JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars’ tight end position in this look at the ’18 offseason
Position: Tight end.
2017 starters: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack, James O’Shaughnessy.
*2017 reserves: *David Grinnage | Mychal Rivera (injured reserve).
2017 at a glance: This area was mostly about run-blocking this past season, with a few notable exceptions when Lewis and Koyack made key plays in the passing game. Lewis, a first-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2006 NFL Draft and the team’s most-tenured player, remained a front-line run blocker and also caught 24 passes for 318 yards and five touchdowns. Koyack, a three-year veteran, caught five regular-season passes for 38 yards and his one-yard touchdown reception was the difference in a 10-3 Wild Card Playoff victory over Buffalo. O’Shaughnessy, a three-year veteran, caught 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.
*Offseason storyline: *This could be an important offseason area for the Jaguars, with the team perhaps seeking a play-making move tight end who can contribute in the passing game. That could come either in the early rounds of the draft or via free agency. Lewis has a year remaining on his contract with a salary-cap figure for 2018 of $3.75 million.
*Free agents as of March 14: *Koyack (exclusive rights free agent).
*Oehser analysis: *The thought here is the Jaguars could seek to upgrade the positon. That doesn’t necessarily mean parting ways with Lewis, who remains one of the NFL’s best run-blocking tight ends, but it could mean addressing the position late in the first round of the draft. The Jaguars’ salary-cap situation could preclude them from pursuing a tight end via free agency, but considering the importance of having a player who can create matchup problems in the middle of the field, an investment in significant draft equity – i.e., late first or second round – could make sense. The Jaguars got a lot out of Lewis and Koyack in the red zone this season, scheming the players open at times and using Lewis’ 6-feet-6, 275-pound frame to create match-up advantages. But having a tight end who can create separation on linebackers and out-physical defensive backs appears to be a necessary addition to an offense that lacked intermediate down-and-distance options too often this past season. One question about this area: How does the team feel about Rivera, who missed 2017 with a training-camp hand injury after signing as an unrestricted free agent last offseason? He is a versatile player with receiving ability. His presence could give the team an option at the position next season if it can’t find the right fit at the position in free agency or the draft.
Sexton analysis: Blake Bortles looks to me like the kind of quarterback who needs a guy in the middle of the field. Let me be clearer: Blake Bortles is the kind of quarterback who absolutely has to have a guy roaming the middle of the field. Lewis is the NFL’s most dominant run-blocking tight end and can be lethal in the red zone; however, at age 33, he doesn’t move as well as he once did and can be covered with players and scheme. The Jaguars’ tight end conversation begins and ends with Lewis -- and that must change this offseason. There isn’t likely to be a Rob Gronkowski in free agency or the draft – and truthfully, we may not see him again. But there will be guys who play like Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz – guys who are big, quick and maybe fast; guys who run precise routes and have the kind of playmaking ability Ertz showed on the goal line with the Super Bowl outcome still in doubt. The Jaguars must improve in several places on offense; there may not be a more important place to begin than tight end. Bortles, who showed a knack for play action and the underneath passing game this past season, would greatly benefit from such a move.