The Jacksonville Jaguars had high hopes last season after a strong offseason that included the additions of Malik Jackson, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack. Unfortunately, their plan to dominate the AFC South didn’t pan out, limping to a 3-13 record behind terrible quarterback play.
Now, they have additional work to do on both sides of the ball. The offensive line was not good last season, and while the defense was a top-10 unit, there are holes that need to be filled. With the fourth-most estimated cap space ($71.2 million), the Jags can be aggressive in free agency and pursue their top targets.
Here are six names they should target when free agency begins March 9.
USA TODAY SporTimothy T. Ludwig
QB Brian Hoyer (Bears)
The Jaguars have been somewhat non-committal on Blake Bortles this offseason with Tom Coughlin saying he needs to improve this season, especially with his turnover-prone ways. While they haven’t brought in any actual competition for him, Hoyer would be a cheap option to push Bortles for the starting job. At the very least, he’d be a reliable backup in the event that the team moves on from Chad Henne, or makes him a third-stringer after re-signing him this offseason.
DT Chris Baker (Redskins)
The Jaguars are set up to take Jonathan Allen, who would fill a big need on their defense, toward the top of the draft. If they want some insurance at that spot, though, Baker would be a good free-agent addition. He’s played defensive end in Washington’s 3-4 defense, and in Jacksonville, he would fill a similar role. He can rush the passer and stop the run from that spot, both areas where the Jaguars can stand to improve. He deserves to be paid like a top player for the way he’s played in recent years.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Giants)
Tom Coughlin, the man in control of Jacksonville’s roster, coached Pierre-Paul for years in New York, so he obviously understands his game. While JPP has played only in a 4-3, he’d fit well in the Jaguars’ hybrid scheme. He certainly has the size to hold up against the run, and despite his hand issue, he can still rush the passer with the best 4-3 defensive ends. Jacksonville’s defense was already strong in 2016, but it wouldn’t hurt to continue to bolster the front with a prized free agent end. Pierre-Paul fits the bill as long as he doesn’t cost the Jaguars more than Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones would.
S Johnathan Cyprien (Jaguars)
Cyprien finally realized his potential last season, playing extremely well in Jacksonville’s defense. He was aggressive and trusted his instincts, making several plays around the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars would be smart to bring him back with an extension before he goes elsewhere and continues to improve as a strong safety. Eric Berry and Tony Jefferson headline this year’s safety class, but Cyprien is a close third. The Jaguars need to continue developing their own players such as Cyprien.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY SporJohn David Mercer
CB Stephon Gilmore (Bills)
Jalen Ramsey is going to start at one cornerback spot for at least the next four years, but his running mate is still unknown. Prince Amukamara is set to be a free agent, which means he’ll likely need to be replaced. Gilmore would be an upgrade over Amukamara, albeit an expensive one, too. He’s another big, physical cornerback who plays somewhat like Ramsey on the outside. That would benefit defensive coordinator Todd Walsh, giving him two stud cornerbacks to build around.
Timothy T. LudwigTimothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
OG Kevin Zeitler (Bengals)
Luke Joeckel is unlikely to return, but he was terrible last season anyway. That leaves two holes at guard for the Jaguars, one of which could be filled by the position’s top available player, Zeitler. He’s an elite guard who excels in both pass protection and opening up running lanes, which makes him such an intriguing free agent. The Jaguars are among the teams with the most cap space, so money won’t be an issue. It’ll be luring Zeitler to Jacksonville that might be a challenge.