Doug Pederson, Trent Baalke have first major roster decision to make collaboratively
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson and General Manager Trent Baalke must make their first major collaborative decision regarding their roster on Tuesday.
They must decide if veteran left tackle Cam Robinson is worth $16.5 million to retain under the one-year franchise tag designation or allow him to hit the open market in free agency.
If the Jaguars decide to move on from Robinson, they could use the No. 1 overall pick to select Alabama's Evan Neal or North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu, the top two left tackle prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. If Neal or Ekwonu, it could result in Walker Little moving to right tackle to start ahead of Jawaan Taylor, who performed poorly last season.
Whichever way the Pederson or Baalke are leaning towards, they declined to go into specifics at the NFL Combine last week.
''I would love to have them all back, honestly,'' Pederson said. ''But we know this business is driven by the dollars and cents. We'll make decisions that are best for the Jaguars.''
Last week, owner Shad Khan scrapped plans, for now, to hire an executive vice-president to oversee football operations and have the final say on personnel matters.
Under Pederson, the new era will have Baalke in charge of the front office operations. However, Pederson will significantly impact roster decisions with collaboration with Baalke. Both appear consistent in having the same philosophy of rebuilding the roster.
''I'm not going to be put any restrictions on the club one way or another,'' Baalke said. ''If it's to our advantage to use it (franchise tag) if needed and we don't need to use it, we won't. There's a lot of things that can happen between the tag (deadline), free agency and the draft.''
Last year, the Jaguars designated the tag on Robinson because Baalke and then head coach Urban Meyer thought his ceiling was too high to allow him to hit the open market.
If he's designated with the franchise tag for a second straight season, Robinson will receive a 20% raise that would increase his salary to $16.5 million from the $13.7 million he made in 2021.
If Robinson is designated with the tag, it would be the third consecutive season the franchise has done it.
In 2020, the Jaguars opted to franchise tag edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, but he declined to sign it that led to the franchise trading him to the Minnesota Vikings.
Prior to Ngakoue, the Jaguars had not applied the franchise tag on a player since kicker Josh Scobee in 2012.
Robinson allowed one sack last season in 856 snaps. He drew a 67.4 grade by Pro Football Focus after having a low 61.8 grade in 2020. Robinson's most prominent supporter in Jacksonville was his former offensive line coach George Warhop, who will serve in the same capacity with the Houston Texans after Pederson decided not to retain him.
Robinson has been with the Jaguars since 2017, when he was a second-round pick out of Alabama. During his first three seasons, he had difficulty developing his foot and hand techniques, along with missing significant time due to injuries. In 2018, Robinson missed all but two games after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Chark not likely to be designated with franchise tag
The Jaguars could also designate wide receiver DJ Chark with the franchise tag, but that appears unlikely. Chark is expected to hit the open market in free agency, but the Jaguars could make a push to sign him to a short-term deal.
Chark, a second-round pick in 2018, had his season in 2021 cut short in Week 4 when he suffered a broken ankle against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In 2019, Chark caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns to make the Pro Bowl. But in 2020, Chark's numbers dropped to 53 catches for 706 yards and five touchdowns. In four games before his injury occurred last season, Chark caught seven passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
''If we want to change the culture of Jacksonville and the direction of the franchise, it's going to start there,'' Baalke said at the NFL Combine last week. ''It's going to start by drafting well, developing and getting guys to their second contracts. I think it's important for everyone to understand that has to be the focus.''