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Cap Casualties: Could the Chargers benefit from any outgoing Jaguars?

New Orleans Saints v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images

This week I started a “Free Agency League” with three of my friends in a group chat. We will pick teams and contracts for upcoming free agents and then see how accurate we are, determining a winner who receivers bragging rights, etc. In doing this, I began to create a spreadsheet and then as per usual, my spreadsheet began to grow. It wasn’t enough for me to just list free agents, I also had to list teams and their available cap space, so we could have better odds of getting the teams right.

What about the teams in financial dire that needed to make room for not only outside players, but their own? Damn, I now had to start listing out any potential cap casualty candidate with at least $3 million in savings? I came out with 161 names — and that was just the players who could easily be identified at $3 million.

What about the ones who didn’t have $3 million in savings, such as Cardinals running back David Johnson, a rumored casualty who carries zero in savings?

What about trade candidates like Kirk Cousins, who carries $29.5 million in savings if the Vikings actually find a trade partner?

What about toxic situations like the Antonio Brown debacle(s) of 2019?

The list quickly grows to over 200 names, and it already had a very modest 113 free agents listed on tab 1. The NFL offseason is not an offseason, as we know, because hundreds and hundreds of players see their upcoming season with their current team either in doubt or known to be headed for a divorce. This spreadsheet gave us an opportunity to play our free agency league, but it has also given me some articles.

Hot dang.

I want to start by identifying cap casualty candidates, and with that I want to start with the teams who are in the worst financial shape right now: The Jaguars, Falcons, Bears, Steelers, and Vikings. How bad is it really, what could they do, and how would those move help the Chargers, if at all?

Because of how dense some of these teams will be, I’m starting with just one team and then I’ll quickly follow up with the other four before moving onto the rest of the league and at certain positions of note for LA, such as QB, CB, DT, OL, S... okay, maybe everything except WR is of note for the Chargers.

The Jaguars went 6-10 in 2019, a disappointing start and finish for a team that nearly went to the Super Bowl two years ago and then signed Nick Foles to an $88 million contract to take them back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, to use Foles you almost have to get to the postseason first, and that wasn’t happening; Foles went 0-4 as a starter, Gardnew Minshew went 6-6.

But does Jacksonville see themselves as a rebuilding team willing to take on another 6-10 season or does owner Shad Khan want to contend immediately? If he wanted to contend, why retain head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell after these last two years? But if he wants to give up ... why retain Marrone and Caldwell instead of starting fresh? Can Marrone and Caldwell survive another 6-10 season? Are they Freddie Kitchens/Jim Tomsula type patsies?

Are they preparing for something bigger?

Whether they want to contend or add draft picks/get younger is hard to determine at the moment and that will impact how they proceed on the following cap casualty/trade candidates. Luckily, they’ll be out of the worst of it pretty soon just by not picking up one person’s option, but the Jaguars are far from “OK” whether they want to try and go from worst to first in the AFC South or not.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Effective 2020 Cap Space: -$3.4

2020 contracts: 60

Biggest Savings: Marcell Dareus, $20 million

Notes: Though Jacksonville is projected in the second-worst cap position at the moment, I’m talking about them first because they have the most obvious way out of the red and thy name is Marcell.

Dareus’ 2020 is only an option year and they won’t pick it up, meaning that in one moment the Jaguars will be at $16 million in effective cap space which immediately jumps them from 31st in space to 23rd. But will that alone be enough for Jacksonville to contain the players they want to keep (which is not what happened for them and Jalen Ramsey, a move that by the way means they have to potentially sign two first rounders, not one) such as Yannick Ngakoue?

Calais Campbell, DL, $15 million in savings

He’ll be 34 next season but he hasn’t shown signs of his age yet, recording 25 QB hits and 6.5 sacks last year. Would Jacksonville listen to a trade offer? Campbell is going into the final year of his deal and carries a $15 million hit to an acquiring team.

Odds of departure: Low. The value of Campbell has been so high since he signed, why do this unless Campbell requested it? Or unless you’re okay with a bad season and a team offers a second round pick, as the Patriots did for Mohamed Sanu not so long ago.
Would he help the Chargers: Oh my god, yes. But the odds of him playing for LA are almost nil because of his contract or his value, which is likely out of their budget, and because if he was on the trade block, Tom Telesco wouldn’t know it.

A.J. Bouye, CB, $11.4 million in savings

A couple of years ago the Bouye/Ramsey thing was magical, but Bouye’s been a little less “wow” over the last two seasons, as most Jags have been. Bouye had six interceptions in 2017, but two total over 2018-2019. He had 18 passes defensed in 2017, compared to 16 total in the last two seasons. Virtually all signs point to him being mediocre-to-bad last year.

