On the eve of their third preseason game, Thursday against Carolina, the Jacksonville Jaguars are feeling pretty good about rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook. They have good reason to.
The Jaguars have always thought they pulled off a bit of heist by getting the 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and his preseason stats suggest they were right.
Westbrook, who was brought in to add some speed to the Jaguars attack, will go into Thursday’s game against the Panthers with seven receptions for a league-leading 173 yards and a touchdown.
He’s averaging an incredible as well as an understandably unsustainable 24.7 yards per carry and what may be most impressive of all is that each of his seven receptions so far has earned the Jaguars a first down.
The fact he’s done all this for the lowly Jaguars and amid a quarterback controversy even earned Westbrook a nod as the preseason’s most underappreciated storyline on the NFL Network this week.
The folks in Jacksonville and at Good Morning Football as well might want to pump the brakes a bit on the praise, though, because a deeper look at Westbrook’s production takes some of the glam off of it.
For starters, six of Westbrook’s seven receptions came in the Jaguars 12-8 loss to the Buccaneers last week and they all came in the fourth quarter of that game while he was playing against mostly third-teamers.
That’s not meant as a knock, but several of those receptions came while Westbrook was matched up against undrafted Bucs rookie cornerback Maurice Flemming, who played most of that quarter on one leg.
It was revealed on the third episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp With The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, that Flemming blew out his knee early on in the last drive of that game.
Despite the injury, which resulted in Flemming being waived-injured the next day, Flemming stayed in the game but was largely ineffective, including on the last throw to Westbrook.
That was a throw into the end zone from third-string quarterback Brandon Allen and while it’s clear that Westbrook had Flemming beat on the play, he failed to hold on to the ball as he fell to the ground.
Look, there’s no doubt that Westbrook is off to a good start. Jaguars coach Doug Marrone seems very happy with what he’s seen of the rookie so far, especially in terms of how he’s played between the numbers.
One good game, though, doesn’t turn a rookie into a star, especially when the bulk of what he did so well in that game was done against an undrafted fellow rookie who was playing hurt and is no longer in the league.
Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue hinting he’s gone again?
One of the key free-agent questions for the Jaguars continues to be whether or not they’re going to allow their best pass rusher, Yannick Ngakoue, to test the free-agent market coming up? And, once again, the player may be giving a clue that he’s going to do just that.
Ngakoue tweeted Wednesday morning the following phrase, which seems to indicate, yet again, that he will be playing somewhere else in 2020:
— Yannick Ngakoue (@YannickNgakoue) February 26, 2020
This goes along with something that we wrote earlier in January. That’s when just a couple of days after the season Ngakoue posted essentially a goodbye message to Jaguar fans. This came on the heels of him having held out for a new contract for the first few days of training camp last August, but not receiving a new deal during the season, etc.
Ngakoue, whose 37.5 career sacks are the most by a Jaguars player after 63 career games, is sure to be a sought-after player from many different teams. GM Dave Caldwell said at the end of the season when asked about re-sgning his star pass rusher, “He is a tremendous player and even a better person. How he handled his business this year was tremendous. But, I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back to Jacksonville. Hopefully, we can get that done. ″
It’s also worth noting that at Tuesday’s NFL Scouting Combine at media availability in Indianapolis, coach Doug Marrone repeated that he wants Ngakoue to remain in Jaguars teal and white:
Doug Marrone: ‘’No doubt where I stand or the coaches.”
—They want Yannick Ngakoue back. pic.twitter.com/vOorH4hH95
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 26, 2020
However, it remains to be seen if Marrone and Caldwell are willing to “pony up” huge money for him or even potentially, put the franchise tag on him before free agency begins next month?
Ngakoue figures to want a contract close to what the top ends are getting paid right now. Demarcus Lawrence and Frank Clark both signed five-year, over $100 million deals in 2019 and received guaranteed money that exceeded $62 million. That is massive for Jacksonville.
If the Jags opt for the “franchise tag,” then the talented end will be making around $19 million dollars, which is the current average of the top five players at his position. The Jaguars could also put the tag on him and then work on a longer term, salary cap friendly, deal that would replace the tag later in the off season.
Jaguars confirm they are declining option on DT Dareus
At Tuesday’s media session at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell made official what had been rumored for the last couple of days regarding defensive tackle Marcell Dareus: he will not be brought back for a fourth season in Jacksonville.
Caldwell confirmed the Jaguars are not picking up DT Marcell Dareus' option.
— John Reid (@JohnReid64) February 25, 2020
Dareus only played briefly in 2019, as he suffered a core muscle injury that sidelined him after only six games and he was placed on injured reserve. The former number one pick of the Buffalo Bills had played for coach Doug Marrone for a couple of seasons in Western New York.
Marrone and Caldwell traded for Dareus during the 2017 season and he helped them with their rise to the AFC South title and two playoff wins. This included Darius registering two sacks and four other tackles-for-loss in the Jaguars three playoff games that year.
Dareus made the Pro Bowl twice in Buffalo in 2013-14.
However, he has not lived up to his hefty contract that was reworked Jacksonville last February. Last season, Dareus made over $8 million dollars and the team would have been on the hook for $20 million this year had they picked up the option. That obviously wasn’t going to happen.
Dareus also has had legal troubles off the field, including a civil suit against him in Tampa for alleged sexual misconduct. As we wrote previously, a woman alleged that Dareus had sexually assaulted her in January of 2018 at a North Tampa Florida home, while Dareus was in town for the Alabama-Clemson College Football Playoff Championship Game.
However, that suit filed in Hillsborough County court was “dismissed with prejudice” last April, which means it cannot be re-filed.
Dareus, if healthy after the core muscle injury rehab, may have some value as a defensive tackle on the free agent market.
As for the Jaguars, they have former #1 pick defensive tackle Taven Bryan to play more in the middle and are trying to decide if free agent-to-be, DE Yannick Ngakoue, can be afforded for their 2020 salary cap?