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Bryant set for big year


As the contract talk swirled about him, Fernando Bryant said nothing. Fred Taylor got a big, new deal. Mike Peterson and Hugh Douglas struck it rich. Now, Byron Leftwich is the latest to "break the bank." But Bryant will have to wait, at least one more season.

This is his contract year. This is the season that'll make or break Bryant's career, and the Jaguars cornerback is ready to go.

"I'm either going to make a lot of money or lose a lot of money this year," Bryant said.

The former first-round pick is in the final year of his Jaguars contract. To this point, there has been little effort by the Jaguars to re-sign him. Apparently, the team is in a wait-and-see mode with Bryant. Is he the kind of cornerback the new coaching staff wants? And, if he is, what's his worth?

Bryant believes the answers to those questions are "yes" and "a lot." But he's betting a lot of other teams are going to answer the same, and that'll make Bryant a hot commodity in unrestricted free agency, and for that he'll have the Jaguars to thank.

"They've made it almost impossible not to want to be here," he said, referring to a style of defense he believes will showcase his talents. "But there's a difference between the coaching staff and the front office. Jack (Del Rio) can want me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get a deal."

Bryant expects the attack-style defense Del Rio promised Jaguars fans will lock Bryant in man-to-man coverage. "Even in zone they want me up in press (coverage)," Bryant said.

He has longed for that role since coming to the Jaguars from Alabama in 1999. He has always considered himself to be a man-to-man, shut-down corner. In his mind, zone defenses should be forbidden. He was almost insulted that he was asked to play it in previous seasons.

And now, more than ever, he believes he is capable of playing "press" technique. The foot injury that compromised his career in 2000 and 2001 is healed and his speed and quickness have returned. He proved that last season in what was his comeback year.

"It was going to take two years for it to heal; anytime you do surgery and you have to cut the bone," he said. "It was a good year. It was a solid year coming back from a subpar year. I played the ball better. I played the receivers well," he added.

And he was glad he could make that comeback in what was Tom Coughlin's final year as Jaguars head coach. "Everybody had their differences with him, but he always had us prepared and he coached his (butt) off," Bryant said.

But, now, so much about this football team is different: new players, new coaches, new strategies. Bryant likes what he sees and would love to stick around. Ironically, the better he plays this season, the more likely it is he won't be back in Jacksonville. Bryant could get real expensive.

"I love it here, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get a deal here. I don't know if they want to pay what a starting corner in this league gets. If they offered me a fair deal today, I'd sign," said Bryant, who ranks himself among NFL cornerbacks "between 10 and 20."

This is his proving season, and he's positioned himself to do just that.

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