JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was tacked on at the end of his response to a question about how the Jacksonville Jaguars' approach to free agency will be different in 2018 than it has been the past several seasons. Still, it may have been the most interesting thing that general manager Dave Caldwell said during his news conference last week.
The Jaguars may be bigger players in free agency than most expected.
Signing quarterback Blake Bortles to a three-year extension and cutting running back Chris Ivory cleared $12.7 million against the salary cap and gives the Jaguars approximately $30 million in space. That's plenty of room for the Jaguars to re-sign receiver Allen Robinson or cornerback Aaron Colvin -- as well as go after high-dollar free agents.
"This has been a four-year process for us," Caldwell said. "We felt like when we got here, it would be two years building the offense and two years building the defense. Our first two years we didn't spend a lot of money in those acquisitions so when we got to this point we can keep this team together. Not only for this year, but for the long haul.
"We have to be cognizant of some guys that are coming up here with Jalen [Ramsey], Myles [Jack] and Yannick [Ngakoue]. Those guys are going to command some contracts if they continue to play at the level they are playing at. We have to be careful of what we do this year, but also moving forward. We are still in a really good cap situation. We can afford to be aggressive in this free agency and try to finish off what we started."
If the Jaguars do decide to take an aggressive approach, there are three players the team should consider pursuing. Two address immediate needs and the third is a player on the upswing and insurance for injuries and the uncertainty of young receivers.
G Andrew Norwell: The Jaguars need to improve the interior of the offensive line, and the 26-year-old Norwell is the best guard on the market. He won't be cheap, however. Kevin Zeitler signed a deal that averaged $11 million last season to become the league's highest-paid guard, and it likely will cost the Jaguars more than that annually to land Norwell.
Still, that might be worth it to pair him between left tackle Cam Robinson and center Brandon Linder so the Jaguars can beef up their run game. That sounds strange considering the Jaguars finished the regular season as the NFL's top rushing team (141.4 yards per game), but their production dropped off significantly over the final six games. They averaged 51.3 fewer rushing yards in Weeks 12-17 than they did during the first 11 weeks. The running backs share the blame for that, but the interior of the offensive line struggled to create space.
Coach Doug Marrone said the team's inability to run the ball consistently in the second half of the AFC Championship game was one of the reasons the Jaguars blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the New England Patriots. Norwell would be a major upgrade.
TE Jimmy Graham: Jaguars tight ends caught an NFL-low 43 passes and their 79 targets were the third-fewest in the league last season. Marcedes Lewis, who will be in his 12th season in 2018, was never a dynamic pass-catcher and is at this point in his career more of a blocker. A tight end who can flex outside, be a factor in the red zone and make plays down the field in the seam is a major need for the Jaguars.
Graham may no longer be producing at the level he did from 2011-14 in New Orleans, but he's still a dangerous player even at 31. He averaged a career-low 9.1 yards per catch last season in Seattle but caught 10 touchdowns after catching eight combined in 2015-16. All of those TD catches came in the red zone, and he had more red-zone catches (15) than all but one player (the Miami Dolphins' Jarvis Landry had 17).
The most catches a Jaguars player had in the red zone last season was six (Allen Hurns), so Graham would certainly help the Jaguars there.
It may take $7-$9 million annually to land Graham, unless the Jaguars can persuade him that signing here will give him a good chance to win another Super Bowl ring.
WR Paul Richardson: There's one day until the franchise tag deadline, and the Jaguars seem reluctant to use that on Robinson -- who is coming off a torn left ACL -- at a cost of approximately $16 million. That leaves another eight days to work out a deal before Robinson becomes an unrestricted free agent. If that happens, the chance of Robinson being here in 2018 drops significantly.
Richardson could be a replacement option. He's coming off the best season of his career (44 catches, 703 yards, six TDs) in which he averaged 16.0 yards per catch. He would give the Jaguars the downfield threat that they don't currently have, and that would take a lot of pressure off second-year players Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole, both of whom had solid rookie seasons.
Richardson would be cheaper than Robinson, too. A contract that pays him $7-$9 million annually would likely be enough.