Tom Coughlin wouldn't use the word "gut" to describe what's going to happen to the Jaguars roster this winter, and he wouldn't even warm to the word "rebuild," but he made it clear the team will be forced into major personnel decisions to deal with its well-documented salary cap problem.
"I don't know about the word gut. Rebuild is the word Wayne and I discussed," Coughlin told reporters during the coach's season-ending press conference today.
"You have to talk in terms of as fast as you can. Nobody likes to use the word 'rebuild.' Finding the right combination of people who can get us on the path to winning again is the key," Coughlin said.
On the heels of a 6-10 season that concluded with a 33-13 loss in Chicago yesterday, Coughlin talked of being "frustrated," and he was careful in choosing his words to describe the offseason.
"Rejuvenate ourselves -- I like that word a lot better -- as to how we can get better," Coughlin said.
So, how might they "get better?" Well, they won't be able to use free agency; no salary cap room to do that. And contract re-structuring is no longer a total solution; that's what got them into this mess in the first place.
The affordable routes for player-acquisition -- the draft and "street free agency" -- are the Jaguars' options for roster repair, and that's not likely to satisfy fans whose patience for such slow fixes was damaged recently when Steve Spurrier made himself available to those NFL teams that would bid for his services.
Spurrier has put Coughlin in a tough spot. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver announced last Friday he will offer Coughlin a contract extension, and the combination of that announcement and Spurrier's resignation from Florida has provided a forum for Coughlin critics.
At today's press conference, Coughlin was asked what he would say to fans about the declining state of the Jaguars.
"What I say to fans is you need to look at other teams that have gone through this, whether it be Pittsburgh … or New England. I'm not going to make excuses. I feel just as frustrated. We will try with all of our ability to get this thing turned around as fast as we can," Coughlin said.
The turnaround must begin with repair of the salary cap. Last winter, the Jaguars worsened the problem by re-structuring contracts to keep the core of the team together, pushing more money onto future salary caps. It's believed the Jaguars will take a head-on approach in dealing with their cap problems this winter, but it won't be as simple as cutting players. In many cases, releasing a high-priced player won't produce much in the way of gain.
Consider the case of wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who has been the most popular example of a veteran who will be cut. McCardell is projected to be a $5.315 cap hit in 2002. He currently represents about $4 million in remaining bonus amortization, but in late Feb. he will be paid $750,000 in the form of a performance incentive he reached yesterday in Chicago when he caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. All of a sudden, McCardell became less than a $600,000 cap savings.
Defensive tackle Seth Payne is another player who earned performance bonuses. He will be paid $420,000 in incentives.
Such is the Jaguars' plight. They may have no choice but to take a hard approach to their problem. Of course, that wouldn't seem to bode well for next season.
"It'll be a new division; a new start. We'll have to generate new players, new direction, new thoughts," Coughlin said.
"We're not going to stay in this (salary cap) quagmire; right up to the edge," he added.
"(The) 2000 (season) should've never happened," Coughlin said of a 7-9 record. "Should 2001 have happened? I don't know. Our team on the field this year didn't make as many plays."
The Jaguars recorded only 11 plays of 30 yards or more this past season. It ranks as the fewest in a season in Jaguars history, one behind the 12 posted in the team's inaugural season (1995).
"We've got to find a way to do something about that. We're going to have to do some things with our roster that haven't been done around here before," Coughlin said.
Some of his players joined in the criticism Sunday when Coughlin called time out three times inside the two-minute warning, as the Bears were attempting to expire the clock with a 20-point lead. Today, Coughlin offered no regrets. "None whatsoever," he said.
"Let me tell you what it was. The first question today would've been, 'Why did you quit?' Would I do it again? We were 6-9 and we're going to play it to the end," he said.
Coughlin met with his players this morning and offered a farewell. "I congratulated them on staying the course … with the one exception of yesterday afternoon," he said.