Future might be now as starter

The Jaguars' plan to snag their highest-rated player, Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich, looked like it might get derailed at the last second. The Minnesota Vikings -- picking one spot ahead of them -- were busy negotiating a trade with the quarterback-hungry Baltimore Ravens, who wanted to move up from No. 10 to No. 7 to get Leftwich.

The Ravens, where Del Rio served as linebackers coach (1999-2001), didn't confirm a trade with the Vikings to NFL officials until the 15-minute time limit had almost expired, thus preventing them from being able to take Leftwich.

"It got a little nerve-racking those last few seconds," said Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver.

Jacksonville was also in trade negotiations with the Vikings as a counter-move, but the Jaguars felt Minnesota's asking price was too high. Things worked out when the Ravens couldn't pull the trigger on time.

"There was no question when the opportunity came up, we'd be ready to jump," added Del Rio. "We talked all along about not being able to pass a player of great value that was left on the board. When time ran out on the Vikings, he was standing out. We put in his name right away and got him up there."

Leftwich was as confused as anyone as he watched the scenario unfold at draft headquarters in New York.

"I was just hoping Jacksonville would hurry up and take me," said Leftwich. "I didn't know what was going on. My cell phone rang and I knew the area code [of Jacksonville] so I was hoping that it would be it. The Jacksonville coaches were on the line and they said we're going to take you. It was quick, as soon as Minnesota's time ran out, the Jaguars called."

Thanks to one of the biggest blunders in NFL draft history, the Jaguars were able to secure a quarterback that they believe can take the torch from Brunell. And maybe as soon as this season, depending on whether Brunell will be willing to renegotiate his current contract on the Jaguars' terms. Negotiations to extend Brunell's deal beyond 2004 have stalled in recent weeks, leading to speculation that Leftwich may now take over sooner rather than later.

"To sit here today and give you a timetable [on Leftwich becoming the starter] would be irresponsible on my part," said Del Rio. "We're going to evaluate the player. Bring him in, let him compete with the guys, see where things fall. The best player is going to play. The best backup is going to back up, and so on."

With a first-round quarterback coming on board to compete with Brunell and David Garrard, the Jaguars' fourth-round pick last year, somebody will be the odd man out to start next season. It's also possible that Brunell, 32, could be released because the salary cap hit would be only $2 million in 2003 and another $2 million in 2004, but the Jaguars are deftly avoiding any discussion about Brunell's days being numbered.

"Mark is an outstanding quarterback in the NFL," said Harris. "We didn't make the pick [of Leftwich] with [releasing Brunell] in mind." Del Rio didn't exactly make it sound like Brunell still had a future in Jacksonville at the end of the first draft day when he intimated that he wasn't sure if there'd be any more progress on extending his contract beyond 2004.

"That's a good question," said Del Rio. "I honestly can't give you an answer. We'll have to talk about that. We've spent time on it. We'll have to reevaluate where we're at and decide if that's the interest of this organization."

Since Brunell has the team's highest cap figure this season at $8.75 million, his days as a Jaguar may be numbered. Harris admitted that the team "has been involved in some calls about Brunell [and a possible trade]."

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