Lawrence, Jags ready to run it back after late-season surge
By MARK LONG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Trevor Lawrence signed jerseys, helmets and posters for teammates Monday before heading into the offseason.
He left his locker pretty much intact.
He's ready to run it back.
Lawrence understands aspects will be a little different when the Jacksonville Jaguars return in three months, but the quarterback is confident they have the nucleus in place to be an annual playoff contender for years to come.
"We set a new standard and we're not going to settle for anything less," Lawrence said two days after a 27-20 loss at Kansas City. "Obviously there's more out there for us, and we're just excited to get that opportunity again."
The Jaguars (10-9) closed the season by winning seven of their final nine games, highlighted by a six-game streak that included come-from-behind victories against Tennessee, Dallas and the Los Angeles Chargers.
They won the AFC South for the first time since 2017, matched a Super Bowl-era record by winning eight games as underdogs and engineered the third-largest playoff comeback in NFL history when they rallied from 27 points down to stun the Chargers in a wild-card game.
In doing so, they became the first team to win a playoff game after having the worst record the previous season.
The run few could have seen coming ended against the top-seeded Chiefs, but nonetheless convinced the Jaguars they're on the verge of building something special.
"You feel like your window of opportunity is now, strike while the iron's hot, so to speak," coach Doug Pederson said. "And we've got to take advantage of that with the guys we have, with the free-agent process, the draft process coming up. We've got to hit on all those benchmarks and continue to improve the team."
JONES OUT, RIDLEY IN
One guy who won't be around next season is veteran receiver Marvin Jones. He packed up his locker and headed to the West Coast to await his next stop. Jones, who turns 33 in March, already moved his family from Miami to San Diego and hopes to play next season - his 12th - nearby.
Jones would love a reunion with former Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, now with the Los Angeles Rams, but would settle for anything in close proximity to his wife and five children.
The Jaguars already made a move to replace Jones, trading for suspended receiver Calvin Ridley in November. Ridley is expected to be reinstated next month and would count roughly $11 million against Jacksonville's salary cap in 2023. Ridley caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020, his last full season in the league.
FREE AGENT PRIORITIES
Tight end Evan Engram is the team's top target to re-sign before free agency. He played under a one-year, $9 million contract in 2022, a prove-it deal after five injury-shortened seasons with the New York Giants.
Engram finished this season with 73 catches for 766 yards - both career highs - and four touchdowns. The Jaguars hope to work out a long-term deal with Engram, but also could use the franchise tag to keep him in Jacksonville.
"This is where I want to be and where I want to continue my career and be a part of what's being built here for sure," he said. "Those conversations will definitely start coming. You never know what can happen, what they're going to do. But when that time comes, we'll get there."
Others players the Jaguars will look to bring back: right tackle Jawaan Taylor, edge rushers Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot, safety/special teams ace Andrew Wingard and blocking tight end Chris Manhertz.
"Doug has instilled a great culture for us to build on," Manhertz said. "We're surrounded by a great roster and a great coaching staff, and that's a great mix for success - for now and for later."
Jacksonville will have to make space to re-sign Engram and others since the team is currently about $14 million over the projected 2023 salary cap.
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin is an obvious choice. He missed most of the season because of a back injury, and the Jaguars played better without him. He also carries a $17.1 million cap number in 2023. Cutting him would save $13.1 million and cost $4 million in dead money.
"I want to have this year where I'm fully healthy and get a chance to prove everything that I have for this team and, shoot, for my career," Griffin said. "We'll see. I'm staying hopeful. I know at the end of the day it's business."
Other potential cap-saving moves: cutting return man Jamal Agnew, who had a costly fumble against the Chiefs late, would create $4.7 million in cap savings; parting ways with defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris would free up another $7.8 million.
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Updated January 23, 2023