Jaguars Team Notes
With the Jaguars done spending big money on free agents, they made sure there was enough left over to keep Fred Taylor in their long-range plans by signing him March 24 to a four-year contract extension that could make him one of the NFL's highest-paid running backs.
Taylor's new deal, which includes an $8 million signing bonus, is worth $16.81 million, but the total value if performance incentives are reached could exceed $30 million. Taylor was due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2003 season and this new deal keeps him in Jacksonville through 2007.
"Fred's ecstatic," said Drew Rosenhaus, Taylor's agent. "He's going to have the ability to be the highest-paid running back in the NFL is he plays the way he can. The Jaguars were fair. They really stepped up and made sure Fred felt good about his situation."
Taylor had been dissatisfied with his contract for three years, once likening his deal to a "K-Mart blue-light special" because he felt he outplayed the original six-year deal that he signed as a rookie in 1998. But the Jaguars had so many salary-cap problems in recent years that they couldn't tear up his original contract and they were also concerned about his history of muscle-related injuries.
Until Taylor played 16 games in 2002, he had never suited up for an entire season and had missed 24 of 64 possible regular-season games in his first four years in the league. In 2001, he was out 14 games with a severe groin injury. Last season, a healthy Taylor gained 1,314 yards on 287 carries for a 4.6 yard average and 8 touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 408 yards.
With new coach Jack Del Rio brining in a West coast-type offense that features more throwing to the running backs, the feeling is Taylor, 27, could put up even better numbers. The new contract also ensures that the Jaguars avoid a potential huge distraction of him being a training-camp holdout had a deal not been consummated.
"It's a deal that's likely to keep Fred here for the rest of his career,"' said Jaguars senior vice-president Paul Vance, the team's contract negotiator. "The deal takes into account his potential to be the best running back in the league and it's another step in trying to build a winner in Jacksonville."
Taylor's contract is loaded with incentives, including $640,000 each season for staying on the active roster ($40,000 per game) and over a dozen other incentives tied to his performance.
"Even though he's been a player in this league for five years, I believe the best has yet to come,'" Rosenhaus said. "With this new coaching staff, I feel he will do some spectacular things. This contract creates a lot of upside for Fred in his performance."
Defensive end Hugh Douglas was regarded as a leader and locker room force in his years with the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Jaguars' marquee free agent acquisition suggests that part of his reputation is overblown and not to expect him to impose his personality on his new teammates.
"That's never been my style," said Douglas. "I just try to go out and work hard and, hopefully, that's contagious. I know for a fact that Marco Coleman works hard because we work out together in Atlanta. I'm going to have a tough time keeping up with him.
"As far as being a leader, I look more to Marco for leadership. I'm just going to take a back seat, let Marco lead the way. I'm just going to follow along with everybody else."
With the Jaguars signing six free agents, including Douglas, linebacker Mike Peterson, fullback Marc Edwards and punt/kick returner Jermaine Lewis, the feeling is that fan expectations for the 2003 season will be significantly higher.
Coach Jack Del Rio is trying to temper the enthusiasm, saying that the team has many more needs to fill on both sides of the ball.
"Our approach will be to aggressively acquire the best players we can to fit what we do," said Del Rio. "That can take time. Sometimes you can get a lucky break or two to speed the process. For the most part, it will take some time.
"We're hoping to build a successful program and not just for one year. We're not looking for a quick fix, but we want to be as competitive as we can each and every year."
The Jaguars' new coaching staff has brought an influx of different philosophies, including a change in the team's approach to weightlifting. Rather than having an emphasis on free weights and Olympic-style lifting, the team has installed $275,000 worth of weightlifting machines in hopes of reducing injuries.
Over the last three losing seasons, the Jaguars have had over 20 players on injured reserve and the feeling was the team's liberal use of free weights in offseason training may have contributed to the problem.
Coach Jack Del Rio and strength coach Mark Asanovich felt compelled to switch to a less stressful regimen when the team began offseason training this week.
"It needed changing," said Del Rio. "Without having been here, I'd hate to speculate on what went on. But the system we now have in place is one that I believe in. Everybody has their own approach, and this is our approach."
Though some free weights will still be available, the players are being pushed to use the machines.
"We're not going to do anything that has a lot of orthopedic stress involved," said Asanovich. "Football players get a lot of orthopedic stress on the field, so we're not going to compound that in the weight room."
After failing to come to a long-term contract agreement, safety Donovin Darius decided to sign a one-year, $3 million tender offer as part of the condition for the Jaguars assigning him the franchise tag to avoid him becoming a free agent.
"We're not going to pass up $3 million, we're going to show up for work," said Tom Condon, Darius' agent.
The franchise tag means that Darius had to be paid the average salary of the five highest paid safeties in the league, which is $3.043 million this year. It's possible that he can still negotiate a long-term deal with the Jaguars, but it likely won't happen before July 15 because the Jaguars would lose the franchise tag for the length of the contract if Darius signed a new deal before that date.
The Jaguars will receive one compensatory draft pick, a fourth-round selection and No. 132 overall, for losing unrestricted free agents Kevin Hardy, Mike Hollis and Renaldo Wynn last year.
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