Lost In Space

The Jaguars "New Era" began in 2003, when head coach Jack Del Rio and general manager James "Shack" Harris and company were hired. With this change in management, owner Wayne Weaver took on a new philosophy when it came to free agent acquisitions and player contracts in general.

This new philosophy was a more frugal one than before, and the team has kept a very close eye on the salary cap in player contracts ever since. In the past regime, under head coach/general manager Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars took on the role of spendthrifts. The result was a very competitive team early in the franchise's history, which led to three playoff appearances and two AFC Championship game appearances in the first five years of existence.

Tom Coughlin can tell you, that the sword you live by is often the very same sword you end up falling on, and that's exactly what happened to Coughlin and the Jaguars. The Jaguars spent and spent and spent early on, and restructured contracts to open up more cap room for even more spending. Like it does every NFL team that takes a similar approach, it eventually caught up with Coughlin and the Jaguars as well. The result of salary cap hell was three losing seasons after the AFC title game run of '99, and a complete depletion of talent from the Jaguars roster. Those three losing years cost Coughlin his job, and the entire Jaguars organization learned the hard lesson of trying to extend the inevitable, as they were left with a bad roster, and memories of a title run that didn't finish with a title.

The Jaguars new, "frugal" philosophy when shopping for players has taken the team from a 5-11 record, back in 2003, to what is now a very talented, young roster with most of their star players locked up under long-term contracts. The Jaguars accomplished this by building primarily through the draft, and extending players contracts before they hit free agency, basically staying one step ahead of the upcoming curves. The Jaguars now find themselves with the fourth highest amount of available cap room in the NFL, at nearly $16.5 million left.

So what will the Jaguars do with all of that cap room? Lets look at their options. First and foremost, the team must sign its rookie class. Most of the second day picks are already signed, so that just leaves first round draft pick (#21 overall) Reggie Nelson, second round pick Justin Durant, third round pick Mike Walker, and fifth round pick Derek Landri. To give you an idea of what Nelson may receive, the player that was drafted in the 21st position in '06 was Laurence Maroney of the New England Patriots. Maroney received a deal worth approximately $8.735 million over five years. Nelson will likely make approximately seven percent more than that, but it still won't put any kind of significant dent in the Jaguars salary cap, assuming they don't give him all of the money up front (which they never would). The three remaining draft picks won't cost the team any more than $3 million against their cap (and that's being generous), so what will the Jaguars do with salary space that will likely exceed $11 million?

There are the Culpepper rumors and rumblings. If the Jaguars do indeed sign Daunte Culpepper from the Dolphins, he will cost some money, but probably not too much. I would be shocked if the Jaguars gave him more than $3 million in 2007. If they did that, it would leave $8 million, plus the money that the team would recoup when they released either Quinn Gray or David Garrard, which would credit the team at the minimum $500K (if Garrard is cut). That leaves the team going into the season with at least $8.5 million of cap space.

So the Jaguars have the money, what other guys could they acquire? With a major question mark at defensive end, there is always Alex Brown, the somewhat disgruntled defensive lineman from the Chicago Bears. We've talked about how Brown could be a solid fit in Jacksonville, due to his attractive age, his current salary, and the team's need at the position. The Jaguars could trade most likely a second day pick and acquire Brown, and give him a new contract that he's looking for, and still have plenty of cash to enter the season with. Although it seems to make sense, the Jaguars haven't been linked to Brown by anything other than speculation, so this deal is not likely to happen.

What if the Jaguars don't acquire either Culpepper or Brown, and they are forced to enter the regular season with all of that cap room. What would they do with the money then? Most likely the same thing that they've been doing the last few years, and that's locking up their own guys before they hit the open market. Lets look at the guys on the roster who could be candidates for new deals. First and foremost there is quarterback Byron Leftwich. Most Jaguars fans know the story on Leftwich, very good player, hasn't been healthy. It's silly to offer him a deal without him playing out the '07 season, and he's a quarterback, so he will have to test out free agency, it's in his best interests monetarily. Next up is Bobby McCray. McCray was unhappy about being tendered this off-season, and he will be a free agent after the '07 season, just like Leftwich. McCray will be easier and cheaper to sign, given his position, but the team would like to see McCray perform well for a second consecutive season before giving him big money. The next player could be strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh will be a restricted free agent after the '07 season, and if he plays well, the Jaguars may want to lock him up for the future.

To summarize, with the Jaguars current cap situation, they can sign Daunte Culpepper or Alex Brown, or even both or neither and not even be tight against the cap. They will likely sign one or the other (cough, Culpepper, cough), and still have room to lock up one or more of their own players. Leftwich will not likely sign a contract with the team before testing free agency, because it's good business. McCray may have some hard feelings over what happened to him this spring, but if the Jaguars show him enough money, even his agent, Drew Rosenhaus and he are likely to sign and keep 904 as his work area code. The Jaguars don't have to do a new deal for Sensabaugh, being that he's a restricted free agent, but they can probably lock him up for less than his value if they take advantage of their situation early. Or, the Jaguars can just give the third string quarterback a big money incentive that he won't earn, and have the cap money to play with next year, to help re-sign Leftwich to what will likely be the biggest contract in team history, if he chooses to stay.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. Feel free to contact Charlie HERE

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