With a number of NFL starters set to potentially hit the market due to post-June 1 cuts — or even trades — there a number of players who make sense for the Jaguars to target, starting with a few tight ends.
June 1 is always one of the most important dates on the NFL calendar. Stars throughout the league see their teas changed and organizations see their futures take dramatic turns as players are released or traded for cap reasons.
While the Jaguars are unlikely to have to do much post-June 1 maneuvering since they are in good shape in terms of the cap space, they could be a team that looks to improve their roster with talented veterans following Tuesday.
Which potential June 1 trade/release candidates fit the Jaguars? We took a look at candidates for each team to find five who make the most sense. Not all of these players will even be available, but there is enough logic to assume there is a chance they could be on the market and able to land with the Jaguars.
So, which potential post-June 1 candidates make the most sense for the Jaguars? We list our five here.
New York Giants TE Evan Engram
It remains to be seen if the New York Giants will actually look to unload Evan Engram following June 1. The former first-round selection has had a bit of an uneven career since being selected No. 23 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he still has an immensely intriguing skill set for teams that need help at tight end like the Jaguars. Engram has dealt with both injuries and drop issues, but he could improve in the right offense where isn’t quite as much of a top target on the pecking order.
A post-June 1 trade would save the Giants about $6 million, according to Spotrac. The Giants could deal Engram to a tight end-needy team like the Jaguars to give themselves more wriggle room in 2021 in return for a player who is unlikely to be in the team’s long-term plans. Engram’s athleticism, experience as a pass-catcher, and overall potential make him a great fit for a Jaguars’ offense that needs a middle-of-the-field threat, so this could be a deal that works for all sides if one happens.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz
Aside from Julio Jones and a few quarterbacks, no player has had their future cast into more doubt when it comes to post-June 1 decisions than Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. The former Super Bowl hero has looked like a sure bet to leave the Eagles all offseason, though it remains to be seen if that is via a post-June 1 cut or trade. Trading for Ertz would likely mean having to redo his contract, but the Eagles need cap relief and they have a better tight end on the roster in Dallas Goedert.
Ertz looked like a shell of himself last year, catching 36-of-72 targets for 335 yards and one touchdown, giving him just 4.7 yards per target. With that said, he has an impressive and established history as a possession type of tight end who can be utilized as a receiver from multiple alignments. Like Engram, he won’t offer any upside as a blocker, but the difference is that Ertz is a veteran with a long track record of success and production. While signing him could be seen as similar to signing Tyler Eifert last year, Ertz isn’t as far removed from his prime in 2021 as Eifert was in 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron
After the Pittsburgh Steelers spent a second-round selection on Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, it wouldn’t be illogical to wonder how large of plans the Steelers have in mind for veteran tight end Eric Ebron. The Steelers would save a little more than $1 million for releasing or trading Ebron, and the upside of Freiermuth could help convince the Steelers that saving a bit on the cap could be worth losing Ebron’s pass-catching ability.
Ebron was a big part of the Steelers’ passing game in 2020, seeing 91 targets in 15 games — the fourth-most on the Steelers’ offense last season. Ebron caught 56 passes for 558 yards (10.0 yards per catch) and five touchdowns in his first season with the Steelers, so it is clear he can still provide some value as a pass-catcher, though he may need quite a bit of volume to justify his role in the offense. With this in mind, he would instantly be the Jaguars’ best receiving threat at the position, giving them a decent short-term option at tight end as they look to address the position in the future.
Chicago Bears IDL Akiem Hicks
Few players would save their team as much money following a post-June 1 departure than Chicago Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. According to Spotrac, the Bears would save $10.5 million in 2021 cap if Hicks is either traded or released. Considering the Bears’ dire cap situation, as well as the fact that the Bears already openly weighed their options with Hicks earlier in the offseason, he could be a potential release or trade in the coming weeks.
While the Jaguars have already invested in the interior defensive line via free agents Roy Robertson-Harris and Malcom Brown and fourth-round defensive tackle Jay Tufele, Hicks is a different type of player. He is genuinely one of the best defensive tackles in the entire NFL — not quite in the same tier as Aaron Donald or Chris Jones, but not too far from the top either. He would instantly be the Jaguars’ top interior defensive lineman and would give the team a great bit of flexibility with their defensive line rotations.
Kansas City Chiefs LB Anthony Hitchens
The Jaguars don’t exactly have a need at inside linebacker, but there are worse ways to improve their overall defensive depth than to bring on an established run defender with starting experience and a connection to the Jaguars’ staff. The Jaguars have their starting linebackers in place, but Anthony Hitchens would give them some of the best linebacker depth in the NFL when you consider the Jaguars already have Damien Wilson on the roster.
Releasing or trading Hitchens would save the Chiefs $6,411,754 according to Spotrac. The Chiefs have taken linebackers in each of the last two second-rounds in Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton, so saving some money for a player who may not even start would make a good bit of sense. The Jaguars also have former Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on staff as a senior defensive assistant, so there would be some familiarity for Hitchens.