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The Marcell Dareus Trade Proves the Jaguars Think They’re Super Bowl Contenders

Buffalo is shipping the All-Pro defensive tackle to Jacksonville in exchange for a conditional late-round pick

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The rich just got richer. Has that ever been said about the Jaguars before?

On Friday, the Jaguars landed Marcell Dareus from the Bills in exchange for a 2018 sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-rounder based on the defensive tackle’s performance, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 27-year-old Dareus, the no. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and a 2014 first-team All-Pro selection, signed a six-year, $96.6 million extension with Buffalo just two years ago. Adding a player of Dareus’s caliber seems to be a declaration that when the Jaguars say they are in “win-now” mode, they mean the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville has never been afraid to burn money on expensive defenders, and this year has been more of the same. The Dareus trade comes one day after the team locked up linebacker Telvin Smith with a four-year, $44.4 (shout-out Jay-Z!) million contract extension, and the team handed cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive end Calais Campbell a combined $56 million guaranteed this offseason. But the difference this year for the previously moribund Jaguars is that team’s pricey acquisitions are finally producing. The Jaguars had the best pass rush in the league before this trade. With 33 sacks on the season, Jacksonville has 37.5 percent more sacks than the second-place teams, Carolina and Pittsburgh, which each have 24. The Jags’ defense has three players in the top 13 of the sacks leaderboard, including Campbell and his league-leading 10 sacks.

Even scarier, the Jaguars are coming off their best performance of the season thus far after registering 10 sacks and an astonishing 21 hits on Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett in a 27-0 drubbing of Indianapolis last Sunday. Jacksonville’s secondary has been playing just as well as its front seven. Jalen Ramsey is the third-highest-rated cornerback on Pro Football Focus with a 91.7 overall grade, while Bouye is no. 9 with an 87.8. Adding Dareus puts the entire team, Blake Bortles and all, in the upper echelon of the league.

That’s because Jaguars have been winning this season while essentially playing without a quarterback. By relying on rookie running back Leonard Fournette, an elite defense, and the knowledge that Bortles is spending little time with the ball, Jacksonville has the second-best point differential in the league at plus-73, second only to the Rams’ plus-74. (That will eventually stop sounding like we’re living in the Upside Down.) At 4-3, the Jaguars are tied for the AFC South lead with the Tennessee Titans. With games left against the Browns, the Carson Palmer–less Cardinals, the recently vanquished Colts, and the 49ers, the Jaguars are suddenly in excellent position for a playoff spot. Factor in that two AFC South rivals are in turmoil as Andrew Luck is unlikely to return this season and the Texans are on the verge of a team-wide rebellion against owner Bob McNair, and Jacksonville has every reason to believe it can win its division for the first time since the 1990s.

If the Jaguars do make the playoffs, rolling the dice with a bad quarterback and the best defense in the league was a great strategy as recently as two seasons ago. If Jacksonville makes good on its promise this year, it could prove to be not just a season-altering decision, but a franchise-altering one.