Jaguars bolster defensive front with addition of Arden Key

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

Right when it looked like the Jacksonville Jaguars were done adding players this offseason, they’ve signed former San Franciso 49ers defensive end Arden Key, who should be part of their defensive line rotation. Mike Garafolo of NFL Media first reported the move and the Jags announced it not long after. Garafolo notes that the deal was for one year and has a max value of $7 million.

A third-round pick by the Las Vegas Raiders in the 2018 Draft, Key was seen as a potential steal. However, he wasn’t much of a factor in his three-year tenure with the Silver and Black, appearing in 37 games with 10 starts and logging a measly three sacks, 49 total tackles, and eight tackles for a loss.

After getting released in 2021, Key went on to sign with the Niners, where he saw an uptick in production. Even though he made no starts, he played all 17 games and had a career-best 6.5 sacks, 22 total tackles, and five tackles for a loss. Moreover, he earned a Pro Football Focus pass rush grade of 79.4. In Jacksonville, the former LSU Tiger will be reuniting with Brentson Buckner, his position coach in his rookie season.

Key will be a welcome addition to the Jaguars’ defensive front. Although he’s mostly lined up in a three-point stance throughout his NFL career, he was a linebacker in LSU’s 3-4 defense back in college. This kind of flexibility could help him thrive in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s scheme, which will show 3-4 and 4-3 looks, according to head coach Doug Pederson.

The Jaguars can still draft a pass rusher at No. 1 even after signing Key.

Key will be part of the Jaguars’ defensive line rotation and could end up having a similar role to the one he had in San Francisco. Instead of having a feature role, he will play a supporting role behind Dawuane Smoot and Josh Allen, the team’s primary edge rushers.

Before signing Key, the Jaguars hadn’t added a pass rusher, which made it seem as if they would be targeting a pass rusher with the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But even after adding Key, the team’s brass could still take either Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Georgia’s Travon Walker. On the other hand, Key’s presence could give the Jaguars the flexibility to target a non-pass rusher prospect in the draft and maybe even the opportunity to trade down without having to worry about who’s available at the spot they end in.

All in all, signing Key is a low-key, solid move that has the potential to bolster the Jaguars’ front seven. Having said that, it remains to be seen if it will have an impact on their draft strategy.

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