JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' wide receiver position in this look at the '18 offseason
Position: Wide receiver.
Starters: Marqise Lee, Blake Bortles | Blake Bortles (injured reserve after Week 1).
Reserves: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Jaydon Mickens.
Others:Lamar Atkins, Tevaun Smith| Blake Bortles, Rashad Greene Jr., Shane Wynn, Jaelen Strong (injured reserve).
2017 at a glance: This position throughout the season dealt with the absence of its best player – Robinson – after he sustained a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in a Week 1 victory over the Houston Texans. It was a fluid position much of the season because of injuries, enough so that it was hard to label any player beyond Lee a "starter;" Cole, Westbrook and Hurns all played frontline roles though different stretches. Lee caught 56 passes for 702 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games, with Westbrook catching 27 passes for 339 yards and a touchdown in seven games and Hurns catching 39 passes for 484 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games. Cole, like Westbrook a rookie, was the lone Jaguars receiver to play in all 16 games in 2017, catching 42 passes for a team-high 742 yards and three touchdowns.
Offseason storyline:This is a critical offseason area for the Jaguars, and it's one of the team's most uncertain areas. Robinson and Lee both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on the March 14 start of the NFL League Year – and the team also must decide the future of Hurns, who is under contract for two more seasons but who has no more guaranteed money in his contract and who therefore is a possibility to be released for "salary-cap purposes." Along with quarterback Blake Bortles' future, Robinson's status figures to be the Jaguars' top storyline during the next month. The Jaguars need more from this position next season. Is the formula Robinson, Cole and Westbrook with a drafted player or free agent? Can the team afford to re-sign Robinson and find a way to get either Lee or Hurns back? All are tricky questions that will be answered in the coming weeks.
Free agents as of March 14:Robinson, Lee.
Oehser analysis:The major question regarding the Jaguars' receiving corps: Will Robinson return? As of this writing, that's a major unknown. The Jaguars this past season clearly missed Robinson's ability to out-physical defensive backs for the ball, and re-signing him to a long-term deal would seem to be a major priority. If the sides can't agree to a deal, Robinson would seem a candidate for the franchise tag, which would mean him playing on a one-year deal in 2018 for $16.25 million. Lee, like Robinson a second-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, also is unrestricted free agent but seems unlikely to be re-signed with the team needing to re-sign Robinson. Hurns could be retained, but that seems unlikely – particularly for the $7 million he is due next season. The best guess here is that Robinson, Westbrook and Cole form the core of the receiving group next season along with a receiver selected on Day 1 or 2 of the draft. But considering the fluid nature of this position, that's only a guess.
Sexton analysis: It was clear watching the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl that the Eagles were able to do what the Jaguars could not because they had a stronger offensive line and were better at wide receiver. The Jags receiving corps will get a big, BIG boost if Robinson returns healthy in 2018. He would be their Alshon Jeffrey, who is too big, strong and quick for most corners; he is a must have for Head Coach Doug Marrone and Co. next season. I don't expect we'll see Lee or Hurns return, which will end an experiment that looked so promising in 2014 when they added those two and Robinson thinking they might have a long-term trio. Lee could command more than $8 million on the free-agent market and Hurns won't be able to justify his $7 million dollar salary after missing 11 games and scoring only five touchdowns since signing his mega-contract in 2016. The emergence of rookies Westbrook and Cole creates hope for a new trio as both made a move forward in December and January. It's fair to expect at least one draft choice to supplement this group and it could and should be quite high as there are a number of playmakers in this draft. This group must be much stronger, much, much stronger in 2018 if the Jaguars are going to make another run.