Why extending Josh Allen was pivotal for the Jaguars, and could Trevor Lawrence's extension be next?

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This is what’s supposed to happen with first-round picks.

The player develops into a Pro Bowler, All-Pro or among the best players at his position, and the team signs him to a second contract.

Sure, it doesn’t happen with every NFL first-round draft pick, but the fact that it has rarely happened to the Jacksonville Jaguars illustrates one of the franchise’s biggest problems of the past 15 years.

Signing pass-rusher Josh Allen to a five-year, $150 million contract with $88 million guaranteed marks just the third time the Jaguars have signed a first-round pick to a second contract since 2008.

This might be a sign the franchise is close to pulling out of the dysfunctional phase it has been in for so long. The Jaguars had 14 first-round picks from 2008-20 and only defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (2010), quarterback Blake Bortles (2014) and Allen have signed second deals with the team.

The rest were either traded, cut or suspended before their rookie contracts expired, or played out their rookie contracts and were not re-signed. Considering that 12 of those 14 players were drafted in the top 10 — including six in the top five — it’s not hard to figure out why the Jaguars have had just three winning seasons and two playoff appearances in that span.

Not hitting on or failing to develop high first-round picks into team mainstays has forced the Jaguars to keep chasing mistakes in the draft. When you make a mistake chasing the mistake that happened when chasing the original mistake … you get 10 seasons with five or fewer victories since 2008.

Allen is coming off the best season of his career with a franchise-record 17.5 sacks, and he’s been one of the league’s most consistent pass-rushers since he entered the league in 2019. He ranks fourth among all players with at least 1,250 pass rush snaps (250 per season) over the past five seasons and in quarterback pressure percentage (16.7%) behind only Trey Hendrickson, Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett.

Allen also has two Pro Bowl appearances, nine forced fumbles, an interception, and three fumble recoveries — including one for a touchdown that gave the Jaguars a Week 18 victory over Tennessee to win the AFC South in 2022. He’s one of the most respected players in the locker room and has been vocal about his desire to remain in Jacksonville for his entire career.

Allen is the kind of player the team needed to keep in the fold, and it sent a message to the rest of the locker room: Perform at a high level and get paid what you’re worth.

Two years ago, the team signed left tackle Cam Robinson to an extension, locking up the team’s second-round pick in 2017 through the 2024 season. Last offseason, the Jaguars signed defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton — a 2020 third-round pick — to a three-year extension. Players the team identified and drafted and developed.

Those are good moves, but in Allen the Jaguars finally have a vital piece of the team going forward locked down. And there may be more core big deals on the way.

The Jaguars have already had internal talks about an extension for quarterback Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall pick in 2021), which could be in the $40-$50 million range annually. Joe Burrow is currently the highest-paid QB annually ($55 million), with seven other quarterbacks making $45 million or more annually: Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson and Kirk Cousins.

The exact details of how Allen’s extension impacts the salary cap each year — which could also impact the structure of any Lawrence deal, as well — won’t be known until the contract is filed with the league.

The Jaguars have until May 2 to exercise the fifth-year option on Lawrence, so the team doesn’t need to sign him to an extension this offseason, but GM Trent Baalke said at his end-of-season news conference that he wouldn’t rule it out.

Running back Travis Etienne Jr., the 25th overall pick in 2021, has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (only the third player in franchise history to do so) and also is a candidate for an extension.

“I don’t want to say yes to anything at this point [about whether the Jaguars are going to sign both to extensions],” Baalke said at the scouting combine. “They’re good football players and you certainly don’t want to lose them.”

Linebacker Travon Walker is coming off a 10-sack season and appears to be developing into the dominant pass-rusher the team envisioned when they took him first overall in 2022. He’ll be eligible for an extension after the 2024 season.

It’s early, but it appears the Jaguars have hit on right tackle Anton Harrison, whom they drafted 27th overall in 2023, and he’ll be a mainstay on the offensive line.

That’s four more potential first-round hits that would comprise the core of the franchise going forward.

Baalke knows that’s the key to taking the Jaguars from a team that just posted its first back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2004-05 to a championship contender.

“There’s some good players on this roster that we’d like to see moving forward,” he said.

The Jaguars haven’t had that kind of first-round success since the early days of the franchise, with left tackle Tony Boselli, linebacker Kevin Hardy, running back Fred Taylor and safety Donovin Darius, who were four of the team’s first six first-round draft picks.

The Jaguars hope signing Allen could be the beginning of a similar run.

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