As we inch closer and closer to free agency, the Jacksonville Jaguars and general manager David Caldwell are presumably narrowing down their targets. Unfortunately, all the planning in the world won’t matter if some of the key unrestricted free agents set to hit the market re-sign with their teams or receive the franchise tag.
On the flip side, the Jaguars could also benefit from some surprises – a handful of players are going to be victims of poor salary cap situations. Generally, players released due to large cap hits are less desirable for one reason or another, but they are usually veterans who have a little bit left in the tank.
"Mario Williams, DE, BUFCap numbers: $19.9 millionDead money: $7 millionSavings: $12.9 millionMario Williams has been an outstanding pass rusher since he was drafted with the first overall pick in 2006. His ninth season was a different story. Williams finished this year with the worst pass rush grade (42.5) amongst edge defenders. He recorded only 36 combined pressures from 485 snaps, looking well short of his best. Williams graded positively as a pass rusher just once all season. It’s possible he just had a down year adjusting to Rex Ryan’s scheme, but with the Bills’ spending already scheduled to exceed the cap, he may not get an opportunity to prove that was the case. Williams is likely to catch on somewhere, but Buffalo is unlikely to look past the $13 million cap saving."
Williams production took a precipitous fall in his first season under head coach Rex Ryan, partly due to some unusual coaching decisions. Regardless of why, his lack of consistent play and his enormous cap number mean he has to take a pay cut or leave the team. The dead money isn’t insignificant, but it’s a number the Bills are probably fine eating.
The Jaguars have to decide whether or not Williams’ 2015 campaign was just a down year and something he can recover from, or if his skills are degrading and he’s no longer a viable pass rusher.
"Chris Long, DE, LACap number: $14.3 millionDead money: $2.5 millionSavings: $11.8 millionAt one stage of Long’s career, he was amongst the best pass rushers in the nation. The past two seasons have been disrupted by injury and inconsistency. He averaged 21 knockdowns between 2010 and 2013, but has just seven combined in 2014 and 2015. Long fell to 98th overall in our edge defender rankings, and finished with a measly 49.6 pass rush grade. Considering how well scheduled free agent William Hayes is playing for the Rams, it would be a surprise if Long settles into a new home in the hills of Los Angeles. Those $12 million could be better spent on retaining a younger, more productive defensive end."
Like Williams, Long is closer to the end of his career than the beginning and probably shouldn’t be counted on as the primary pass rusher along the defensive line. Still, the Jaguars can’t look past any possible contributors. With his recent injury history, the price tag for Long’s services shouldn’t be too steep, the question is whether or not he can stay healthy and actually provide a pass rush.
Are either Long or Williams a possibility for the Jaguars? I don’t think so, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. If the the team misses out on a big name free agent like Olivier Vernon, plan B likely involves an older guy who will help the Jaguars bridge into next year.