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2001 hopes rest with Brunell


Here it is, the big week. Five days from now we'll know where the Jaguars stand with their 2001 roster and their salary cap. We'll also have a pretty good idea of the long-term future of this franchise.

By close of business this Thursday, March 1, the Jaguars will have submitted their salary cap to the NFL office in New York, for overnight review prior to the following morning's deadline. When the league opens its doors for business Friday morning, all teams must be in compliance with the $67.4 million salary cap ceiling, or else.

The Jaguars have re-structured contracts at a fever pitch the last two weeks. They still have a little more re-structuring to do, but 99 percent of the effort in these final days will be spent on negotiating a new contract with quarterback Mark Brunell. He is control of what final action the Jaguars will have to take to be able to stand tall and proclaim, "We did it."

A month ago, they were staring at a $37 million salary cap excess. Now, they are close to having extinguished that amount, but they have little in the way of cap-clearing options remaining. It would seem that what has to be done to clear the remaining excess is an either-or scenario: The Jaguars must either convince Brunell to settle for a contract that clears the team's remaining salary cap excess, or begin cutting players who will represent a total cap savings that will allow the Jaguars to fit Brunell's current contract under the salary cap limit.

Either way, it would seem the Jaguars are going to make it under the cap, and even though owner Wayne Weaver guaranteed that fact on a few weeks ago, there were those who doubted that it could be done. After all, no team had ever been as much over the salary cap as the Jaguars were this winter.

The players who might have to be cut wouldn't represent a roster meltdown, but releasing them won't make the Jaguars stronger. If taking one more run at the Super Bowl is the idea behind all of the re-structuring and "capnastics," then keeping the roster as strong as possible has to be a primary consideration.

So, here it is. It's all on the quarterback, just as though it was fourth-and-goal with the Super Bowl on the line. Always, it seems to depend on the quarterback. Brunell has always known that kind of pressure. He's the quarterback; he's "The Man."

As early as March 2, the 2001 season would seem to rest on him.

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