He has two years left on his contract, with base salaries of $13 million in each.

Odds of departure: Seems decent. Some of the players on this list will be gone, so it is a matter of who Jacksonville prioritizes and a cornerback likely carries more value than some of these other guys. But $11.4 million is enough to sign a couple of decent players and if you think Bouye’s best days (which came next to Ramsey) are done, then why hold on?
Would he help the Chargers: If he played well as a CB2 next to Ramsey, maybe he could improve next to Casey Hayward. If released, he’d be taking a paycut from $13 million and might be a decent value.

Marcell Dareus, DT, $20 million in savings

It’s not as though Dareus has been bad for the Jaguars but a core injury cost him nine games and he wasn’t as effective as usual in the six games he played in.

Odds of departure: High. His cost is enormous and that might fly on a team with lots of cap room but that isn’t the Jaguars.
Would he help the Chargers: A healthy Dareus is an elite run-stopper in the middle of your defense and that could be nice for LA, especially if they are releasing Brandon Mebane. But stopping the run isn’t the priority it used to be and the Chargers might want to focus elsewhere. I’m really not sure where his value is at and a one-year deal could be his best bet, wherever he goes.

Leonard Fournette, RB, $4.1 million in savings

Over the last decade in the NBA we’ve seen the three-point shot take over the game and suddenly big men like Joel Embiid and LaMarcus Aldridge and anyone who wants a spot in a rotation has to become a three-point shooter. Aldridge, a power forward, is taking 2.7 threes per game this season. Steve Kerr, one of the most famous three-point shooters of the 90s, only twice shot more than 2.7 threes per game, and that was when he shot 2.9.

Last season, Leonard Fournette was targeted 100 times in the passing game.

It’s not as though Fournette had zero abilities as a receiver, he was targeted 48 times as a rookie, but it is far from his strength; Fournette had more targets than Mark Andrews, Alvin Kamara, Austin Hooper, Emmanuel Sanders, Robby Anderson, James White, Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams. He also missed a game. Those targets went for 6.9 yards per reception and 5.2 per target...which is not good.

Jacksonville was not good.

What you have in Fournette is maybe an average runner at best and a player being forced into a dual threat when he lacks dual threat abilities. Some big men are taking well to the new NBA game. Others, not so much.

Odds of departure: I’m not sure. From Week 4-7, Fournette rushed for 536 yards and 5.3 YPC and many thought, “He’s finally arrived.” He had zero 100-yard efforts and 3.6 YPC in the final eight games after that. I guess he already did “depart” in some ways. I think the smart move is to cut your losses but do you expect Caldwell to do smart moves after that Foles contract?
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Marqise Lee, WR, $5.25 million in savings

There’s no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Marqise. There’s just no “U.” It seems inevitable that they will finally cut ... you.

Odds of departure: Significantly high. Lee has three catches for 18 yards with 26 games missed in the last two years.
Would he help the Chargers: Assuming he signs somewhere for the vet minimum, Lee could potentially squeeze in as a third receiver in the Travis Benjamin/Dontrelle Inman role way. But... is that better than BenjamInman? The Inglewood native may be willing to play for the Chargers for free(ish).

Andrew Norwell, G, $5.5 million in savings

Only two years ago, the Jags signed Norwell to a five-year, $66.5 million deal with $30 million guaranteed. He was injured for most of 2018 and he seemed to struggle in 2019. Whether the team wants to attempt to achieve greatness again in 2020 or later down the line, Norwell hasn’t seemed to fit in with positive momentum anyway.

Odds of departure: Medium. The best thing in his corner may be the $9 million in dead money if released or traded. Given his $11.5 million base salary, I don’t see him being traded unless it is to a team with a lot of cap space that thinks they can compete, such as the Colts, Bills, Bucs, Broncos, or Texans.
Would he help the Chargers: Potentially an upgrade at guard, but at what cost? If Norwell is a free agent, I think a desperate team will forgive his two bad seasons in Jacksonville and take a chance at over $10 million next season. LA can’t afford that for a chance.

Brandon Linder, C, $8 million in savings

Because Linder is an offensive lineman with significant savings and no dead money, some may be wondering if he’s a cap casualty candidate ...

Odds of departure: None. He’s one of the best centers in the league and actually a good value at $8 million. I just wanted to address it!

Jake Ryan, LB, $6 million in savings

He’s played in one snap over the last two years.

