The Jacksonville Jaguars announced Tuesday that they are using the franchise tag on starting left tackle Cam Robinson for the second consecutive year. The decision has many left wondering what it could mean for the No. 1 overall selection.
The most important off-season objective for Jacksonville, as well as many other teams, is to upgrade the offensive line. Those words are an indictment of the group rather than individual parts of that unit. It makes sense for the Jaguars to retain Robinson because a) it gives them flexibility to make other moves and b) it is difficult to find quality offensive linemen. If he had been allowed to walk in free agency, then another team would have snatched him up in an instant.
One strategy that some teams across the league have used is the idea of avoiding desperation in the NFL Draft. The thinking is that teams should address areas of weakness in free agency, allowing them the freedom to draft based on value. When signing free agents, teams have more of an idea what a player is capable of accomplishing in the league, whereas there is more mystery regarding how a draft pick will translate. When making that decision, decision-makers should be in a position to make the most educated guess because if it goes awry, it could cost them his or her job down the line.
Back to the original question: what does placing the franchise tag on Robinson mean for Jacksonville's larger efforts in free agency and the draft? In short, very little.
The team could still sign a free agent left tackle like Terron Armstead, slide Robinson to guard and draft N.C. State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal at No. 1 overall. In fact, Neal played right tackle for the Crimson Tide during the 2020 season when Alex Leatherwood was on the roster. The idea is that Robinson's return gives them options and, potentially, leverage. They are no longer desperate to win a bidding war for the services of a veteran. Perhaps their efforts are now diverted to a free agent offensive guard, like Brandon Scherff. In the event that they sign Armstead and draft an offensive lineman No. 1 overall, Robinson could theoretically be traded for assets. As noted in the second paragraph, there is never a shortage of teams in the market for competent offensive line play.
In the hypothetical scenario that Armstead is signed and a rookie is drafted No. 1 overall, Jacksonville would have roughly $60 million or 28.8% of the salary cap committed to its starting offensive line, which would contend with Dallas for most in the NFL. Only the Ravens, Eagles, Cardinals and Cowboys currently exceed $50 million.
If it were my decision, I would have zero issue making that level of commitment to protect the quarterback. There was enough damage done to his organizational trust in Year 1. As years pass, the team can begin swapping out players for more cost-effective players, but Jacksonville had the second highest available salary cap space ($57.3 million) coming into the day, according to Spotrac.com. It can afford the short-term burden.
The alternative option is that Jacksonville could sign a top-tier offensive line free agent and then draft Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson No. 1 overall. Hutchinson was highly productive last season and would form a strength in Duval County alongside former No. 7 overall selection Josh Allen.
Free agency opens Tuesday, March 15, and the legal tampering period -- during which conversations with free agents officially commence -- is two days prior. The 2022 NFL Draft is April 28-30 in Las Vegas, Nevada.