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O-Zone: It's whoever

Posted Feb 18, 2013

JACKSONVILLE -- Let's get to it . . .

Joe from Houston, TX:
The early Jaguars used free agency to pick up players at needed positions from division rivals, improving the Jaguars at the expense of other teams, particularly the Steelers. Why not include that as a strategy to complement the draft? The Jaguars need a guard or pass rusher? Steal one from the Texans, Titans or Colts.
John: There are several points to make along these lines, so take a deep breath. First, this is a different era -- and new Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell has a different approach than Tom Coughlin. Coughlin and that Jaguars regime took something of a headlong, all-out approach to free agency that was successful in the short-term, but proved unsustainable. In those early years, it seemed every offseason we in the media were standing in a press conference with a player who had just been made the highest-paid player at his position in NFL history. Remember the splash around Mario Williams with Buffalo last offseason? That happened a lot around the Jaguars in those early years. What also happened was the cap mess that eventually helped the whole thing fall apart in the early part of the next decade. That’s why many teams for the most part have tried to steer away from free agency as the core building philosophy. It just leads too quickly to an unsustainable cap situation. The other flaw in the raid-other-teams-to-help-us-and-hurt-them approach is teams are better now at identifying core players they want to keep, making it more difficult to truly poach a quality player that will help your team and hurt another. Would the Jaguars love to sign the Texans’ top pass rusher? Sure, but the Texans aren’t likely to put J.J. Watt in a situation to sign elsewhere, at least not when he’s at a stage in his career when it would matter all that much.
Miguel from Mexico City, Mexico:
O-Man, how do you find the time? Senior writer and international music icon!!
John: Our house. In the middle of our street.
David from Durban, South Africa:
The Colts will not re-sign Dwight Freeney. Is he shot at this point in his career, or would he represent an immediate and significant upgrade to the Jaguars' pass rush?
John: That will be a key question around Freeney in free agency. Freeney’s production has dipped in the last two years, and it stands to reason that his age could be the primary reason. The 2013 season will be his 12th, and that’s up there for any player. On the other hand, he looked very good in 2010 and there were factors each of the past two years outside age that could have led to a dip in play. In 2011, Peyton Manning wasn’t playing so the Colts were rarely ahead, limiting Freeney’s chances to rush the passer. In 2012, the team had switched to a 3-4 defense, and Freeney had to move from 4-3 end to 3-4 linebacker. Could he be effective again as a pure 4-3 pass-rusher? Probably. Is he the old Freeney? Probably not, and although he could help some team, his age will make him a difficult sell to a young team trying to build such as the Jaguars.
Mike from Jacksonville:
When will merchandise with the new logo be available?
John: Soon. Probably in about a month.
Mark from Jacksonville:
Just curious, why doesn't nfl.com have the Jaguars’ new logo at the top there? Is it not yet official?
John: It’s official. Just as it takes time to completely integrate the new logo into merchandising, it takes time for all entities that use the logo of a team to begin using a new one.
Trey from Jacksonville:
Ha ha – third rookie season. I bet every bust the NFL has ever seen could use that excuse. Let me guess: if Gabbert plays terrible this year, next year will be his fourth rookie season. Almost 30 games experience is not a rookie. Please tell these people that schemes are not that different from one another. These systems run the same plays. There aren't different routes being run in different schemes. I expect Gabbert to play way better than a rookie this season. Anyone who doesn't is clueless.
John: You’re right. Gabbert can’t play like a rookie this season. He played very much like a rookie as a rookie, and played a bit better at times last season. Either performance won’t be enough this season, but I think after this past week we should put this conversation around and about Gabbert in another context. Some of the vitriol in the inbox seems to indicate that people are interpreting the positive comments from coaches and Caldwell as Gabbert being assured of the starting job next season. Because there is not a new face on the roster at the quarterback position, people outside the organization have trouble envisioning a true competition at the position this offseason and preseason, perhaps because there wasn’t one a year ago. The feeling I get from people inside the organization is they indeed *can* see a true competition in the months ahead, and that it probably will involve at least one player not on the roster. So, will Gabbert need to play way better than a rookie this season? Yes, I’d say that’s the expectation.
Steve from Denver, CO:
O- From your talks with others outside the Jags, who are the top five names to be called at start of the draft?
John: That question is harder to answer this year than any of the last two or three. The consensus is that Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel will be in that group, and most project Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulei there as well. Some project Texas A&M defensive end Damontri Moore No. 2, but after that, it’s still very fuzzy. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is a possibility, as is Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher, LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo and FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner. As odd as it sounds, you may hear 10-to-12 names or more mentioned as possibilities for the Top 5 this year. It’s that wide open, and could continue to be so for the next two months.
Troy from York, PA:
Wouldn't it be smart to sign a cornerback through free agency like Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie from Philly, someone who is proven instead of risking taking one through the draft? I believe we need all the help we can get on run support through the draft.
John: It’s smart to sign a player in free agency if he’s the right choice. It’s not so smart if he's not a fit. As often as not a player is available through free agency for a reason, and that reason usually isn’t because his former team thinks he’s a great player worth keeping. My guess is you’ll see the Jaguars active in free agency, but it may not happen in the first few days, so a lot of the big names may not be names the Jaguars pursue. Also, always remember that big-name players often aren’t quality target. Rodgers-Cromartie, for example, probably will be available, but Pro Football Focus ranks him as one of the lowest-rated corners available.
Paul from Panama City, FL:
After so many years of failed defensive end selections, I am starting to think maybe it was the coaching. Yes, there were some bad picks, but if we get a coach that puts them in the right spots then maybe we will see a change. Not saying we had bad coaches, but the teams we played against just had better.
John: Many, many circumstances go into player performance. Scheme fit, injury, coaching, motivation from within, talent and other players playing well around him – just to name a few. New defensive line coach Todd Wash seems optimistic that players such as Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu can fit into the new defense and play well. He said the same of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, though Knighton is a free agent, so his future remains to be seen. This is a new day, and a new era, and there likely will be former players who improve in the new environment and others who don’t. Wash is optimistic. Time will tell how quickly he is proven right or wrong.
Fred from Naples, FL:
Whenever I see a video on one of our coaches and the question is asked about Brad Meester, the body language tells me they are going to move in a different direction. Could they see something in John Estes that they like or is there a particular free agent they may covet? I am not a skilled evaluator of talent but it seems to me he still plays at a high level. If he is not in their long-term plans he had an unbelievable career and I look forward to his induction into the Jags Ring of Honor someday.
John: I wouldn’t read too much into body language just yet. I have the impression from listening to the coaches that that decision has yet to be made. Mike Brewster and Estes certainly are possibilities, and the argument can be made that having Meester play for at least one more year could help the transition under line coach George Yarno. Turning over a roster often is a process with a lot of unknowns, and this is one that may still be playing out.
Houston from Aiken, SC:
John, is it you or your IT people? This site looks marvelous.
John: It’s me. Unless you don’t like it. Then it’s them.

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