Jaguars defensive line: Who will be the odd man out?

Joe Cullen, defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Imagn Images photo pool)
Joe Cullen, defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars (Imagn Images photo pool) /

The Jacksonville Jaguars had trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks and stopping teams from running the ball last season. Thus, the new regime, led by head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke, spent the offseason fortifying the defensive line. Heading into training camp, the Jags may have a surplus of talent up front, so not everyone may make the 53-man roster.

When it comes to defensive tackle, it looks like the writing is on the wall for Taven Bryan, as the Jaguars traded for Malcom Brown and drafted Jay Tufele, but what about defensive end, who could be released before the start of the season?

Josh Allen dealt with a knee injury that limited to eight games in 2020 and even when he played, he wasn’t at full strength. In his absence, the Jaguars relied on Dawuane Smoot, who registered 5.5 sacks and played 59 percent of the team’s total snaps on defense last year. The team’s brass decided to re-sign this offseason but they also brought in Roy Robertson-Harris and Jihad Ward in free agency. Based on their respective contracts, they will surely have a big role in the Jags’ defensive line rotation.

Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen will use 3-4 and 4-3 alignments, so the Jaguars’ EDGE rushers will play standing up and with their hand on the ground. This will make it difficult to predict who will make the cut. K’Lavon Chaison, who played defensive end last season, is switching to a strong linebacker. Allen and Smoot will switch between outside linebacker and defensive end.

Who could the Jacksonville Jaguars release ahead of the 2021 season?

Smoot was the Jaguars’ best pass rusher last year, so he could be an important depth piece in 2021. Robertson-Harris and Ward were signed by the new regime and the coaching staff have spoken positively about their progress in Jacksonville. At this point, it’s hard to envision the Jags moving on from either one especially when you consider the kind of money they paid for them in free agency.

That could leave Adam Gotsis as the odd man out. Last season, he played in all 16 games with 14 starts and appeared in 52 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Even though he was solid against the run, he didn’t post a single sack and had a measly 11 pressures in 2021. He also had a 60.7 Pro Football Focus grade. You could argue that he isn’t bad but he isn’t great either. That makes him a good depth option but may not be enough to make the team.

Gotsis signed a one-year contract worth $1.127 million but releasing him would create a manageable dead cap hit of just $25,000. Meanwhile, cutting Smoot would create a dead cap hit of $5.2 million. Releasing Ward or Robertson-Harris would also be cap-prohibitive, so it doesn’t make sense to part ways with them after acquiring them earlier this year.

If the Jaguars made the decision based on money alone, they could move on from Gotsis. The 2016 second-round pick stepped up when Jacksonville needed him last season but he may be a victim of the numbers game in 2021.

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