Jaguars decision to overpay Ezra Cleveland raises eyebrows around the league

• The Jaguars are trying to keep their O-Line intact. They're bringing back Ezra Cleveland on a three-year deal.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans
Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The Jacksonville Jaguars are checking off an important box. They're reportedly re-signing left guard Ezra Cleveland. By bringing him back, the Jags ensure there's continuity across the offensive line next season. The trouble is that they overpaid to keep him from leaving.

Jacksonville and Cleveland agreed to a three-year deal worth $28.5 million with $14.5 million guaranteed, effectively keeping him out of free agency. If you're keeping tabs, that's an annual average of $9.5 million, which ranks 13th among guards in the NFL. Similarly, his guarantee is 17th at the position.

A sixth-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2020, Cleveland made 49 consecutive starts before he was dealt to the Jaguars at the deadline last year. When the trade took place, he was rehabbing a foot sprain, so he wasn't able to contribute right out of the gate. He ended up appearing in seven games, giving up 18 total pressures and two sacks. All things considered, not particularly great numbers, at least not worthy of a big contract.

The expectation is probably that Cleveland will play at a high level if he's 100 percent. Moreover, having a full offseason with the Jags should help him get fully acclimated. The fact that they'll be playing for offensive line coach Phil Rauscher, his position coach in Minnesota, could help him put it all together.

Having locked Ezra Cleveland up, the Jaguars can now turn their attention to the rest of the offensive line. The center spot could use a boost and Brandon Scherff's status for 2024 remains in doubt. The same is true for Cam Robinson. The team's brass could create around $27 million in cap space if they cut both.

The Jaguars were right to re-sign Ezra Cleveland but not at that price

Players deserve to make whatever teams are willing to pay them. When you take into account that the average NFL career lasts less than three years, Ezra Cleveland shouldn't be blamed for getting as much money as he was offered. What was he supposed to do? Tell the Jaguars' brass that he wanted to get less money? Moreover, the front office no longer has to focus on the left guard spot and can turn their attention to other more pressing needs.

That said, The Jaguars are paying Cleveland like a very good player, one of the 15th best in the league, and never, throughout his career, has he shown he's one of the top guards in the NFL. Maybe the Jags were afraid of losing him. Perhaps they wanted to get ahead of the curve knowing the guard market was going to explode. Regardless of the reason, there's no doubt general manager Trent Baalke overpaid to keep Cleveland around.

Maybe Cleveland will end up playing at a high level and live up to his contract. After all, this isn't the first time that Baalke has seemingly handed out a bad contract but that ultimately worked out. Maybe lightning will strike twice? For the time being (though), the decision to pay a premium for Cleveland doesn't look that great.

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