Mark Brunell is three weeks away from the start, not the end.
When they finish the season on Dec. 23 in the Meadowlands against the New York Giants, the Jaguars and Brunell's agent, Leigh Steinberg, will get down to the serious business of attempting to negotiate a contract that'll keep Brunell in Jacksonville. Today, Brunell made his feelings perfectly clear, when asked what he wants to tell the fans about his intentions.
"All they need to know is I want to be here. I love everything about this place; the city, the people," Brunell said. "I'm confident that next year I'll be here as a Jaguar," he added.
Brunell said he didn't know if Steinberg and the Jaguars had already begun negotiations. "You would prefer to stay out of it, but with the previous deal I had conversation with Wayne (Weaver) and Tom (Coughlin)," Brunell said of the Jaguars owner and coach, respectively.
A new deal is expected to cost the Jaguars something close to a $20 million signing bonus, and salaries that would probably average Brunell out at about $9 million a year. Those numbers will be difficult for the Jaguars to absorb in their salary cap, especially since Brunell has about $6 million of amortization remaining on his current contract, which expires following the 2001 season.
However, the Jaguars need to sign Brunell to a new contract this coming offseason, not only to assure Brunell will remain the team's quarterback, but because Brunell's cap hit next season would be $13 million, and that's too much for the Jaguars to absorb and remain competitive. Of course, if they can't re-sign him, the likely option is to trade him.
"He's the leader on offense. It's extremely important to get him back here. I think it would be a big mistake if it worked out that he didn't come back," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.
Weaver has already said the Jaguars will move quickly on the Brunell matter, and indicated January will be a critical month along those lines. Weaver has also said he wants Brunell back as the team's quarterback.
The Jaguars are almost certain to receive interest from other teams in trading for Brunell. Chief among those who might be interested is the Seattle Seahawks, whose coach, Mike Holmgren, drafted Brunell in 1993, then traded Brunell from the Green Bay Packers to the Jaguars two years later.
If the Jaguars can't negotiate a new deal with Brunell, they'll need to know prior to the start of free agency and or the NFL draft in April. Obviously, the Jaguars would be in the market for a quarterback; maybe two quarterbacks, one of whom would probably be a draft choice.
The major question the Jaguars must answer is this: Would a new deal with Brunell leave enough salary cap room for the Jaguars to surround Brunell with an adequate supporting cast?
"I think we have the supporting cast," said wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who is under contract with the team through 2004. "He's the key. This offense isn't the easiest offense. It took about two years for not only Mark but for all of us to pick this thing up. It would be a shame for Mark Brunell to go somewhere else and win a Super Bowl," Smith added.
These days, all Brunell can do is wait, and play out the season. This Sunday, he'll face the 3-10 Arizona Cardinals in a thoroughly uninspiring matchup that will have no affect on the postseason.
"The goal is to win, regardless of the situation; the playoffs, the salary cap, next year. Be a professional and go out there and do your job," Brunell said.
He hopes his job will remain in Jacksonville.