Jacksonville Jaguars cannot risk losing Calvin Ridley or Josh Allen in free agency

• Calvin Ridley and Josh Allen are set to become free agents. The Jaguars must need to figure out a way to keep both from hitting the open market.

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) runs onto the field with teammates before the
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) runs onto the field with teammates before the / Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY
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The Jacksonville Jaguars won't have many prominent players who are scheduled to become free agents in 2024. However, there are a couple they cannot afford to let hit the open market. Those players are outside linebacker Josh Allen and wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Both are two of the Jags' top players on their respective sides of the ball and losing them would create a void. Just recently, Michael DiRocco of ESPN wondered if general manager Trent Baalke will be able to retain both.

ESPN recently put together a list of questions for each NFL team and asked how Jacksonville will handle Ridley and Allen in free agency. DiRocco says that the Jaguars could get one under contract and use the franchise tag on the other but believes it's unlikely.

"There's only one franchise tag, so which player is general manager Trent Baalke willing to let hit free agency? If he gets a long-term contract done with either player before the tag window expires March 5, he could use the tag on the other, but that's unlikely. He's going to have to risk losing one. With pass-rushers at a premium, it's likely to be Ridley, but how would being tagged impact negotiations with Allen's camp?"

Ridley spent the 2022 season serving an indefinite suspension for placing bets on NFL games. That didn't deter the Jags from trading for him at that year's deadline. He was reinstated last offseason and went on to haul in 76 receptions for a team-high 1,016 yards with eight touchdowns. Allen, on the other hand, is coming off the best season of his NFL career, registering 17.5 sacks and making the Pro Bowl.

As a part of the trade Jacksonville made to acquire Ridley, they'll need to give the Atlanta Falcons their second-round pick in 2024 if they give him an extension. However, it will be a third if they let him hit the open market. That may or may not play a role in the team's decision to extend him before free agency begins.

Meanwhile, Allen has made it clear he wants to stay in Jacksonville and is ready to start negotiations anytime. In fact, he wasn't thrilled general manager Trent Baalke had not reached out to his agent in January.

The Jacksonville Jaguars should keep both but may lose Calvin Ridley

Ideally, the Jaguars would have already locked up Calvin Ridley or Josh Allen but they haven't. Trent Baalke stated that Allen will be a Jaguar in 2024 but he didn't reveal how he plans to make it happen. As Michael DiRocco noted, he could give either one a long-term deal and tag the other.

While the prospect of giving up a second round may make the Jags wary of extending Ridley, they could find a way to work around the issue. Maybe they let him become a free agent and then bring him back. However, they run the risk of getting outbid by other teams if he's available. The Alabama product has routinely been linked to teams in need of wide receiver help, so not signing him would be a bold move, if the team's brass is serious about bringing him back.

If Ridley does leave in free agency, finding his replacement will then become one of their top priorities. On the bright side, that would make Zay Jones' return — he could be a cap casualty — in 2024 more likely. The truth is that this wouldn't be an issue if the Jaguars had already given Josh Allen a new contract. In retrospect, letting him play out his contract was the right call but they should've rushed to the negotiation table once the 2023 season ended.

With free agency set to start in less than a month, the Jaguars need to figure out how to keep both Josh Allen and Calvin Ridley. It's possible that the top brass already knows which strategy they'll employ but fans won't stop fretting until they see them put their name on the dotted line.

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