The Jacksonville Jaguars have spent a total of $178.3 million in free agency and probably aren't even done yet, already doling out big money to acquire Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson and Chris Ivory. But for all the money spent, the Jaguars whiffed on the one position it needs to upgrade most and now the team may be forced to make a trade to address it.
Only one player on the Jaguars' roster, defensive end Jared Odrick, finished the 2015 season with more than four sacks. Adding Jackson, a 284-pound defensive lineman who tallied five sacks with the Denver Broncos, should help the pass rush, but the Jaguars are still in need of a "LEO" to bring speed off the edge.
The LEO position stems from the Pete Carroll coaching tree and Gus Bradley brought it to the Jaguars after four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. The tl;dr explanation of the position is that it's an undersized pass rusher who is given the chance to get after the quarterback without having to worry about much of anything else.
As Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell began his rebuild of the team's roster in 2013, the team attempted to re-purpose 2012 second-round pick Andre Branch for the position and filled the role temporarily with veterans like Jason Babin and Chris Clemons. But it wasn't until Jacksonville took Dante Fowler, Jr. with the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft that the team made a significant investment at the position.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Fowler went down with a torn ACL in his very first practice with the team and essentially redshirted his rookie season.
Now, after allowing Branch to walk in free agency, the only relatively light pass rushers the Jaguars have on the roster who could fill in at LEO are Fowler, Ryan Davis, Chris Smith and Quanterus Smith. While Davis has 11 sacks in his three seasons in the NFL, it isn't exactly a murderer's row, and relying on Fowler to save the day is less than ideal.
In the last 15 seasons, only 12 rookies have recorded a double-digit sack season. Even J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack, the two atop the sack leader board in 2015, posted 9.5 sacks combined as rookies before breaking out in their second seasons.
And make no mistake, the Jaguars are aware of the fact that throwing the pass-rushing duties on the shoulders of Fowler isn't wise. In January, Caldwell promised there would be an "influx" of sack artists added to the roster, but when the price tag for Olivier Vernon went too high, the Jaguars bowed out, and the team missed on Robert Ayers as well.
So now what?
Branch may be the best pass rusher still on the market, and filling the roster with the same ineffective player who posted 14 sacks in four seasons is far from a viable solution. And while the Jaguars are in great shape to add a talented player like Joey Bosa with No. 5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, the team may covet other options and that would be another inexperienced player who will likely need time.
A trade looks like the most logical and necessary option for the Jaguars. Caldwell and Bradley are entering their fourth year in Jacksonville and have an abysmal 12-36 record -- the time for patience has passed. With draft picks at the top of each round and an extra sixth-round pick, the team has some draft capital to work with to make something happen.
It's also possible that the Jaguars could part ways with Luke Joeckel in a trade, three years after taking him with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft. The first pick of Caldwell's tenure hasn't panned out as the left tackle the Jaguars dreamed of when he was drafted, and former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum visited Jacksonville on Monday.
Swinging a trade, whether it includes Joeckel in the deal or not, is a move that the Jaguars seemingly have no choice but to make.
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