quarterback C.J. Beathard is an experienced backup, and the Jags would be wise to retain him if they can do so at an affordable rate.

    Defensively, Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key should be the top priorities. The two edge-rushers finished the season ranked second and third, respectively, with five and 4.5 sacks. Smoot and Key also logged 21 and 20 quarterback pressures, respectively.

    Cornerback Tre Herndon and safety Andrew Wingard are quality rotational pieces in the secondary, while Adam Gotsis and Corey Peters are fine additions to the defensive front. However, we're unlikely to see Jacksonville break the bank for any of its impending free-agent defenders.

    The biggest challenge will be creating cap space, as Jacksonville is projected to be $21 million over the cap. This may lead to the Jags dumping a player such as cornerback Shaquill Griffin.

    The 27-year-old appeared in just five games before suffering a season-ending back injury. Releasing him would save Jacksonville $13.5 million off the 2023 cap.

Potential Free-Agent/Trade Targets

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    Raiders CB Rock Ya-Sin
    Raiders CB Rock Ya-SinSteph Chambers/Getty Images

    This past offseason, the Jaguars went on a spending spree that improved their roster dramatically.

    Guard Brandon Scherff was a huge addition along the offensive line, while pass-catchers Engram, Zay Jones and Christian Kirk aided Lawrence tremendously.

    Field Yates @FieldYates

    The Jaguars were panned for the price they paid to acquire Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram in free agency last March. Their lines from last night's playoff win:<br><br>Engram: 7 catches, 93 yards, TD<br>Kirk: 8 catches, 78 yards, TD<br>Jones: 8 catches, 74 yards, TD

    Facing a large cap deficit, though, Jacksonville will likely eye more budget-friendly options this offseason.

    Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin—who has a relatively reasonable projected market value of $10.8 million annually—is a far more realistic target than, say, James Bradberry. The latter has a projected market value of $17.1 million annually.

    It's even more likely, though, that Jacksonville will target true budget options like Eli Apple, Troy Hill and safety Johnathan Abram if looking to address its 28th-ranked pass defense.

    If, for some reason, the Jaguars are able to free up a substantial amount of cap space, players like Bradberry, Jamel Dean, Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell would be logical secondary targets.

    If the Jaguars don't re-sign Smoot and/or Key, taking a flier on an edge-rusher like Melvin Ingram or Jadeveon Clowney could also make sense. Larry Ogunjobi and Poona Ford should be realistic targets for the defensive line, if Jacksonville can clear the required cap space.

    And if Jacksonville does clear space, it may be worth keeping an eye on Arizona Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins. According to Jordan Schultz of The Score, the Cards are looking to trade the 30-year-old. His $8.2 million cap hit—after dead-money payouts—would be reasonable.

    The Jaguars don't necessarily need another receiver, especially if last offseason's Calvin Ridley trade pans out. But Hopkins is still a top-tier possession guy and could help give Jacksonville one of the league's top receiving corps.

Draft Targets

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 30: A football helmet is displayed featuring the 2022 NFL Draft on April 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
    David Becker/Getty Images

    Given Jacksonville's cap situation, next year's biggest additions may come via the 2023 draft. After picking first overall in back-to-back years, the team will now be selecting near the bottom of the first round.

    This doesn't mean the Jags won't find an instant-impact player on opening night, though. This is especially true if Jacksonville focuses on addressing its 24th-ranked defense.

    Prospects such as Army pass-rusher Andre Carter II, Baylor defensive lineman Siaki Ika, Florida edge-rusher Jared Verse and Notre Dame edge-rusher Isaiah Foskey could each make sense for the Jags at the end of opening night.

    Each of these players was ranked between 25th and 35th overall on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department's latest draft board.

    Landing South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith, the 22nd-ranked prospect on the B/R board, would also be a huge win for the Jaguars. From Cory Giddings of the B/R Scouting Department:

    "Ultimately, Smith is an exceptional athlete who is regarded as one of the best man cover guys in this draft. His inconsistency in tackling will be one of the biggest knocks against him. With that said, he will be one of the earlier cornerbacks selected, with a chance to compete early for a starting job."

    Armed with second- and third-round picks plus two fourth-rounders (one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Jacksonville should be able to add quality talent outside of Round 1 as well.

    Potential Day 2 and early Day 3 prospects who would make sense include Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks, Ohio State edge-rusher Zach Harrison, Alabama offensive tackle Tyler Steen, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, LSU defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy, TCU interior lineman Steve Avila, Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph and Florida safety Trey Dean III.

    Offensive-line depth is always valuable, and we can expect general manager Trent Baalke to take a chance on an offensive skill player if the draft value is there. However, this should be a defensive draft for a Jaguars team that already boasts a top-10 offense.

    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted. Cap, contract and market information via Spotrac. Draft information via Tankathon.