Odds of departure: Assured, barring a renegotiated deal. By releasing Dareus, Lee, and Ryan, the Jaguars will be at $26 million in cap space.
Would he help the Chargers: He seemed decent for the Packers for a couple of years but even by nature of his position, he’s of limited value. LA isn’t a linebacker away from the Super Bowl, though Thomas Davis, Denzel Perryman, Kyzir White, and Uchenna Nwosu may not prevent them from looking at other options in the middle.

D.J. Hayden, CB, $6.2 million in savings

A little surprised that Hayden is a $7 million/year player, but he’s actually done quite well for Jacksonville in the slot. He may have found his place.

Odds of departure: Low. Not a bad contract for a slot corner and I think after trading Ramsey and potentially moving on from Bouye, you want to keep at least one of these guys around.
Would he help the Chargers: Potentially, but I don’t see him moving.

Geoff Swaim, TE, $4 million in savings

“Who is Geoff Swaim and why is he making $4.3 million?”

A 26-year-old tight end who spent four years with the Cowboys and signed a two-year deal with the Jaguars. He missed 10 games (Swaim missed seven games in 2018) and had 13 catches on 17 targets for 65 yards. Not even sure he’s essential in any blocking situations.

Odds of departure: Lord I would think it is high.
Would he help the Chargers: I mean, you could give him run in training camp, I guess.

Abry Jones, DT, $4 million in savings

A former undrafted free agent who would be going into his eighth season with the Jaguars, Jones has been a regular starter for most of the last four years and he is fine. He’s not a star. He’s fine. The Jags may eventually get to a place where they don’t need the $4 million but could they end up wanting that money for something else? His replacement would also cost several millions probably, so would that player be better?

Odds of departure: Medium? The Jaguars will have decent cap room rather immediately so it may not be that big of an issue and they may not be able to re-negotiate with Dareus.
Would he help the Chargers: He could fit in for a guy like Damion Square, if he leaves, maybe. It’s not a huge priority.

Nick Foles, QB, $3 million in savings if traded

That’s the big question, right? Foles carries a $15.1 million base salary to any team that acquires him, with that figure going down to $14.8 million in 2021, then $20 million in 2022. That’s actually not that bad for an average starter, but is Foles even average?

In the last five years — YEARS — Foles has thrown for 5,148 yards, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 6.4 Y/A, and a rating of 81.6 while playing for four different teams. The acquiring team would have to feel comfortable that they need a “young” Ryan Fitzpatrick and that they’d be okay with that, meaning they’d be okay with him not being great and sometimes being okay. (I guess he’s more like the anti-Fitzpatrick, in that he’s better as the year goes on.)

Odds of departure: Gardner Minshew is better and he really should be the starter today. Minshew’s low salary means that Foles can be kept as an affordable backup, but if you aren’t planning to compete in 2020, then Jacksonville should find a trade partner. They might have to “Osweiler” him though and find a team willing to take on his salary while also bumping up one of their draft picks. Example: Foles and a 3rd round pick to a team for a 7th round pick.
Would he help the Chargers: Is he better than Tyrod Taylor? Probably not.

Not Bold Predictions: Release Marqise Lee, Jake Ryan, Geoff Swaim

Cap Room after Releases: $10.1 million

Moderately Bold: Release Marcell Dareus

Cap Room: $29.5 million

Bold: Trade Leonard Fournette

Cap Room: $33.2 million

Franchise Tag: Yannick Ngakoue, $19.3 million

I think it might be irresponsible to not tag and/or trade Ngakoue given what we saw with Dee Ford and Frank Clark last year. He’s a good pass rusher and he’s their only priority. They’re basically swapping Dareus’ allocation for Ngakoue.

Cap Room, if not traded: $14.4 million

Bold(ish): Trade Nick Foles

Cap Room: $17 million

Bold, Part II: Release Andrew Norwell

He’s just been such a disappointment and I don’t think $17 million is enough for the Jaguars to maneuver for next season and beyond. It may be this or Bouye, but I think corner is a little harder to replace and more important and Bouye has been good for Jacksonville in the recent past.

Cap Room: $22 million

If not enough, I would next turn to Abry Jones. They could also still trade Ngakoue at that point....maybe giving them three first round picks in 2020?

Chargers Interest:

Fournette could be an interesting change-of-scenery move to replace Melvin Gordon, but surely not that big of a deal overall. Dareus might look really good between Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but it depends where his value is at on the market right now. Norwell could also fill in as a good second-opportunity player on an offensive line in need. I don’t see Foles as a viable option, either as a starter or as any sort of upgrade to Taylor.

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