With Johnathan Cyprien likely to leave, the Jacksonville Jaguars could find an upgrade in free agency this offseason.
The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t had to worry much about re-signing their own players over the last decade, an unfortunate consequence of horrific drafting during the latter half of the Shack Harris era and the entirety of the Gene Smith regime.
Things have been slightly better under David Caldwell, even if it hasn’t been reflected in the win column yet. One of the first guys Caldwell drafted is heading into free agency and the Jaguars can have a legitimate discussion of whether or not to try and re-sign him before he hits the market.
I’m talking about Johnathan Cyprien and the Jaguars should let him walk.
If he does walk, the Jaguars have plenty of options in free agency who could replicate Cyprien’s production or upgrade the position. Pro Football Focus laid out the top free agent safeties, and my preferred realistic choice is Tony Jefferson.
"3. Tony Jefferson, Arizona Cardinals (88.6)Jefferson has graded positively against the run in all four seasons of his career, with his run-defense grade increasing steadily over his first three seasons before taking a tremendous jump in 2016, his 98.0 run-defense grade placed second among safeties. Jefferson’s position on this list isn’t derived just from his outstanding play against the run though, over the past two seasons Jefferson has transformed from a run-stopping safety who was a liability in coverage, to an elite run-stopping safety who’s also competent in coverage. In his first two seasons, Jefferson allowed a 111.1 QB Rating when he was the primary defender; since then his QB Rating against has been just 87.1."
Jefferson is just as good (and I would contend noticeably better) a run defender as Cyprien, but he’s miles ahead in terms of coverage. The Jaguars should be moving away from former head coach Gus Bradley’s pathetic defensive scheme, meaning they should look for another hybrid coverage safety to help Tashaun Gipson in the back end.
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Jefferson could decide to go back to the Cardinals, but he should be well within the Jaguars budget if he gets free.
A nice consolation option would be an under-the-radar name from San Diego:
"8. Jahleel Addae, Los Angeles Chargers (85.2)Addae graded well as a rookie in 2013 and then followed that season up with lackluster performances in 2015 and 2015. Addae missed much of this past season but came back in Week 12 and was superb to close out the season. Addae had 13 total stops from Week 12 through the end of the season (the sixth-most among safeties over that period) while allowing just a 56.8 QB Rating as the primary defender in coverage, the 11th-lowest among the 45 safeties who were targeted at least 10 times over that period."
Addae would be another risk/reward signing because he was injured for most of the last year, but that actually puts the Jaguars in a position to offer him a one-year “prove it” deal or an incentive-laden contract.
Either way, the Jaguars have a couple of solid options to replace Cyprien in free agency if they let him leave (as they should). Guys like Jefferson and Addae are both young prospects entering their prime and they could establish themselves as mainstays on the defense.