As the free agency period approaches, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the ability to pursue anyone who hits the open market. Their league-leading salary cap space allows them to overpay premium players who are looking to change squads, something the Jaguars have to do in order to lure difference makers to Jacksonville.
While the Jaguars are fortunate to be in a very forgiving cap situation, it’s still a dangerous gambit to overpay players, especially those who haven’t been consistently great.
With Von Miller a virtual certainty to be franchise tagged or signed to a long-term deal in Denver, the best pass rusher on the market by a significant margin is Olivier Vernon. The Miami Dolphins former 3rd round pick has been solid for most of his 4 seasons in the NFL, but Vernon turned into a force over the last half of 2015. Sam Monson over at ESPN thinks Vernon’s recent bump in performance is cause for concern for those looking to pay the emerging edge rusher:
"Vernon was dominant for much of the season, and legitimately elite, but when compared to his career baseline, it represents an alarming outlier in a contract season. He recorded 81 total pressures this season, 33 more than he had in any other year of his career. In addition, a breakdown of his season shows the bulk of his dominance coming in a 10-game stretch to finish the year. He showed the ability to be one of the best edge defenders in football, but teams face the prospect of handing him a contract commensurate with that ability when it represents just 10 of the 46 games he has started over his career."
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Monson is right to be somewhat cautious with Vernon – recent NFL history is littered with players overachieving in contract years, getting paid, and then falling back down to earth.
Going back specifically to Vernon, there’s a decent chance he won’t be as effective as he was at the end of 2015 over the course of an entire season.
Still, the Jaguars should do everything they can to try and acquire him in free agency.
Vernon was legitimately one of the 5 best pass rushers in football for a stretch. Even if Vernon tails off, he’s still a very productive defensive end who can put pressure on the quarterback. The Jaguars need people who can get to the QB, even with Dante Fowler Jr. coming back.
It doesn’t matter how much money it takes, the Jaguars should hand Vernon as much money as he wants if he hits the open market.