Is Evan Neal’s Status as First Overall Pick in Jeopardy?
In a slightly unexpected turn, the Jacksonville Jaguars decided to give the franchise tag to offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Many expected Robinson would see his exit from the team this offseason, especially with the presumptive addition of Evan Neal with the first overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Robinson, a former Alabama Crimson Tide tackle in his own right, played under the franchise tag in 2021 as well. He earned $13.75 million in 2021, but because this is his second consecutive season with the designation Robinson would be due 120% of his 2021 salary. Luckily for him, the offensive tackle tag comes at a higher price of $16.662 million. Of course, that's what Robinson would earn if he and the Jaguars don't settle on a long-term deal, which the club and its left tackle have until July 15 to hash out.
The franchise tag tender on Robinson actually moved the needle on the odds for the first overall pick. Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson, widely regarded as the top prospect in the class, takes over at -175 on FanDuel. Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal dropped to +480 while Ikem Ekwonu slides into third at +550.
While the odds have tipped away from Neal being the first first-overall selection for Alabama since 1948 and the first of Nick Saban's career, it's not exactly safe to completely rule him out.
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Firstly, the fact remains the Jaguars invested first-round picks on edge players K'Lavon Chaisson and Josh Allen in recent years. It's entirely possible the Jaguars front office could opt to pair Hutchinson with Allen and deal Chaisson, but it's slightly difficult to visualize when a prospect like Neal or Ekwonu can play anywhere on the offensive line and improve the environment immediately for quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
In that same vein, Neal played left guard in 2019 and right tackle in 2020. He's more than versatile enough at 6-foot-7, 336lbs to play right tackle opposite Robinson.
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A third route would be the Jaguars tagging Cam Robinson with the intent of signing a long-term deal and trading him away. It's not the most common practice with franchise tags, but it's a possibility nonetheless. After all, Robinson would not be willing to move to right tackle and isn't considered elite at his position, though he would command quality value on the open market.
While technically Neal's chances just dropped tremendously, thanks to another Alabama alumni no less, he's not firmly out of the picture just yet.