JACKSONVILLE – This was the day after – getaway day in NFL circles. On the surface, the scene was familiar.
A day after the regular-season finale, Jaguars players gathered on Monday at EverBank Field for a final time in 2013. The locker room was a casual place. Packed bags. Players laughing. Half-empty trash bags. Laundry bins stuffed to the brim.
It looked the same as past seasons.
But to talk to players, the underlying feeling of Getaway Day 2013 – the first of the Gus Bradley/Dave Caldwell era – couldn't have been more different.
Yes, there were final goodbyes to Jaguars center Brad Meester. And there was the requisite emotion of this day and the annual uncertainty that facing the future brings.
"It's always a different day," kicker Josh Scobee said Monday, a day after the Jaguars closed the regular season with a 30-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"You're with a group of guys all year long, day in and day out – meetings, workouts, practice – and then you get to this day and you kind of look around and start wondering who's going to be here. You do get attached to a group of guys as friends and as teammates, and it's tough to see some of them go.
"That's the nature of the business sometimes, but it's tough."
Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, a seven-year veteran, said without question Monday is one of the more emotional days of an NFL season.
"That's the hard part about it, because you realize that yesterday was the last time that this group of guys is really going to be together on the field," Posluszny said. "By the time the offseason begins and we get rolling again, we'll have new guys. Guys will get cut or released. Guys retire.
"This is always a day of mixed emotions, because you know this is one of the last times you'll be around some of these guys."
That's the reality every NFL team lives at the end of a season – that while a core may remain, change is inevitable. Veterans realize it more each season; at least the ones with perspective do.
And make no mistake:
The Jaguars' locker room will be different – maybe not as dramatically so as last offseason, when a change in general manager and head coach meant that very, very few veterans left EverBank Field the day after the season certain they would be back. But yes, it will be different.
For one, Meester will not return. The 14-year veteran who spent his entire career with the Jaguars announced his retirement 12 days ago and played his final game Sunday.
"I've cleaned my locker out 13 times before, but I'd leave stuff in there because I knew I was coming back," Meester said. "This one's a little bit different. I'm cleaning it out permanently, which is weird – knowing I won't be back in this locker room in this sense."
As Meester spoke, his locker was half-empty, and because he already had removed the nameplate over his locker, the bulbs that illuminate each name plate shined brightly above his.
"It's tough to see him go because he meant so much," tight end Marcedes Lewis said.
There was no such finality or ceremony for other Jaguars players, but elsewhere players talked of uncertain futures. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Quarterback Chad Henne. Defensive end Jason Babin. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert. All have been prominent members of the Jaguars in recent seasons. None is certain of his future with the organization.
But here's the thing about Monday:
While those players don't know if they'll be back, it was clear they want to be back.
Jones-Drew said whether or not he re-signs with the Jaguars will depend on money, but said ideally he would like to return. Henne said he wants to return, and believes it could be a good fit even if it means competing with a younger quarterback or a veteran for the starting job. Gabbert, who lost his job nine games ago and who many speculate will be released, was assertive that he wants to return and compete for "my job" next season. Babin, who has played for six teams in 10 NFL seasons, talked about wanting to work a deal to return, and said what the Jaguars are building is special.
That's a feeling brought on by the promise of organizational stability. It's a feeling that a foundation has been laid.
"I think everybody in this building is excited about the future," Lewis said. "It's definitely a good feeling."
It's a feeling that wasn't possible the past two seasons, not with organizational change looming. That's not what this year is, and because it's not, Monday had a decidedly different feel.
It was a feeling of hope, and it made an emotional, uncertain day a bit brighter.