Off their win in Minnesota last Saturday, the Jaguars return home to take on the Falcons Saturday night.
Here are the story lines that we are watching:
Returns of Fowler and Ramsey
After being suspended a week for their behavior after a post practice altercation almost two weeks ago, defensive end Dante Fowler and cornerback Jalen Ramsey that caused them to miss the Vikings game, they are back with the team.
Fowler specifically is on thin ice, and needs to put the off field stuff behind him. This is especially because, he will be suspended by the NFL for the regular season opener at the Giants. The former Gator and first round pick, Fowler is expected to see some playing time throughout the first three quarters. Because of a shoulder injury, he’s not played a snap in the preseason.
Meanwhile, Ramsey is also back, but may not have to see as much action in this one. He did play briefly in the Saints game two weeks ago. We’ll see how much defensive coordinator Todd Wash wants him out there against the Falcons passing attack.
Top Guard Andrew Norwell expected to debut
The Jags prized free agent, Norwell (above), who signed the most lucrative deal for a guard in NFL history, has been slowed by a calf injury, and held out of the first two preseason games.
He expected to see the field Saturday night. And the Jaguars and their fans want to see him paired with second year left tackle Cam Robinson on the left side of the line. Norwell’s specialty is run blocking and for Leonard Fournette, T.J.Yeldon and company, they are counting on some holes to be opened not just in this game, but obviously, once it all begins for real in September.
The test from Matt Ryan and the Falcons
Traditonally, Atlanta has been explosive. Although without offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in 2017, they struggled to be their usual high flying selves. Yet, Ryan led them, again to a Wildcard berth and even, a playoff win at the Rams.
The Falcons boast one of the top receiving weapons in all of the NFL in Julio Jones. And while Jones was disgruntled and held out briefly this off season, Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff got him some more guaranteed money for 2018 and smoothed it over for now.
Will Ramsey match head to head with Jones? That will be very intriguing to see.
Also, Atlanta has a one-two backfield of DeVonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman that should see some extensive time.
Jacksonville’s top notch defense wants a good test before the opener and they should get it.
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?