On to ’19: Safeties

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Ronnie Harrison (36) on the sideline prior to an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Jaguars won 6-0. (Perry Knotts via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Ronnie Harrison (36) on the sideline prior to an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Jaguars won 6-0. (Perry Knotts via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars’ safety position in this look at the ’19 offseason.

Position: Safeties.

2018 starters: Tashaun Gipson (16), Barry Church (11), Ronnie Harrison (8), Jarrod Wilson (2).

Others: C.J. Reavis, Cody Davis.

2018 at a glance: Harrison replaced Church in the lineup at strong safety in Week 13, and Church was released two weeks later. Harrison, who spent the first 11 games of his rookie season as the safety in the team’s big nickel package and three at strong safety before missing the final two games of the season with an injury – registered a sack, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, an interception and three passes defensed. Gipson, who started 16 games at free safety for a third consecutive season, was third on the Jaguars with seven passes defensed and also had an interception, a tackle for loss and a hit.

Offseason storyline: Gipson’s future is the major unknown at the spot. Harrison is expected to be a starter and a core player for the defense for the foreseeable future, but Gipson’s salary-cap number for 2019 makes his status less certain. Wilson, a reliable backup during his first three seasons, signed a three-year contract extension in January that kept him from becoming a restricted free agent.

Free agents as of March 13: None.

Oehser analysis: This position in an ideal world next season would be a nice mix of veteran (Gipson) and rising young player (Harrison) with Wilson as a reliable backup. The Jaguars will have the young player and they feel good about Harrison’s future, but Gipson’s future with the organization is perhaps the biggest unknown in the back seven. He has played at a high level in three seasons since signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from the Cleveland Browns, but high-profile UFAs rarely last four seasons with their team – and his $9.05 million cap figure for 2019 is probably too high for the Jaguars to absorb. Will the Jaguars renegotiate with Gipson and keep him for another year? Will he be released? Or could they find a trade partner? Is Wilson an option at free safety alongside Harrison? The positive for the Jaguars at this position clearly is the talent and potential of Harrison, a 2018 third-round selection from Alabama who showed more positives than any other Jaguars ’18 draft selection as a rookie. The concern is the possible departure of the experienced Gipson, which would mean playing a pair of relative unknowns in the middle of the secondary.

Sexton analysis: Harrison is a guy I can’t wait to see in the summer. The third-round pick from Alabama looked like he belonged from the early going last season; he’s long, athletic and just has instincts for the ball. He fits right in between cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye – and looks like a long-, long-term solution at safety. I’m not sure Gipson is the guy opposite him moving forward; he is very good in the big matchups against tight ends but is cap heavy at a little more than $9 million. A new deal for Wilson might be the writing on the wall for Gipson. Wilson was almost exclusively a special-teams player until Harrison was lost for the season and Church was benched then released. Wilson looks like a strong safety at 6-feet-2 and 210 pounds and he isn’t afraid to bring the boom when it’s time for contact. They’re well stocked at the spot with Gipson and not in dire trouble if his money is too rich for the Jaguars’ salary cap this fall. Don’t forget Davis, who is a special-teams ace but capable of filling a role when called on as well.

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