The Jacksonville Jaguars were expected to be buyers at the NFL Trade Deadline. While they didn't add a pass rush to round out their rotation, they did reinforce the interior offensive line when they acquired left guard Ezra Cleveland from the Minnesota Vikings.
The Jags traded for Cleveland just before the deadline. Minnesota got a sixth-round pick in next year's draft in exchange, per multiple reports. Not long after the deal took place, the team announced they had also waived left guard Ben Bartch.
A second-round pick by the Vikings in 2020, it took Cleveland struggled early on but progressively got better. By Week 6 of his rookie season, the former Boise State Bronco had already joined the starting lineup and never looked back.
Having signed Dalton Risner in September, Minnesota could afford to move on from Cleveland. Moreover, he's missed the past two games with a foot sprain. The good news is that Jacksonville will have their BYE this week, so he'll have time to heal and adjust to his new team.
It's also worth noting that Jaguars offensive line coach Phil Rauscher was his position coach in 2020 (as an assistant) and 2021. That should help speed up his acclimation period.
Ezra Cleveland is an upgrade at left tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars
So far, Cleveland has given up just 10 total pressures and one sack on 248 pass-blocking snaps this season. His Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade ranked 17th in the league while Tyler Shatley was 82nd, the Jaguars starting left guard the past three weeks. Based on his production, it's easy to see why the top brass pulled the trigger.
Ben Bartch, a fourth-round pick in 2020, dislocated his knee last year and spent the offseason recovering. Although he returned in time for the 2023 season opener, his performance left a bit to be desired. Either he wasn't fully healthy or he was rusty after not playing in months. Regardless, the Jags had seen enough by Week 3 and benched him in favor of Shatley.
Since being benched, Bartch he only appeared on five offensive snaps and was mostly relegated to special teams. By bringing Cleveland into the mix and releasing Bartch, the Jags are showing they believed the left guard position was in need of an upgrade. While it's true that Tyler Shatley can come off the bench at any time, he's better suited for a backup role. He's been serviceable when called upon but Cleveland can bring stability inside for the remainder of the season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 6-2 heading into their BYE. While they could've made a splash signing to bolster their chances of making a deep playoff push, they chose to fortify their offensive trenches. Trading for Ezra Cleveland isn't flashy and it probably wasn't the move the organization was expected to make. However, but it does address an immediate need and reinforces the notion that keeping Trevor Lawrence protected remains one of the Jags' top priorities.