JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Though free agency doesn’t begin until March 9, the Jacksonville Jaguars already may have to alter their plans.
ESPN’s Ed Werder and Adam Schefter reported Monday that Kansas City was expected to use the franchise tag on safety Eric Berry, the Chargers were expected to use the franchise tag on defensive end Melvin Ingram, and the New York Giants are expected to use the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul by Wednesday’s deadline. If that turns out to be the case, then three potential Jaguars targets could be off the market.
As a quick refresher, there are three types of franchise tags:
The exclusive-rights tag means the player is bound to his current team. He cannot sign an offer sheet with another team.
The non-exclusive tag allows players to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the player’s current team has the right to match that offer or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
The transition tag means the player can sign an offer sheet with another team, but the player’s current team would have the right to match the offer. If it didn’t match, it would not receive any compensation.
If the Chiefs and Chargers use one of the latter two tags, the Jaguars still would have a chance at landing either player, though executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell would have to decide if Berry or Ingram are worth two first-round picks (unlikely). Cleveland used the transition tag on center Alex Mack in 2014 and the Jaguars signed him to a five-year offer sheet, but the Browns matched the deal.
Berry, Ingram and Pierre-Paul were three of the top players potentially available in free agency, and each would have filled a huge need for the Jaguars. It was unlikely the team would have been able to sign all three, especially since the Jaguars are expected to pursue several offensive linemen as well, but potentially signing Berry, Ingram or Pierre-Paul (or two of them) would have been a major boost to a defense that made significant strides in 2016.
The Jaguars finished sixth in total defense and ranked 19th in rush defense, fifth in pass defense, eighth in third-down defense, and 25th in scoring. The Jaguars improved in nearly every category from 2015, with the exception of rush defense (15th). The Jaguars ranked 24th in total defense, 29th in pass defense and 31st in third-down defense and scoring defense.
Berry, who has 14 interceptions and five touchdowns in seven seasons with the Chiefs, would pair perfectly with free safety Tashaun Gipson. He has the flexibility to play in coverage as a single-high safety as well as closer to the line of scrimmage. More importantly, he’s a playmaker. The player he would replace is Johnathan Cyprien, who has two interceptions and four forced fumbles in 60 games over four seasons.
If Berry does get tagged, the free agent safety market drops off significantly. The Jaguars could turn to Arizona’s Tony Jefferson, though his stats are similar to Cyprien’s: two interceptions and six forced fumbles in 63 career games. Other possibilities include Dallas’ Barry Church, Arizona’s D.J. Swearinger, and Green Bay’s Micah Hyde.
Ingram would have been regarded as the best edge rusher available in free agency now that Arizona has used the non-exclusive franchise tag on Chandler Jones. Ingram, who has 18.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles over the past two seasons, would have been a good complement to second-year end Yannick Ngakoue, who set a franchise rookie record with 8.0 sacks.
Pierre-Paul, who had seven sacks last season after his hand injury and has 50 in his seven seasons, was the next-best rusher after Jones and Ingram. Now the Jaguars' options include Green Bay’s Nick Perry and New England's Jabaal Sheard. It may be better for the Jaguars to attempt to address edge rusher in the draft.
Free agency plans always are fluid because no one is ever sure which players will be franchised or available, and Kansas City, Los Angeles or the Giants could change course and decide not to tag their players. These reported moves aren’t catching the Jaguars off guard, but they do make things harder to address those positions of need -- while driving up the price of the available players.