The Jacksonville Jaguars decided to spend their offseason money on Blake Bortles, who received an extension, and not on Allen Robinson, which is an interesting decision of sorts. But it appears to be happening: The Jaguars said Tuesday they do not plan to use the franchise tag on Robinson.
We are not expected to utilize franchise or transition tag on WR Allen Robinson ahead of 4 p.m. deadline.— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) March 6, 2018
We have exclusive negotiating rights with Robinson until March 12 at 4 p.mhttps://t.co/lGW5NWSX8v
For Robinson, this is pretty massive news. He is just 24 years old and although he is coming off a season lost to an ACL injury in 2017, he has a 1,400-yard season under his belt that he produced at 22. There is not a lot of high-end talent at wide receiver in either free agency or the draft, and there are several teams with young quarterbacks looking to bolster the pass catchers around them.
Robinson could stand to earn a pretty substantial contract on the open market with the salary cap jumping another $10 million in 2018.
From the Jaguars' perspective, this won't sit well with fans, who would prefer the team use the $16 million in cap space on a one-year deal with Robinson. But it's likely the team believes the combination of Allen Hurns (recently extended), Dede Westbrook (emerged during 2017, also 24 years old) and Keenan Cole (748 yards last season, also 24) gives them enough cheap talent at the position to let Robinson walk. There is a lot of money already tied up in the defense and it would cost $16 million in salary cap space that would keep them from making moves in free agency.
"It's a lot of money that would prohibit us from doing some things to help the team around him," Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said during the combine.
Let's look at some landing spots for Robinson in free agency:
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers solved their pesky little quarterback problem in the middle of last season by going out and trading for Jimmy Garoppolo. In addition to walking on water, Jimmy G also won the final five games of the season and injected about eight pounds of raw hope directly into the veins of 49ers fans. Now GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan need to find a top-end target to pair with the sneakily developing Marquise Goodwin and Garrett Celek. Robinson isn't Julio Jones, but no one is; he still could be a target hog in Shanahan's offense and Jimmy G's best friend. The 49ers are loaded with cap space -- they might roll over more than $56 million alone. They can afford anyone they want to afford.
Assuming the Bears are planning to follow the Rams plan and surround second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with talent, it would not be surprising at all to see them pay big money for a wide receiver in free agency. Last year the Bears traded for Dontrelle Inman, and he was their top weapon. That is not sustainable in terms of helping out Trubisky. They have Adam Shaheen at tight end and there is always hope that former first-round pick Kevin White pans out, but banking on him is putting your eggs in a shaky basket. Chicago needs to find a young weapon to grow with Trubisky and should be top five in the NFL in terms of cap space once they officially release Mike Glennon and Willie Young. They're in the middle of a rebuild and need to acquire young talent. This is a nice conversion of need and availability. Robinson is from Detroit, so there's some geographical proximity here if that interests him.
As noted by the Jags above, they have exclusive negotiating rights with Robinson before the league year begins. That should carry some weight, although it is odd to hear the statements from Caldwell and assume the Jags would be willing to lock down Robinson on a long-term deal. It might just be a matter of the cap hit, though, which can be explained pretty easily. And it's not like Robinson should be offended by not getting the franchise tag -- he gets to hit free agency now. Robinson would still be the top available weapon if the Jaguars reached a deal with him, but my gut says he ends up exploring free agency. There is familiarity here, of course, and no state income tax. Those things matter, but the Jags' faith in their depth chart and Robinson's desire for a long-term deal at a big dollar amount might preclude this from happening.
The Panthers don't stand out as a team that would spend big on a wide receiver, but Marty Hurney is not Dave Gettleman, and there is a clear impetus on landing Cam Newton some weapons this offseason. Carolina has spent the early part of the offseason clearing up cap space by shuttling out veterans like Kurt Coleman, Charles Johnson and Jonathan Stewart. Newton was throwing passes to Kaelin Clay and Brentin Bersin during the Panthers' playoff game last season. That's not how you treat a franchise quarterback. Maybe Sammy Watkins makes more sense here, but it would not be surprising to see Carolina as a player in the Robinson market. He would pair nicely with Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen.
New York Jets
The Jets should be considered a sleeper for Robinson if for only one reason: Kirk Cousins. The Jets want to land the quarterback in free agency and could quickly make themselves more attractive by getting a jumpstart on free agency and inking Robinson to a deal that would show Cousins they are serious about surrounding him with talent. The Jets have piles and piles of cap space and could structure a deal with Robinson in such a way that it allows them to still frontload any deal they give Cousins. They are at a disadvantage when it comes to being competitive with a team like the Vikings, but could overcome some of that distance by making an early splash for someone like Robinson, who could serve as a recruiting tool for Cousins.
Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant are set to be free agents, leaving Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder on the depth chart as weapons for Alex Smith, once that trade becomes official. (Full disclosure: I wrote Kirk Cousins the first time here. Hard to believe it's really all happening.) JP Finlay of NBC Washington believes Washington will be a player for Robinson in the market and, honestly, it wouldn't be hard to see the Redskins grabbing a bunch of nice new weapons for their new quarterback and then issuing a press release about how happy they are to surround Smith with talent, just to spite Cousins.
This is a longer shot I think, since the Ravens aren't typically active in this kind of free-agent market. They inked Jeremy Maclin last year, but only after he was released late in the offseason. But this is Ozzie Newsome's final year as GM before he steps down, and it's not inconceivable to imagine a situation where the Ravens do a little bit of shoving their chips into the middle here; they could spend on a wide receiver to improve the passing game in a draft where they might not be able to find one at their draft slot. The offense simply has to improve if they want to be balanced the way they want to be.