Marcedes Lewis said in the NFL, reality is always there.
Lewis, the Jaguars' 2010 Pro Bowl tight end, said that's what makes the day that came early Tuesday for the Jaguars so difficult.
By 8 a.m., players were packing their lockers at EverBank Field. By 9 a.m., many lockers were empty. Throughout the morning, players walked the hallways. By noon, many were gone, headed home for the off-season, and the NFL reality is many won't return.
"It's a necessary evil," Lewis said Tuesday, two days after the Jaguars (5-11) closed their season with a 19-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field.
Because the Jaguars did not make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, and because of the Gator Bowl being played at EverBank Monday, Tuesday became "getaway" day for Jaguars players.
It's a day of locker packing, meeting with coaches and saying goodbye.
"It's tough and it's a little bit different every year," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "It's always tough, because you know this is the last time this particular group of guys will be together. The turnover ratio is so high you know certain guys won't be here next year.
"Regardless of how many times you do it, it's never easy."
Said linebacker Daryl Smith, "It's a day when you talk to your teammates and tell them you appreciate everything, and that you just don't know. You never really know how things are going to play out."
As players packed Tuesday morning, they also discussed a season running back Maurice Jones-Drew called "definitely, the craziest."
"It was an experience, and something that can be used for the future," Jones-Drew said.
The Jaguars not only had three starting quarterbacks – David Garrard, Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert – they also fired head coach Jack Del Rio with five games remaining. Mel Tucker coached the final five games as interim coach.
On the same day Del Rio was fired, owner Wayne Weaver announced he was selling the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan, who is expected to take full control Wednesday.
In addition, the Jaguars finished the season with 25 players on injured reserve.
"It shows your character, how tough you can be, and how you can continue to fight," Jones-Drew said. "There were a lot of things that went down."
Jones-Drew, who led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,606 yards, was the only Jaguars player selected to the Pro Bowl. He said one positive was ending the season "the right way."
"It's something we can use and grow on," he said.
As they packed Tuesday, they did so with uncertainty surrounding not just many players, but the coaching staff, too. The contracts of Jaguars coaches expire at the end of January, with Khan having said Tucker will be among those interviewed for the permanent head coaching position.
"Obviously, a lot of these guys (teammates) are not going to be here when I get back, so from that standpoint it's going to be tough, but I think a lot of the guys are like me in that it's waiting to see what happens," Lewis said. "That's something where we can get our minds in the right direction and get back in here and work."
Many players Tuesday said they will get away from football for an extended period, and players such as Smith said not playing the next few weeks makes watching the NFL playoffs difficult.
"You can't do anything about it now," Smith said. "It's the off-season. We earned what we got this year and we look forward to a whole lot better season next year."
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said he likely won't watch the playoffs until the Super Bowl.
"You don't want to be doing this right now, because you know other teams are still playing football," Knighton said. "You know at the beginning of the year that at the end of the year there are going to be some teams playing and some not. This year, we didn't make the cut. You have to take the positives out of this year and build on it."
Knigthon said for the short term he'll watch the NBA.
"I'd rather watch the Celtics than the Texans," he said.
Posluszny, for his part, said he will watch every playoff game, "because I want to know what those guys have that we don't."
"I want to see, 'Why aren't we there?''' he said, adding, "I love the game, so I'll watch as much as I can."
Also around the Jaguars Tuesday:
*Knighton said a focus this off-season will be on reporting to camp in better shape than in past seasons, and in that vein, called the next few months the most important of his life. "This three or four months will determine how I live, not only moneywise, but healthwise," Knighton said. Knighton is entering the final year of his contract, and his weight has been an issue each of the past two seasons. He was held out of practice throughout much of training camp this season while getting his weight down. "It's about being smart about it," Knighton said. "I've got to prove to the franchise I have to be accountable. That's something I'll do early. I won't take a break like everybody else. I'll get right into it." Knighton said he plans to work beginning February 1 with Pete Bommarito, Jones-Drew's trainer. Knighton said Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith told him "if you do what you've got to do, your family will be set for life. If you don't, you'll be one of those guys who's hoping for something every year. Added Knighton, "He thinks with my abilities I shouldn't be an average guy." Knighton said of the coming months, "It's not really pressure if that's what you should be doing anyway."
*Jones-Drew said he may work on television in some capacity during the post-season. He declined to specify the network.
*Posluszny said he hopes the Jaguars can re-sign all of their key defensive free agents, a list that includes safety Dwight Lowery, defensive end Matt Roth, defensive end Jeremy Mincey and cornerback Rashean Mathis. "I want them all," he said. "Bring them all back. They (the front office personnel) have some tough decisions to make, but those guys are all starters. Roth, we know when they run the ball to his side, it's not going anywhere. Mincey had a great year and Rashead's our best corner. They're very, very key guys."
*Posluszny said his shoulder popped out of place Sunday against the Colts, and it's still unknown if the issue will require surgery. Posluszny led the team in tackles this season, and missed just two plays before the regular-season finale. He said the pain of the shoulder compared only to a broken arm. "None of them are good," he said, smiling.
*Lewis said while he didn't have the season he wanted following his first Pro Bowl appearance following the 2010 season, "How you come back from that is what makes you." He caught 39 passes for 460 yards and no touchdowns one season after catching 58 passes for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lewis said he will take a little time off, then refocus and figured out where he wants to improve. "Obviously, when you play this sport you have to continue to do things that are going to give you an advantage over your peers," he said. "We're going to figure that out when I get back."