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.