The Jags Future

For the past two years, the Jaguars have been forced to live with the consequences of failing to adequately monitor the salary cap. They overspent on some veteran free agents, kept pushing too many contracts out into the future, all of which prevented them from making real progress in upgrading the roster.

The Jaguars insisted they learned their lesson from budget mismanagement. But it sure didn't look that way the past couple weeks when the team shelled out over $20 million in signing bonuses for six free agents -- defensive end Hugh Douglas, linebacker Mike Peterson, fullback Marc Edwards, wide receiver Donald Hayes, linebacker Keith Mitchell and return man Jermaine Lewis -- and the re-signing of running back Fred Taylor.

Skeptics had to wonder if the Jaguars were like the recovering alcoholic who had fallen off the wagon, foolishly thinking that taking a few drinks wouldn't matter.

"This falls within the plan we mapped out," said coach Jack Del Rio. "I said we'd be prudent (in free agency) and this doesn't deviate from that plan."

Obviously, the linchpins of this free agent shopping spree are Douglas and Peterson, who received a combined $10 million in bonus money. But the way their contracts are structured indicates that the Jaguars didn't just dive into this spending binge haphazardly.

For example, Douglas' five-year, $27 million contract is essentially a two-year deal because the Jaguars could get out of it if he's not productive without a heavy hit on their cap. Peterson's six-year, $20.4 million deal is structured a little differently in that the salary cap number this season is over $1 million more than Douglas' cap hit of $1.855 million.

Since the Jaguars had about $7 million in cap room going into free agency, they tried to balance out the contracts so that the total hits would be fairly equal through 2005.

"You have to manage more than one year at a time," said Jaguars' senior vice-president Paul Vance, the team's contract negotiator and salary cap manager. "We're managing on a three-year cycle.

"Five years ago, the cap was a little different. A lot of people were competing for the best players because they had the money. Now we're having to be very prudent in terms of free-agent signings."

While the Jaguars may not look prudent in spending as much as they did in free agency, that perception will go away if Douglas, who has 73.5 career sacks, can still be the pass-rushing force he was in Philadelphia and Peterson provides the sideline-to-sideline speed that Del Rio wants out of his linebackers.

"When you look at what Laveranues Coles ($13 million signing bonus from the Washington Redskins) got in the market as a receiver, to get a pass-rusher that's giving you 13 sacks (in Douglas), that has tremendous value and you have to pay for that," said James Harris, the team's vice-president of Personnel. "I'm not saying we're getting a bargain. I'm saying we're getting a player."

Douglas' signing also makes it easier for the Jaguars to likely release career sack leader Tony Brackens after June 1, which would bring an immediate cap savings of $5.5 million. The downside to cutting Brackens is the Jaguars have to absorb $2.7 million of his amortization this year and $7 million in 2004 as "dead money" on their cap.

It's probably no coincidence that Douglas' contract was structured in such a way that he will be released or have his deal restructured after the 2004 season when Brackens -- providing he's cut in June -- would come completely off the Jaguars' books.

"We want to load up on the first two years of these contracts (with Douglas and Peterson)," said owner Wayne Weaver. "We're doing deals that make sense for our cap."

The Jaguars are clearly willing to spend money in order to win. The difference now from in the past is they're trying to do it without mortgaging their future.

Jags Illustrated Top Stories